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Sunday, July 25, 2021

Six years strong and strumming: Rocky Mountain UkeFest comes to Durango

By Denise Leslie
Rocky Mountain UkeFest

The sixth annual Rocky Mountain UkeFest is scheduled in venues around Durango, Colo., Thursday through Sunday, July 8-11, featuring special guest artists Victoria Vox and Jack Maher, Daniel Ward, Marnie Ward and Devin Scott. 

Rocky Mountain UkeFest returns after a year and a half of virtual strums and workshops. In celebration of its sixth year, the UkeFest kicks off the weekend with an Early Bird Welcome Concert and Dance Party today, Thursday, July 8, 6 p.m. at the 11th Street Station in downtown Durango. Ukulele workshops, open mic night, live jam sessions and concerts continue throughout the weekend at venues throughout Durango. Beginner, intermediate and advanced ukulele players are encouraged to register for the UkeFest and exit as a ukulele rockstar.

Denise Leslie, festival director, said that this is one of the first ukulele festivals to return with in-person participants since the COVID health crisis. 

Leslie, a ukulele player herself, is excited to bring these world-renowned, superstar ukulele presenters back to Durango and said “workshops will be held outdoors under canopies and we are really focused on teaching workshops to all levels of musicians. We’ll have ukuleles to purchase along with classes to teach even the novice. We are hoping to have strumming and playing happening all over town.” 

A detailed schedule of events can be found at www.rockymountainukefest.com.

Presenters

Ukulele-toting-mouth-trumpeting-songster Victoria Vox and guitar-slinging-singing-jokester Jack Maher reconnected 18 years after first meeting at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Both established performers in their own right, the moniker “Jack and the Vox” was almost too good to be true. Since eloping in 2016, the two have been writing and performing together in between their own gigs. Stylistically it’s a bit Americana, jazz, folk and pop, but, really, there are no boundaries. Both hold degrees in songwriting from Berklee and have a passion for making music. In 2019, the two carved out six weeks together to tour the East Coast (U.S.), Canada, the Czech Republic, the U.K. and Germany.

Daniel Ward is an accomplished musician, composer and educator who has become one of the country’s top clinicians and performers on the “ukulele circuit.” He is known for his command of Latin styles and teaches right-hand techniques, adapting his style and knowledge from the classical and flamenco guitar. Ward graduated from the University of New Mexico with a degree in classical guitar performance and a minor in composition. His musical expertise includes flamenco, jazz, pop and most styles of world music, along with the ability to compose and improvise within these styles. He is also a seasoned educator and has 25 years of experience teaching music to all ages. He is a consultant and music typographer for music method books and writes as a columnist for Ukulele online magazines.

Marnie Ward is honored to be a performer, vocalist, teaching artist and playwright. Her years of experience has landed her appearances across the country ranging from regional musical theater playhouses to Carnegie Hall, with jazz combos to symphonies. But, she was always searching for a way to accompany herself. Enter the ukulele. In Colorado, you can see her as the “Girl Singer” for The Hot Tomatoes Dance Orchestra, she was recently a guest vocalist with the Colorado Springs Philharmonic and she is an arranger/performing member of the Rocky Mountain Ukulele Orchestra. Marnie Ward is an experienced cabaret performer with over 10 shows she has written and performed. In 2019, she debuted her latest piece paying tribute to the one and only Peggy Lee. For eight years, she was the owner/performer for Reveille 3 — an Andrews Sisters Tribute Act — touring extensively in the U.S. and performing at the 70th commemoration of D-Day in France.

Devin Scott is armed with a ukulele and a big, unexpected voice, and easily entertains audiences of all ages. Performing everything from old-time classics to new pop, he aims to include every one of his listeners. 

“It’s just more fun when people are enjoying and participating, so I try to make sure that everyone has something they can sing along to,” he said. 

After only a few years of performing with the ukulele at open mic nights in his hometown of Sikeston, Mo., Scott began to realize the joy it gave to him and others and has made it his goal to play for as many people as he can. 

“It’s so amazing to watch an entire group of people enjoy something so much together,” he said. 

Traveling around the country, teaching and leading jam sessions; and singing for audiences in restaurants, bars, high in the Rocky Mountains, around campfires and even floating down the San Juan River, Scott is well on his way to accomplishing his goal of spreading the joy of the ukulele.

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