Days One & Two

In case you are wondering how you might be spending your time with us during La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta in January…..Here ya’ go:

Day one: Saturday, January 24

Folks will be arriving at various times throughout the day, but we’ll plan on gathering for a little welcome party at Casa del Sol, then catch a little shut-eye before the action really begins bright and early Sunday morning.

Sunday, January 25

fruit_bowlBreakfast at la Casa del Sol, followed by La Palabra del Dia with Sheila, our lovely hostess and inspiration for our journey South of the Border. Then we’re off!  Photographer can take off with Jordan to explore the town of Ajijic with their cameras, while the rest of us stay behind for some ukulele workshops: Easy Pickin’s with Heidi or Spice it Up with Daniel.  (There will be ample time to “explore” the town, later.)  And then the cooking begins!  Daniel will take the first group of erstwhile chefs to the kitchen to learn and prep the midday meal, while the rest of us settle in for a few more ukulele workshops: Keep Your Motor Running with Elaine, followed by the Song Writer’s Toolbox with Heidi, as our midday meal is being prepared. And then it’s time for lunch!

img_6723Among the myriad of local customs we will be embracing while South of the Border, is the mid-day siesta, a time to pause and reflect, to practice what you learned, to jam or socialize with friends,  or (now here’s a thought) rest.  And rest you should, because the afternoon’s activities launch off with a stirring workshop (and fabulous song) taught by Heidi and Daniel together, “Turn the World Around,”  followed by our first Band Practice.

el-jardin-de-ninetteThen we’ll partake in a another lovely local custom, the Sunday afternoon stroll along the malecón, where the setting sun on the lovely lake should provide ample photo opportunities and inspiration for an impromptu song or two. (Don’t forget your ukes!) Dinner will be on your own, though, there is no shortage of fabulous places to eat in Ajijic. Those who are not feeling that adventurous might like to grab a bite at El Jardin de Ninette, right at our B&B, Casa del Sol (you can see what the reviewers have to say on Trip Advisor!)  The best part about that plan is the very short walk back to your room!

In case you need a refresher: Here’s a description of the day’s ‘ukulele workshops.

EASY PICKIN’S: A simple path to Travis picking with great stops in between

rancho_grandeHere’s an opportunity to learn how to enrich your playing form and style without compromising fluidity.  Sticking with our South of the Border theme, you’ll be learning some very simple picking patterns that you can use with a couple of traditional tunes such as “Alle en el Rancho Grande” and “De Colores,” that have a  rhythmic power on their own and will lead you painlessly toward the iconic sound of Travis picking. (Heidi Swedberg – Level 2-3)

SPICE IT UP: Learning to play chord melodies

If you’re ready to apply a lot more focus to what is going on with each of your hands and produce a recognizable song without the lyrics then you are ready to take a stab at chord melodies.  Specifically, in this workshop you will be learning a different, and more challenging way to play some of the tunes we’ll be working on as a group: “Alle en el Rancho Grande” and “De Colores.”  But, more importantly, you’ll come away with the skills needed to start creating chord melodies for your favorite tunes, as well. (Daniel Ward – Level 3-4)

KEEP YOUR MOTOR RUNNING: Revving up your ukulele engine

Two-chord songs are the backbone of any beginners’ repertoire. Not only are they a great tool to practice common (and frequently necessary) chord changes, they can help form the basis of learning to play by ear.  They’re easy to memorize (and should be memorized) so you can escape your reliance on the dreaded “paper” and begin to feel the song. They also offer a pathway to learning how to modulate….that is, changing a song from one key to another. (Elaine de Man – Level 1-2)

SONGWRITER’S TOOLBOX: Turning inspiration into alchemy

Sometimes you’ll hear a songwriter say, “That song just wrote itself.”  What they’re not telling you is that there already existed a structural framework that held it all together.  In this workshop you will learn what that framework is and will come away with the tools necessary to turn your idea, or any idea, into a song. (Heidi Swedberg – All Levels)

