- December 6, 2019
Aloha Ukulele of Lakewood Ranch's Lisa Wilt had seen Tyler “Ten Thumbs” Austenfeld perform and give lessons on the unique instrument for years on social media.
However, she never had seen the renowned ukulele artist, who lives in Colombia, perform at a festival.
So when Wilt volunteered to assemble talent for the first Aloha UkeFest, held Feb. 25 at Lakewood Ranch Town Hall, she wondered whether she could entice Austenfeld to attend.
She talked to Alice Baumann, the president of Aloha Ukulele of Lakewood Ranch, about the idea.
"Wouldn't it be cool if he could come in?" Wilt asked Baumann. "And surprisingly, Colombia to Florida is not as far as you would think. It’s about a three-hour flight into Miami,” she said.
Wilt contacted Austenfeld and asked him to come to Lakewood Ranch.
“I said, 'Of course,'" Austenfeld said after playing at the Aloha UkeFest. "I told her I would love the opportunity to come. It would be an amazing.”
Born in Kansas, Austenfeld moved to Medellín, Colombia to do volunteer work and eventually landed a job at a YMCA there. Eventually, he came across a broken guitar at the Medellín YMCA and rebuilt it.
Although he loved playing that guitar, it was too big to bring on road trips, so he switched to the smaller ukulele. He began posting YouTube ukulele instruction videos in 2013 and became a social media star.
Teaching English at the YMCA in Colombia helped him teach ukulele. He said he learned to be careful not to get ahead of his students.
“Just like music, it's all about rhythm, and finding a slower rhythm,” he said.
He wasn't the only ukulele celebrity to appear at the festival. Tampa's Jay Nunes and Greg "Ukulele" Gent are both established teachers who made appearances at the new festival.
Central Park’s Pat Stryhn, a member of Aloha Ukulele of Lakewood Ranch, said she was impressed by the teaching talent that was assembled.
"We learned a lot," she said. "We added to what we already know."
Proceeds from the event were been used to buy ukuleles for the new Lakewood Ranch Library, which should be open this spring.
Baumann said one of the things she loves about the ukulele community is that all the musicians are so willing to help each other.
“How could you not be happy strumming right by your heart and singing?" Baumann said. "It just feels good.”
“Everyone, put together a great event,” said Summerfield's Charlene Greenberg, another member of the club. “The items they have up for auction are incredible, and we hope we raise enough to donate to the library.”
“We’re shocked at how popular it is,” said Panther Ridge’s Nancy Adkins.
Baumann said she was very grateful to the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society for providing entertainment and sound equipment, as well as to the Lakewood Ranch Town Hall for the use of its space.
The club, which welcomes any level musician, started two years ago at James L. Patton Park, eventually moving to the town hall through the help of Chris McComas and Keith Pandeloglou at Lakewood Ranch Community Activities.
“We perform in the community anywhere they will have us,” Baumann said.
“It’s just a good group of people,” said Lakewood Ranch’s Nancy Cunningham. “I love Lakewood Ranch because of clubs like this.”
“The community is just so much fun,” said Bradenton’s Judi Jandura. “They're engaging, they are encouraging. No matter what level you're at, there's something for everybody.”