It's the small strings in life at 8th annual Berkshire County Uke Fest

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WILLIAMSTOWN — Mary Bauman never gave much thought to taking up the ukulele, until Christmastime rolled around.

Before wrapping as a gift one of the diminutive string instruments last month, she started to pluck it for fun.

Unbeknownst to Bauman, Santa Claus was watching from the North Pole.

"It was a total surprise when Santa got me one for Christmas. He must have known I needed one," she said with a smile to an Eagle reporter.

The Pittsfield woman started watching a string of internet videos on how to play the ukulele, but nothing beats the in-person lesson she received on Sunday.

Bauman was among dozens of workshop attendees to open the eighth annual Berkshire County Uke Fest at Williams Inn. The instructors worked with both beginners and those who've been playing for some time. Bauman was eager to learn, given the ukulele is easier to play than the guitar.

"I tried playing the guitar, but it was hard on my hands," she said. "The ukulele has fewer strings and the chords are easier to remember."

Her ultimate goal?

"I at least want to learn how to play 'You are My Sunshine,'" she said.

For several of the Uke Fest concert performers, playing the ukulele is an extension of a varied musical career.     

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Headliner Amy Kucharik, making her Berkshire debut, was unexpectedly given a ukulele 10 years ago. The pianist, guitarist, French horn player and occasional harmonica player from Somerville found the uke "approachable" and fun to play.

"There's something about the sound; it's soothing and pleasing, but takes years to master," she noted. "I have enough skills to entertain people."

Kucharik is modest as she tours as either a solo act with ukulele, foot percussion, mouth trumpet and harmonica, or with her Boston-based bands Friends With Benefits and Tiger Moan. Last year, she was selected as a Falcon Ridge Folk Festival Emerging Artist for 2018.

For the Berkshire's national touring artist/educator Bernice Lewis and her 18-year-old daughter Mariah Colorado Lewis, playing the ukulele is a family affair.

Mariah began playing the uke at age six and has been performing her own songs with her singer-songwriter mother in front of crowds since she was 12. On Sunday, the duo opened the three-hour concert in a cozy, standing-room-only setting at the inn, performing folk, rock, originals and pop classics.

The twosome's rendition of the 1986 hit "Walk Like an Egyptian" by The Bangles was spot on, including Bernice Lewis handling the signature whistling part of the song.

Mother Lewis performance was all the more impressive as her right arm was in a sling as she recovers from shoulder surgery.

"The ukulele is the only instrument she can play now; she could never pick up the guitar," said Mariah.

The Lewises were later joined by Ferrilyn Sourdiffe and Jane Davies, the quartet performing as the latest incarnation of the Berkshires own Ladies Auxiliary Ukulele Orchestra that originated 25 years ago.

A student of Bernice Lewis, Bart Saxbe of Williamstown and Williams College students, junior Morgan Whaley and senior Ben Morton also took the stage.

Dick Lindsay can be reached at rlindsay@berkshireeagle.com and 413-496-6233.                    


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