314-16TURN THE WORLD AROUND: Fun in 5/4

For our first play-along together, Heidi and Daniel will be teaching us the delightful little intricacies of  “Turn the World Around,” a lovely little tune from Africa, made famous by Harry Belafonte (and the Sukey Jump Band.) At first glance, it would appear to be a simple, 3-chord song.  But it has an interesting twist!  It is played in 5/4 time!  “What is that?” you might well wonder.  Well, all will be revealed while we all have loads of fun learning to play and sing this lively little tune (and more).  It’s a great one for jam sessions, sing-alongs, and all manner of musical merriment. This is a great workshop for non-players, as well. (Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward – All Levels)

BAND PRACTICE

Playing music with others, stepping out of your comfort zone, and performing for others is absolutely the best way to advance your musical skills and raise the bar on fun. (Just ask anyone who has attended either the West Coast or Hawai’i Island ‘Ukulele Retreats!) Here’s how it works. Each retreat participant will be assigned to a “band” under the leadership of one of our esteemed instructors.  Among other things, you will learn a little song arranging, a smidgen of band dynamics, some new performance skills, and how to play well with others. At the end of the retreat you will have a chance to strut your stuff during our last night’s Student Cabaret.  It’s the most fun you’ll ever have with your ‘ukulele on. Costumes, props, and dance routines are encouraged.  (Entire Staff – All Levels)

Playing in the Minor Key

Just had to share this one with you guys…..along with a description of the ukulele workshop Heidi Swedberg will be teaching at La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta in Mexico in January.

Plaiyng in the Minor Keys

SPOOKY: Playing in the Minor Leagues

Let’s get down and dark and expand our musical repertoire by pulling up some possibilities from the minor keys. In this workshop you will learn a little about the Circle of Fifths, but more importantly you will learn how those eerie minor chords not only add interest to the songs you are playing, but are (and can be) used to alter the mood and meaning, entirely. And you thought “You Are My Sunshine” was a happy song……..wait until you hear it played in the minor key. (Heidi Swedberg – Level 2-4)

We have filled all of our rooms at Casa del Sol, but still have space available at Estrellita’s for couples, doubles, singles, and triples if you’d like to join us.   I don’t know about you, but we have a huge winter storm coming our way. I’m thinking Mexico will be mighty welcome come January!

Register now!

Learn to play Elizabeth Cotten’s “Freight Train”


I had no idea that “Freight Train”, written by Elizabeth Cotten when she was just 11-years-old, had such a rich heritage and played such an important role in American music. Thank-you, Heidi Swedberg, for bringing this to our attention.

This is an excerpt from the “Artist Spotlight” on Elizabeth Cotten in Smithsonian Folkways:

“but the true measure of her legacy lies with the tens of thousands of guitarists who cherish her songs as a favorite part of their repertoires, preserving and keeping alive her unique musical style.”

OK. Let’s see if we can add “tens of thousands of ukulele players” to that description.

Among other things, one of the workshops Heidi will be teaching at La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta is “Freight Train,” where she will teach us how to play this iconic song in a manner that will truly honor Elizabeth Cotten’s lovely song. You can forget about the “down up down up”…you’re going to be doing some picking!

Here’s the workshop description:

FREIGHT TRAIN, FREIGHT TRAIN: Easy pickin’ and modulatin’ in the same track with Heidi Swedberg

Pulling two previous workshops together, you, too, will be “going so fast,” once you put a few second-position chords and the simple, Travis picking pattern together in Elizabeth Cotten’s iconic song, “Freight Train, Freight Train,” a tune written more than 100 years ago and a great song to have in your quiver.  Plus, once you get this technique down, you’ll realize there are more tunes in your repertoire you can use this classic picking pattern with.  It’s one of those workshops that will take you a long, long way. (Heidi Swedberg)

We’ll be posting the entire workshop schedule, shortly.  In the meantime, you might want to look into registering for the retreat as soon as possible.  We still have rooms available in all categories (single, double, couple, and triple) but, once they’re gone, they’re gone! And we would hate for you to miss out on all the fun!

Heeeeeeeeeeere’s Heidi!

Heidi SwedbergMost folks remember Heidi Swedberg as George Costanza’s ill-fated, envelope-licking fiancée on the hit TV series Seinfeld. But those of us who have had the pleasure of spending time with Heidi at Camp Oo-Koo-Lay-Lay, or the West Coast ‘Ukulele Retreat, or the Wine Country ‘Ukulele Festival, know her as a is a fun-loving,  talented, and enthusiastic ukulele instructor, singer-songwriter, and performer.

