"It's too bad the Expo happens only once a year...."

Thus spoke my good friend, Diego, as we stood at the bar at "AS220," sipping smooth pints of Sam Adams and drinking in the even smoother sounds of ukulele giants such as Jim Beloff, Dan "Cool Hand Uke" Scanlan, and The Pinetones. This would not have been a particularly noteworthy comment had it come from myself, one of my bandmates, or indeed any of the 50 or 60 other uke enthusiasts who shared an unforgettable afternoon of ukulele fellowship on Dec. 6th, in Providence, R.I. I expect such a sentiment probably crossed the minds, if not the lips, of many of those people. But what struck me was to hear it from Diego, who is not a uke player, has never got up at 4am to drive to a distant flea market in search of ukes, and would not have been at the Expo at all had it not been for his desire to support his friends and their strange addiction to small, four-stringed Hawaiian instruments. So what led him to feel such a pang of nostalgia for this fleeting moment?

With this simple phrase, Diego conveyed--better than any detailed description of the day's events--the pure enjoyment that I think was shared by all this year at Expo '97. Sure, there were a good number of beautiful ukuleles displayed in exciting installations. Yes, there was plenty of juicy ephemera and ripe historical plums to be savored. Great selections of music and video were of course heard and seen throughout the day.

But the coup de grace of this year's event was the degree to which those attending found an opportunity to bond and experience a sense of fellowship and of real brother and sisterhood among their ukulele peers. Perhaps this was a result of the smaller number of people present. Perhaps it had to do with the atmosphere at AS220, where we were truly made to feel at home. There were also a few additions to the program that I think had a very positive effect. The first is the series of half-hour "workshops" that were offered during the day. These had the unanticipated benefit of providing us all with a collection of shared experiences, giving us some common ground, and making it possible to see one another by the end of the day almost as old friends rather than strangers. The other feature of the day that helped cement the sense of intimacy was the Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony. Not only did this again bring the participants together around a single activity, it also gave us our first set of rituals. And since this was the inaugural induction, we all participated as "first-timers."

Or perhaps it was just that it was really cold outside, and really warm inside. . . . Whatever it may have been that led to this heightened sense of community, it allowed the evening concert to take on an almost dreamlike character. . . .

. . . . While the spirits of Kalakaua, Fernandes, Purvis, Kamakawiwio'ole and Smeck
danced in the shadows of the soft, low yellow light--and the ghosts of Nunes, Diaz
and Santos looked on, comfortably draped around the giant ukulele behind the stage--
a succession of wonderful musicians stood before us and wove a magical fabric of
words and music that left the audience enthralled and spellbound. For a few hours,
we knew we were part of a larger, very ancient, and very dignified family.

Diego, you were absolutely right.

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