Viva Mexico y los Ukuleles!

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Day 3….

Now we’re rolling…..Monday, January 26, our third day in Ajijic will bring some (optional) heart-thumping hiking, a couple of challenging workshops, cooking with our pro, and an afternoon concert at the local school.  Here’s how the day might unfold:

Editor6-basinWhile the rest of the crew sleeps, those ready for a little adventure will gather at 6:30 am to hike up the mountainside….to the chapel that overlooks Ajijic and Lake Chapala and possibly beyond….for a view of the ring of extinct volcanos that surround the lake. And, we’ll still be back down the hill by 8 am, in time for a fabulous, and well-earned, breakfast at Casa del Sol with our pals.

Then, after our Palabara del Dia with Sheila, we’ll break into two groups for our morning ‘ukulele sessions with Heidi and Daniel: Modulation Can be Fun for the beginners and Stormy Monday for those ready to challenge their chops. (Descriptions below.) After that we meet Oscar Nafarrate, our resident chef, who will guide some of us through some of the intricacies of cooking local dishes  (but with a French flair) while preparing our midday meal!  And while the more advanced ukulele players are busy prepping with Oscar, the rest of the uke players will be working with Heidi learning Freight Train,  followed by The Old Switcheroo with Daniel.  Photographers can hover in the kitchen with their cameras and Jordan, getting a few tips on “action” and “food” photography.

Instituto InternacionalAfter our midday meal, we’ll have a little siesta (or not!), followed by a short Play-Along with Elaine.  (If you’ve got a song or two to share, please bring them along.)  Then we’ll head over to the Instituto Internacional where Heidi and Daniel will be motivating the kids with a show and ukulele workshop.  At the same time, we’ll be presenting the school’s music teacher with a number of Ohana ukuleles, a gift from our participants to the school, so their music teacher will have the tools needed to create an ongoing ukulele program that we hope to see grow and grow in the years to come.

Then it’s back to Casa del Sol for Magaritas (and what-not?) with Jordan.

Dinner tonight is on your own, again.  Personally, I think I’m going to head over to Ajijic Tango, (the top-rated restaurant in Ajijic according to Trip Advisor) and turn in early.

Ajijc Tango

But, if you’re ready to party, you can head over to Adelita’s Bar & Grill for their Monday Dine & Dance Event.  Live music and great food at reduced prices!  But don’t stay up too late, we have another busy day tomorrow!

Here are the descriptions of the ukulele workshops being offered on Monday:

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! (Heidi Swedberg – Level 2)

STORMY MONDAY (and Tuesday’s Just as Bad)

Learning to play the blues provides such a solid foundation for any player’s repertoire, that everyone should include at least one blues workshop during their ‘ukulele education. In this one, Daniel Ward  uses the blues classic “Stormy Monday” to help students transition from familiar to advanced chord shapes in time with the music, and teach the pentatonic and blues scales in major and minor keys for soloing.  You can count on some good right hand attention too, exploring the strengths of finger-style, strumming, and using a pick.  If there’s demand, this one can be expended to a second part with more advanced skills.  That will be on Tuesday!  (Daniel Ward – Level 3-4)

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

Elizabeth_CottenPulling 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!  (Heidi Swedberg Level 2-3)

THE OLD SWITCHEROO: Working the left hand

One of the biggest challenges facing any beginning player (and a number of more advanced players, as well) is switching the fingers on your left hand from one chord to another in a seamless and timely fashion. It’s hard!  But, it doesn’t have to be. In this workshop Daniel will show you how to make those changes with little, or no, effort at all through a series of easy exercises and some expert advice that will let you relax and enjoy the music, without any pain or frustration. (Daniel Ward – All Levels)

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.)