Scott Wilson doesn’t credit either ’50s TV host Arthur Godfrey or campy falsetto Tiny Tim with the current popularity of the humble ukulele.
Instead, the Whitehorse musician thinks it likely stems from a few years back, when Hawaiian singer Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s hauntingly beautiful medley of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “What a Wonderful World” became a YouTube sensation.
“The ukulele has had an amazing resurgence. It’s often thought of as a toy instrument, but I have heard ukulele performers who are as virtuosic on that instrument as any jazz player that I’ve seen on guitar, or any other instrument,” he says.
Wilson and Jen Edwards are co-organizers of the annual Woodshed Yukon Acoustic Music Workshop, which will run this year from June 23-27 at Sundog Retreat on the North Klondike Highway.
Aaron Keim’s ukulele classes were among the first to fill up, Wilson says, along with the mandolin classes offered by Andrew Collins and the music camp’s first-ever classes in clawhammer banjo, taught by Chris Coole.
“Traditionally the offering was always the bluegrass style banjo playing, the Earl Scruggs style of banjo. We didn’t offer that this year, so it’s pretty exciting to see all of these new players come out on the clawhammer banjo.”
Collins and Coole are members of the Foggy Hogtown Boys, who played at this year’s Kluane Mountain Bluegrass Festival. This year’s teaching roster also includes their bandmates Chris Quinn (guitar) and Max Heinemann (lead and harmony vocals).
Now in its 12th year, the music camp started as an outgrowth of the annual bluegrass festival in Haines Junction. In 2011, Wilson and then-partner Kim Winnicky decided to broaden the focus from bluegrass to a range of acoustic music styles.
“It’s all about music, so we don’t need to necessarily have a label on it, in terms of the long-term sustainability of the camp,” he explains.
While the 10 instructors this year are all accomplished performers in their own right, Wilson stresses that isn’t necessarily what he looks for as an organizer.
“I think it’s a truism in any profession that some people are very good at their profession, but they may not be equally as good at teaching,” he explains.
“Our goal was to really try and up the ante both in terms of quality and consistency of teaching. So we often wouldn’t necessarily want to know their performance biography or resume, but we always wanted to know their teaching resume.”
Other instructors at the camp include former Yukoner Anne Louise Genest (lead and harmony vocals), Max Weiner (double bass), as well as Kristin Andreassen (guitar) and Rayna Gellert, both known as players the renowned old-time band, Uncle Earl.
Fiddler Sammy Lind and guitarist Nadine Landry will act as “rovers”, organizing the camp’s nightly slow jams, assisting the instructors, and sitting in as players during the bass classes.
“Sometimes it’s lonely with four or five basses just plunking away, so they might have one of the rovers come in with a guitar and sing, so that they can play along to certain tunes, that kind of thing,” Wilson says.
“Maybe an individual will be struggling a little bit, feeling they’re in over their head, or maybe they’re not feeling challenged enough. If we can identify that early, then the rovers will help provide some additional instruction.”
Although other music camps have larger enrollments and offer instruction in a wider variety of instruments, Wilson likes the intimacy and more personalized instruction available at the Yukon camp, which is limited to 64 paricipants.
“A big part of a camp experience is meeting other musicians, learning how to play with people, because that’s really kind of the ultimate goal. It’s a bit lonely sitting in your rec room playing your guitar, and singing to yourself.”
As in other years, Wilson expects the Sunday afternoon student concert to be a highlight of the event, along with the band scramble that puts people and instruments together to form temporary bands.
“With one of the instructors as a mentor, they’re basically left to pick a tune, arrange it and then perform it for their fellow registrants and a few family and friends who come to attend.”
Following this year’s workshop, Genest’s band, Annie Lou, which includes Collins and Heinemann, as well as former Whitehorse fiddler Sarah Hamilton, will give a concert on Monday, June 27, at the Old Fire Hall.
With the addition of Coole on the bill, the event will be called Annie Lou and the Foggy Hogtown Boys. The next night, they will perform in the Oddfellows Hall in Dawson City. Both shows start at 7:30 p.m.
More information about the Woodshed Acoustic Music Workshop, including instructor biographies, can be found at www.yukonwoodshed.com.