Mike Manis wanted to find an activity in retirement that was not golf. He found the ukulele.
“I wanted to get away from golf. It was driving me crazy,” Manis said. “And I wanted to play in a band. Now I’ve got so many bands I can’t tell them apart.”
Manis, who has spent his summers in Fish Creek since 2002, is one of a handful of Door County residents who plays with two ukulele groups in Door County. The Ukulele Society of Door County, started in 2013, and the Peninsula Ukulele Club, started in 2015, are two groups that continue to offer residents and visitors the chance to learn and play the popular instrument in Door County.
Door County residents Bruce Hake and Barb Ottum help coordinate both groups today. The Ukulele Society of Door County started in 2013 as the result of a beginning ukulele class taught at The Clearing by musician Craig McClelland. Rich Higdon, a Door County musician who performs with his wife Katie Dahl, helped run the group after McClelland stepped aside.
Today, Hake and Ottum help run the group.
“Barb and I did not want to see the club die, so we took over the coordination of it and kept the thing going,” Hake said.
The Ukulele Society of Door County continues to meet twice each month at the YMCA Northern Door Program Center. The group is open to all and offers lessons to beginners, Hake said.
The Ukulele Society of Door County keeps busy with 35 members and more than 400 songs to choose from.
“It’s not really a performing club,” Hake said. “It’s just a bunch of people who are having fun doing something in common as a group.”
Higdon said he was impressed with how many people from a variety of skill levels joined the group when it first started.
“The group was very relaxed, and if somebody just came and sat in and had never played, that was totally fine,” Higdon said.
Second Group Forms
Manis first picked up the ukulele after hearing about the Ukulele Society of Door County in January 2015. After learning the group met twice each month, Manis asked other ukulele players from the group if they wanted to meet up more often. He said about 15 people expressed an interest in more frequent jam sessions.
“We didn’t have a place to play, so I started walking around Main Street (in Fish Creek) and Egg Harbor and Sister Bay, trying to see if I could get a bar or restaurant interested in having us play there,” Mike said. “The Cookery stepped right up.”
Members of this new group voted to call themselves the Peninsula Ukulele Club, and they started in July 2015 to meet every Monday at The Cookery. Today, the group’s weekly two-hour practice session at The Cookery usually has about 12 players at it, most of them retirees.
Manis, Ann Lindberg, Hake and Ottum are among several players who play with both the Peninsula Ukulele Society and the Ukulele Society of Door County. Ottum said she appreciates having two groups in the area.
“It pushes me a little bit more to keep playing and learning,” Ottum said.
For the future, Manis said the Peninsula Ukulele Club hopes to continue playing and bringing together a local community of ukulele players. The group expanded its sound by having two bass ukuleles this year, Manis said. The bass ukulele is one of the five types of ukuleles, with the others being the soprano, concert, tenor and baritone.
Hake said the relative ease of picking up the instrument appealed to him when he first started playing, and it helps encourage newcomers to join in.
“We have people who have never played an instrument in their life, and in 10 minutes, we taught them two chords, and we had them doing four to five songs.”
The establishment and ongoing presence of two ukulele groups in Door County mirrors a broader trend of the ukulele once again gaining popularity nationwide and globally.
“The thing has literally exploded to where there are thousands of clubs all over the world,” he said.
“Ukuleles have hit the Door County music scene,” he said. “Everywhere you go, if you take your uke with you, you’ll find someone to play.”
The Ukulele Society of Door County is hosting professional ukulele player and teacher Lil’ Rev from Milwaukee for a workshop and concert Oct. 29 at the Bertschinger Community Center in Egg Harbor. The fee for the workshop is $15 and admission to the concert is $10; both are open to the public.