And we’ve just found out she is a fabulous (and enthusiastic) cook, as well….specializing in cuisine (and music) that is just a little hot and spicy! So, who better to headline La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta, a week-long celebration of music, fun, and food,  than Heidi Swedberg?

HeidiSwedberg_Tea_frontcoverThough she now lives in Los Angeles, Heidi was born in Hawai’i and received her first ‘ukulele from the Easter Bunny when she was five.  (How perfect is that?)  But the place she thinks of as home is Albuquerque, New Mexico, where she grew up…..sort of. It was while playing the role of a singer/songwriter for a television pilot in 1992 (several years after the famous Seinfold episode where she dies from licking the toxic glue on her wedding invitations) that Heidi began playing the ‘ukulele again and composing her own music. In the spring of 2009 she made her first cd, Play, to facilitate teaching ukulele: something a student could listen to, practice along with, and enjoy, and she has just released her second CD, A Cup of Tea.

The Smoking JAckets with Heidi SwedbergToday, Heidi teaches ‘ukulele across the country on a regular basis and organizes “play” parties for groups of all ages performing with the Sukey Jump Band. She has also just launched The Smoking Jackets with Heidi Swedberg, the same crazy fun, but geared toward more “mature” audiences. And you’d hard-pressed to find a more talented group of musicians, songsters, funsters, and ukulele players, anywhere, than these guys.

Heidi SwedbergHeidi, too, has become our go-to person for obscure songs that need to be brought to the forefront and workshops on stagecraft and overcoming stage fright.  She is, in all ways, the perfect match for all the serious fun and learning we expect to engage in while we’re in Mexico this coming January 24 – 31.  And she will be key in establishing an ukulele program for the local children living in Ajijic, the lovely Mexican village where we will be based.

Here’s what Heidi is bringing to the table for us (in addition to fun in the kitchen!):

PLAY THE UKULELE IN A DAY!

The ukulele is such a simple instrument that the first step is a doozie!  You can go from never having touched a stringed instrument before in your life to playing dozens of songs in just one hour!  This is a great way for new players to begin their musical journey with loads of laughs, singing, and playing. After this workshop, you’ll be clamoring for more.

EASY PICKINGS: A simple path to Travis picking with great stops in between

Here’s an opportunity to learn how to enrich your playing form and style without compromising fluidity.  Sticking with our theme, you’ll be learning some very simple picking patterns that you can use with a couple of traditional tunes such as Alle en el Rancho Grande and De Colores, that have a  rhythmic power on their own and will lead you painlessly toward the iconic sound of Travis picking.

SONGWRITER’S TOOLBOX: Turning inspiration into alchemy

Sometimes you’ll hear a songwriter say, “That song just wrote itself.”  What they’re not telling you is that there already existed a structural framework that held it all together.  In this workshop you will learn what that framework is and will come away with the tools necessary to turn your idea, or any idea, into a song.

MODULATION Can Be Fun: Exploring the fretboard

Believe it or not, even beginning players are ready to “modulate,” with a closed chord shape they already know: Bb.  In this workshop you will learn how to carry the Bb shape up the fretboard, opening up a whole new set of chords you didn’t know you already knew!  It’s the step that will help you understand the entire fretboard and how to explore the wilderness  above the third fret all on your own. And guess what?  It can be fun!

FREIGHT TRAIN, FREIGHT TRAIN: Easy pickin’ and modulatin’ in the same track

Pulling two previous workshops together, you, too, will be “going so fast,” once you put a few second-position chords and the simple, Travis picking pattern together in Elizabeth Cotton’s iconic song, “Freight Train, Freight Train,” a tune written more than 100 years ago and a great song to have in your quiver.  Plus, once you get this technique down, you’ll realize there are more tunes in your repertoire you can use this classic picking pattern with.  It’s one of those workshops that will take you a long, long way. All aboard!

