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Cultural Arts Center celebrates weekend of music with Saturday’s ukulele workshop and concert followed by some toe-tapping bluegrass on Sunday

By THERESA KEEGAN

When acclaimed musician Andrew Molina arrives in Laguna Beach to present a ukulele workshop and concert this weekend, he’ll encounter something he doesn’t find in his native Hawaii – a deep passion and excitement for the four-stringed instrument.

“Ukulele clubs are everywhere, but not here in Hawaii,” he said, appreciating the irony that an instrument so affiliated with this island paradise has gone mainstream worldwide. “The community has just risen everywhere – there are ‘uke’ clubs all over the world and they meet and all play music together.” 

cultural arts molina with uke

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Photo by Jay Molina

Andrew Molina, known world-wide for his impressive ukulele playing and teaching, will offer a workshop and a concert on Saturday, May 21 at the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center

That soaring popularity is why Molina has created a two-prong touring approach, combining a workshop, as well as a concert, when he’s on the road. That’s the program he’ll be bringing to the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center this Saturday. 

“It’s really cool to see the ukulele being appreciated,” he said. “It’s a very serious instrument and it’s finally getting noticed for what it is.”

Worldwide popularity expands musical repertoire

And with that global appreciation comes an expanded approach to the music played on this very portable instrument. Gone are the days of strumming Don Ho’s “Tiny Bubbles.” Today’s uke players embrace multiple music genres, even tackling such classics as Led Zeppelin’s “Stairway to Heaven” and Aerosmith’s “Dream On,” as well as classic Irish tunes. 

“People are playing anything on the ukulele – jazz, pop rock, really iconic songs,” he said. “It’s not limited to Hawaiian anymore.” In fact Molina’s three albums, which explore the boundaries of the instrument, have all been nominated for “Ukulele Album of the Year” in a prestigious awards program in Hawaii. 

And, the fanaticism for this stringed instrument, which was originally brought to Hawaii in the 1800s by the Portuguese, just continues to grow throughout the world. (The word ukulele translates into jumping flea, as the Hawaiians thought that’s what the musicians’ fingers resembled as they played the instrument.)  The pandemic saw a huge surge in ukulele sales, but Molina says the trend has been growing since 2010. He’s traveled and played throughout the world and is thrilled at the different approaches he’s seen toward people playing the ukulele. Some just casually strum along, others focus on intense finger playing and in Ireland, he was amazed that it was the instrument of choice in a long night of music. 

“These people play for hours – they played from eight at night until three in the morning.” Molina credits the worldwide enthusiasm and interpretations to the ukulele itself. 

“It’s such an inviting instrument – it’s not intimidating and that happy sound, that island music sound, is why it’s so popular.” 

cultural arts molina and dad

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Photo by Jay Molina 

Andrew Molina’s ukulele playing complements his father, Jay Molina’s bass playing. The two have been known to expand the boundaries of traditional ukulele playing. 

An instrument of the community

In Hawaii, where Molina grew up, the ukulele is so prevalent that it’s found in everyone’s homes and is taught as an elective at school. In fact, it was only after signing up for the school class that Molina, then 13, received his first ukulele. It was from his grandmother’s closet and he’d been coveting it for years. She jokes that if she’d known how far he would advance, she would have given it to him sooner. Once he became proficient on the ukulele, Molina and his father Jay, who plays bass, expanded their musical repertoire to include classic rock and other musical genres.

 cultural arts cultural center

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Courtesy of Rick Conkey

The intimate venue of the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center will host two very diverse and exciting concerts this weekend with a ukulele player on Saturday and bluegrass music on Sunday 

During his workshop at the Cultural Arts Center, Molina anticipates meeting attendees where they are in their musical journey playing the ukulele.

“I connect the dots when it comes to learning,” he said. “It’s hard to capture the attention of all people, but they reach the next level.” Topics he covers includes music theory, strumming and utilizing chord options. And despite the differing levels of musical accomplishments, Molina finds ukulele musicians have their own universal vibe.

“The community is very positive and uplifting,” he says. “There’s a lot of love – not egos.” And that aura emanates into the audience as well.

“Whenever people play together, you see everyone’s problems just drop. It brings everyone together – they focus on the positivity of the music.” 

 cultural arts by Rovner

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Photo by Jeff Rovner 

In addition to concerts, the Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center is also home to a variety of arts-related exhibits and panels, such as this discussion that was held in February 

A full weekend of music

The music continues at the Cultural Arts Center on Sunday, when the Salty Suites take to the stage, with featured musician Scott Gates enjoying a homecoming of sorts. 

“Laguna Beach has always been a second home to me,” said the mandolin-and guitar-playing vocalist. Although he is now on the road touring with another band, the opportunity to re-gather with the Salty Suites in Laguna was an opportunity he couldn’t pass up. 

“To be able to get back together with the Suites is really something,” said Gates. 

The concert, will feature “gypsy jazz” music which includes bluegrass, swing and classical original and traditional songs. 

“Through this music we’ve become very close to the people of Laguna,” said the mandolin-virtuoso Gates. “It’s a family reunion type-thing.” 

The opportunity to have back-to-back concerts at the cultural center makes director Rick Conkey very happy. 

“These musicians are so very talented,” he said. “The fact they’ll be performing here in Laguna is just thrilling.” 

Andrew Molina’s ukulele workshop runs Saturday, May 21 from 6-7 p.m. and his concert starts at 7:30 p.m.

The Salty Suites perform Sunday, May 22 from 5-7 p.m. 

For tickets, click here

The intimate venue is located upstairs at Laguna Beach Cultural Arts Center, 235 Forest Ave., Laguna Beach.