Let’s do it again!

We had so much fun at the first New Uke-Culinary Fiesta when we did it two years ago, we’re thinking of bringing it back in 2018!  

Here’s the teaser for the first one.  (The next one will be just as good…..if not better!)

saint-francis-cathedralIt’s a winning combination: ukuleles, food, photography, and overall merriment!  Add to that a stunning location, and it really can’t get much better!  So we’ve decided to take the Uke-Culinary Fiesta on the road and our next first stop is beautiful Santa Fe, New Mexico, in November, when the crowds have dissipated, the winter chill still has not yet settled in, and the sky and surrounding countryside may still be  awash with color.

mainhouselivroom_003And we have found the perfect place to host us, the Don Gaspar Inn, intimate, somewhat secluded, and yet within walking distance of the world famous Plaza and Canyon Road. It’s a perfect venue, where even those travelling alone will soon make long-lasting friends and everyone who attends will be connected by the simple bond of wanting to learn and make music (and fabulous meals) together.

10653609_10203445335831002_8538508260021329759_nAnd the staff!  Heidi Swedberg and Daniel Ward are an ukulele match made in heaven. Talent, experience, diligence, generosity, creativity, and more fun than a barrel of monkeys. And they cover all the bases–fabulous teachers with years and years of experience in a broad range of skills and genres. In a field full of rising “stars,” these two really shine!  They love to cook and are every bit as much fun in the kitchen as in the classroom.  And, Craig McClelland has just joined the staff, as well, and is bringing a pocket full of fun and informative workshops, including, “Uke Can Be As Cool As Craig.”  Rounding out Smoking Jackets quartet for our evening at Tiny’s,  is John Bartlitt. I can’t tell you how much fun he is……you’ll just have to come see for yourself.

We’ll also spend an evening with Rolling Stone Magazine’s first chief photographer, Baron Wolman.  Boy, does he ever have some great stories to tell.  Jimi Hendrix. Frank Zappa. Janice Joplin. And yes, Tiny Tim! Baron took pictures of them all!

And how are you going to get there?  Fly into Albuquerque on Day 1 and join Heidi and Daniel on the Rail Runner Express for a beautiful and musical ride through the stunning countryside of southern New Mexico.  We’ll pick you up at the train station in Santa Fe and a traditional Chimayo cocktail will be waiting for you at the Don Gaspar Inn.

10400802_10203255627168404_4420817113877618347_nUkulele workshops will be available for those on beginning, intermediate, and advanced tracks. Those wanting to cook will learn all about Southwestern cuisine, barbecuing techniques, and a few tricks from behind the bar. In addition to cooking workshops, for those who don’t play the ukulele, there will be plenty of opportunities to explore beautiful Santa Fe and its environs.

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Viva Mexico y los Ukuleles!

Do you want to see how much fun you can have on an ukulele adventure with us?  Then check this out.

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Day 4 – Another Tequila Sunrise

Sunrise is going to offer some amazing views at Lake Chapala and its environs for the photographers willing to hit the road with Jordan at 6:30 am and still be back in time for breakfast at Casa del Sol.  But today’s Palabra del Dia will be with reporter Judy King, who has lived at Lake Chapala for 25 years and will give us the inside scoop on life as a Gringo in Mexico.

lady-organic-marketThen we’re heading out with our local chef, Oscar, for a quick visit the organic farmers’ market to learn about some of the fresh produce that may be new to us, to shop for the midday meal, and sample some of the other wares. (You might also want to pick up a few snacks and drinks for yourself!  It all looks so fresh and delicious.) Then it’s back to Casa del Sol for a couple more workshops with Heidi, Daniel and Oscar before we eat!

This time Oscar will be working with the more beginning ukulele students, while Heidi, and Daniel take on the rest with a choice of Finding and Freeing your Voice or Bossa Nova Training Wheels, followed by Spooky or Tuesday’s Just as Bad.