OWN IT!:  Making a song your own

Just watch Heidi perform anything from the antic-ridden “Istanbul,” to the soulful “’Til There Was You” and you’ll understand the difference between simply playing a song and “owning” it. Whether you are singing, playing your ‘ukulele (or any instrument), or doing both at once, knowing the words and the notes and playing them flawlessly is just the beginning. In this workshop Heidi will guide you through the critical next step you need to take in order to transform the song you love into something that carries your personal stamp and something your audience will love, as well.

SPOOKY: Playing in the Minor Leagues

Let’s get down and dark and expand our musical repertoire by pulling up some possibilities from the minor keys. In this workshop you will learn a little about the Circle of Fifths, but more importantly you will learn how those eerie minor chords not only add interest to the songs you are playing, but are (and can be) used to alter the mood and meaning, entirely. And you thought “You are my Sunshine” was a happy song……..wait until you hear it played in the minor key.

And that is just the beginning!

If you think you’d like to join Heidi and the rest of us for one week of fun, in the warm Mexican sun, please visit the website: La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta!  We still have rooms available in all categories: King (couple), Double, Single, and Triple.

Hasta la vista, Baby!  Hope to see you there!

Top Ten Reasons to Grab your Uke and Join us in Ajijic, Mexico this January

David Letterman

Still on the fence about joining us in Ajijic in January for La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta?  Perhaps this will help.

Ajijic is:

10. an authentic 21st century Mexican village high in the Sierra Madre, far from the maddening crowds found at the more famous beach resorts with vendors hawking their wares at every opportunity.

9. a town where music rings on every block and where every house, no matter how poor, has flowers at the door.

8. a place where foreigners feel safe and welcome. . . .and rightfully so.

7. a town where artists and writers (and budding ukulele players), fishermen, farmers, and service workers all live and work side-by-side.

6. in an area that has the largest concentration of English-speaking ex-patriots in the world and where most of the locals speak English, as well.

5. situated alongside the largest lake in Mexico and has a beach-side malecon for strolling and socializing, or simply sitting and watching the pelicans and sea gulls flying around the water.

4. a gourmand’s delight with restaurants offering French, Thai, Italian, German, and fusion food, in addition to tacos and tamales. (And you’ll also be feasting on the products of our very own cooking workshops.)

3. a place where photo opportunities abound: from the sunlight playing on the surrounding Sierra Madre, to pelicans dive-bombing Lake Chapala; from the beautiful people with their friendly smiles, to the houses painted every color in the rainbow; from the amazing array of locally grown produce in the markets, to the abundance of artisans selling handicrafts in the small shops.

2. a 450-year-old town with cobblestone streets — ​but ​where internet and cell phone service are both strong and available everywhere.

And the Number One reason you should join us in Ajijic in January:

It’s where Heidi, Daniel, Elaine, and Jordan will be, January 24 – 31, 2015, anxiously waiting for YOU to join them for La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta, a full week of ukulele and culinary merriment South of the Border, down Mexico Way!

Hope you can make it!

Ole!

(If you can’t make it this year, but want to be kept abreast of the latest Ukulele Adventures coming your way, be sure to subscribe to this website.)

Tequila!

Come join us for a week-long celebration of ukuleles and food in Mexico at La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta!

Tequila Collage copy

Among many other things we will be taking a day trip to the World Heritage Site of….Tequila!  Yes, it’s actually a small city, in the highlands northwest of Guadalajara,  surrounded by fields of blue agave, where Tequila has been produced since the 16th century! (Turns out the Aztec people had been making a fermented beverage from the agave plant long before the Spanish arrived in the early 1500s.) By 1600 Tequila was being mass produced by the enterprising conquistadors, and soon afterward taxed by the governor. But it was non-other-than  the King Carlos IV who granted the Cuervo family the first license to make tequila commercially. And we have Don Cenobio Sauza, founder of Sauza Tequila, to thank for the first imports of tequila to the United States.

We’ll be learning much more about tequila (how it is farmed and distilled…..and how it tastes!) on our field trip during La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta, January 24 – 31, 2015, a week long celebration full of ukulele, culinary, and photography workshops on the shores of Lake Chapala in Mexico.  Registration is now open and we have limited space still available in all categories: king, double, single, and triple. Please visit our website for more information.

In the meantime, here’s a little something that might get you in the mood: