Czech Ukulele Festival in Únětice to focus on local acts, family atmosphere

Fewer foreign acts will be at this year's Czech Ukulele Festival, but a warm atmosphere is still expected

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 21.07.2020 11:27 (updated on 21.07.2020)

The eighth Czech Ukulele Festival will take place July 24–25 at Únětice, just northwest of Prague.

Despite the complications from the coronavirus pandemic, the organizers are trying to make this year’s event the “best possible festival of all ukulele festivals around the world.” There will be fewer foreign performers, but more space will be given to Czech soloists and bands.

The opening day on Friday will take place in Únětická Sokolovna and the festival on the second day will be at the Únětice brewery.

Friday afternoon will be in the spirit of online streaming, open microphones and the largest play-along from the ukulele songbook. People can sit either inside or outside of the village’s Sokol building.

Thanks to the possibilities of online broadcasting, the Bad Mouse Orchestra from Freiburg, Ukulele Bartt Warburton from Los Angeles and rising British star Amelia Coburn will join the festival live.

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The Bad Mouse Orchestra is a trio that tries to bring people back to the 1920s through the ’40s with classic Tin Pan Alley and swing classics played on ukulele and guitar, using period arrangements by virtuoso Roy Smeck.

Ukulele Bartt Warburton has performed his quirky songs worldwide, and his videos have garnered millions of views. He is also known for his renditions of Mozart and Beethoven sonatas. As a music educator, he was named Teacher of the Year in the Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest school district in the world.

Amelia Coburn finds her influences from pop rock stars such as David Bowie, Kate Bush and early Elton John. She took up the ukulele at age 14, after having been acting since age 9. Shortly after her debut at an open mic in 2013, she began to sell out shows in the northeast of England and also began top open for larger acts. She was nominated for the BBC Radio 2 Young Folk Awards in 2017.

Saturday morning will have a total of six workshops, and people can learn either the very basics, classical interpretation, or try something more daring such as the combination of Hawaii and Ireland styles, or try Romani rhythms. People will need their own ukuleles for the workshops.

Concerts start Saturday afternoon at 2 pm, with Czech and foreign artists taking turns on the stage and there will also be a raffle. Czech players include the charismatic Elis Mráz, the goofy P.U.B. Prague Ukulele Band, the extravagant Ukulele Troublemakers, the old-fashioned Ukulele Swing Band, among others. Foreign guests are Duo de Kleer from the Netherlands and The Lucky Leles from Germany. The latter trio will close out festival.

The father and son group Duo De Kleer play classical and Romani music from the Balkans and Spain on guitar and ukulele in the style of Django Reinhardt.

The Lucky Leles is a trio composed of Andreas, Torsten and Silka. They put on a humorous show as flatmates from Berlin constantly fighting about what sort of music to play. Andreas, with his Hawaiian lilt, competes with Torsten’s rocking bass. Both of these fall into the shadow of country star Silka.

The festival began with festival director Ben Anderson’s passion for ukulele. He wanted to see all the big ukulele stars, but traveling to all the festivals was too expensive. “Why we don’t have a ukulele festival in Czech Republic? It would be easier to bring all the here, than to travel and see them all,” he said.

He and his small team organized the first festival in 2013. “In the beginning, the festival was really small. We started to organist it spontaneously in February 2013, so we didn’t have time to get any funding and all the interpreters came just because of Ben’s passion and enthusiasm. We couldn’t even pay the musicians for the concerts. We could offer just travel, bed to sleep and food. All of the professional players, who came to the first years of the festival, became our great friends and we host them almost every year,” festival marketing director Tereza Novotná said.

“Since our ‘first festival steps’ we have changed a lot in the organization, but not during the festival. When you visit the festival, you can feel like you are in the huge family. We brought to life the whole ukulele community in Czech Republic and we continually work on its growth and strength,” she added.

“Even though I don’t play ukulele at all, I simply fell in love with ukulele, ukulele community and the festival. I had never experienced a festival atmosphere like there is in the Czech Ukulele Festival,” she said.

The Czech Ukulele Festival has been a popular event for both visitors and performers. Under normal circumstances, artists and listeners from across Europe as well North America Hawaii, Japan, Australia and other parts of the world.

In previous years, organizers counted over 27 nationalities. This year they expect mostly visitors from the Czech Republic. “We are all the more looking forward to a unique family atmosphere,” Novotná said.

In 2018, the festival was selected by the UK daily The Guardian as one of the top 20 European festivals.

More information can be found at the festival’s website or Facebook page.