Plaza band stand gazeboThat midday siesta will be pretty welcome today, especially since we’ll be following it up with another band practice before heading out to the Plaza Band Stand, where we will be the featured performers! Heidi and Daniel have put together a Songbook of Tunes for us to play from and some of the songs will come right out of the workshops, so you’ll have a chance to practice and play before the really big sheeeeeew!  If you’re serious about performing…that will come later.  This event is really just about participating and letting anyone passing by see just how much fun a bunch of adults can have with an ukulele in their hands.  (My teen-aged son calls us “Old People Gone Wild!”)

Then we are in for a special dinner treat as Sheila Ruoff, our boots on the ground in Ajijic, will take us to her very favorite “hole-in-the-wall” (not its official name but the only one that has stuck over the years) for an authentic, and oh-so delicious, Mexican repast of tamales, empanadas, and more, produced by three local and charming women in a rustic village dwelling.  Despite its humble surroundings, this is a favorite among the gringos who live in Ajijic. But if the rusticity makes you squeamish, there are plenty of other fine dining establishments for you to try.

By the end of this day, I think we will be thoroughly pooped, and a quiet evening back at Casa del Sol will be just the thing.

Here’s the scoop on the day’s ukulele workshops:


keep-calm-and-blame-it-on-the-bossa-novaLike champagne, the Bossa Nova goes with everything and gives it a little class. . . . .not to mention sex appeal.) And, it’s  not that difficult to learn, either. For this workshop Daniel Ward has put together a series of simple, but sexy plucking patterns that will give all your uke-playing a Brazilian Wax!  And you’ll be astonished at all the music it works with: jazz, folk, and tons of other songs you already know!  And when you start getting all that attention when you get back home, you can just “Blame it on the Bossa Nova.”  (Daniel Ward – Level 2 – 4)

It turns out, that if you can speak, then you can sing and in this workshop Heidi Swedberg (who doesn’t seem to have any trouble being heard) will teach you some well-honed techniques and exercises to help you raise your voice.  Come on!  You know it’s in there somewhere!  (Heidi Swedberg – All Levels)

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)


This is a continuation of Daniel Ward’s Stormy Monday workshop where participants will have already learned the foundation of playing the blues and will now have an opportunity to expand on the lessons learned with an even more advanced set of skills so Wednesday won’t be worse and Thursday won’t be sad.  Check out the video with T-Bone Walker to see what we’re talking about.  (Daniel Ward – Level 3 – 4)

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)

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)


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!

Stormy Monday

Just look at what Daniel Ward is going to be teaching us to play at La Semana de Uke-Culinary Fiesta in January…..on the ukulele!  I can’t wait!

Here’s the workshop description:

STORMY MONDAY (and Tuesday’s Just as Bad)

Learning to play, sing, and feel the blues provides such a solid foundation for any musician’s repertoire, that every serious ukulele player should have at least one blues workshop in their ‘ukulele education. In this particular workshop, Daniel Ward uses the blues classic “Stormy Monday” to help his students transition from familiar chord shapes to more advanced ones (in time with the music!) and to teach them pentatonic and blues scales in major and minor keys for soloing.  And with Daniel, you can always count on some good right hand attention too, exploring the strengths of finger-style playing, strumming, and using a pick.  If there’s demand, Daniel can be expand this to a second workshop with even more advanced skills.  That would make “Tuesday just as bad,” of course!  (Daniel Ward – Level 3-4)

This is one of the more advanced ukulele workshops we’ll be offering during our semana in Mexico, but we’ll have plenty of learning opportunities for beginning and intermediate players, as well.  You can see a complete list of all the ukulele workshops we’ll be offering on our website.  And don’t forget, you’ll also be able to take cooking workshops, photography workshops, go hiking or exploring, or do nothing at all!

Registration for this funtastic week is still open, but you better hurry!  Click here to register now.

Contact us if you have any questions.  And be sure to subscribe above to stay in the loop on this and other Ukulele Adventures!