ST. HELENA — Dorothy Becker already has eight ukuleles, but Sunday, she was looking to purchase her ninth.
She has U.A.S., or, Ukulele Acquisition Syndrome and was one of a few hundred from across the globe to make it up the Napa Valley this weekend for the fifth annual Wine Country Ukulele Festival.
“There’s always room for more ukuleles,” she said as she played a cheery tune on one of the many available for purchase at the festival in St. Helena, primarily at the Napa Valley College campus. “I’m always adopting a ukulele.”
Becker of Martinez said ukuleles “make you smile.” Others in attendance agreed, saying it’s hard to frown when strumming the instrument.
Five years ago, Elaine de Man started the festival “to introduce the ukulele to a broader group of people and show how much fun you can have,” she said. One of the highlights for her this year was to see a 12-year-old boy who took one of the free children’s lessons at last year’s festival perform on the festival’s main stage.
“In Hawaii, they say you get ‘chicken skin,’” de Man said. “You just get goose bumps thinking about it. It was just so cool to see that transition. It may change his life, it may not. It doesn’t matter. It changed that moment for him.”
De Man said the instrument is gaining popularity and people from Australia, England, Canada and across the United States attended the three-day-long festival. De Man said Ukulele groups are popping up across the globe.
“I think people need that, that social aspect of getting together with friends, creating something together, making music together,” she said.
When her mother was growing up in London, de Man’s grandmother held weekly singsongs at the home and soldiers and neighbors in to sing tunes around the piano.
“I think that’s missing in our lives today, and the ukulele is kind of filling that gap,” she said.
George and Sarah Thomas of Reno made the trip to Napa, something they tried to do last year but were unable to because they couldn’t find a hotel room. The couple has been playing ukulele together a few years and has attended festivals before.
For Sarah, the highlight of the weekend was attending ukulele workshops. For George, it was “jamming” at Gott’s Roadside Saturday night.
Brad Saltvick, a former Napa resident who now lives in Santa Rosa, came to the festival to learn a little more about the instrument he started playing about a month ago.
“I’m so new that having the opportunity to see so many ukuleles and people play makes it easier to see what’s out there and what might be easier to play,” Saltvick said.
De Man said the event is going strong and will be back next year. She said playing the ukulele, “is just fun.” She recalled a quote she heard about the instrument.
“‘The ukulele is a portal that only very happy people pass through,’ and that’s about it,” she said.