Ukulele Fest Strums Up Fun and Funds For Schools

LANCASTER Calif. - Desert sands and imported palm trees aside, the Antelope Valley is a far cry from Hawaii. This will change October 12 and 13, when the fourth annual Antelope Valley Ukulele Festival kicks off two days ukulele performances and workshops at the Antelope Valley College Performing Arts Complex in Lancaster.
“This year’s festival is bigger and better than any we’ve had before,” said Mike Lemos, Executive Director of AV Ukes For Schools, the nonprofit behind the festival. “That means more Aloha in our valley and more opportunities for new music programs in local schools.”
Friday night will feature world renowned ukulele musicians performing original and well known songs. Artists include Jason Arimoto, a musician who found fame on YouTube and success in starting a coffee and ukulele shop in Los Angeles called U-Space. Fred Sokolow will also be bringing his more than five decades of experience as a professional musician to the stage.
“Fred is amazing. He actually reached out to us. He saw what we were doing and wanted to be part of it. What do you say when a legend like him wants to join the line-up, other than yes?”
Rounding out the concert lineup are The Naked Waiters, a Utah based group who played festivals in Europe this summer, Cali Rose, a charming instructor and performer from Culver City, and Lise Lee, a new and upcoming ukulele artist.
“The variety and style our artists bring to the ukulele is breathtaking,” said Lemos. “From traditional Hawaiian to jazz, silly novelty songs to bluegrass and ballads. There really is something for everyone.”
Saturday morning the festival will continue at Antelope Valley College, featuring workshops and a stage for community performances.
“We’ve retooled the festival from the ground up so we can bring the Aloha spirit to everyone, the casual listener, the new ukulele player on up to more seasoned strummers,” Lemos explained.
Among the workshops offered are beginning ukulele, harmonies, chords melodies, songwriting, ukulele percussion, hula and lei making.
“Our workshops are focused on the beginning and novice player,” said Lemos. “We have even partnered with Ohana to provide ukes for folks to use during the workshops, at no cost.”
The workshops and concert take place in the performing arts complex of Antelope Valley College, including the newly constructed Performing Arts Theatre.
“Our partnership with the college has been invaluable. Their facilities are amazing. The theatre, in particular, really is a top notch venue!,” Lemos said excitedly. “You are going to get an LA caliber show on Friday night, thanks to our artists and the college faculty, staff and student volunteers.”
The festival has higher purposes than celebrating the ukulele, though. Money raised from ticket sales and raffles go directly into local schools through the AV Ukes For Schools, a local nonprofit that starts self-sustaining music programs in local schools.
“We start by finding teachers who are interested in music and willing to take on the commitment of the program,” explained Nancy Lemos, AV Ukes For Schools Board Member and local elementary school teacher. “We then set up the teacher with teaching materials and a class set of ukuleles. They are the ones running the class, not us. If we disappeared tomorrow, these music classes would still be strumming along, enriching children’s lives.”
AV Ukes For Schools already has four programs running in three Antelope Valley School Districts, with eight more in the planning stage.
“Thanks to our partnerships with leading ukulele manufacturers and local schools, we’re able to put real musical instruments, not a toy, in a children’s hands. One they can play at school and take home to practice,” Lemos proudly explained. The ukuleles are returned to the school at the end of each school year.
Tickets for the festival are $30 for the headliners concert on Friday night, $45 for the workshops on Saturday, or $60 for both days. Children 12 and under are free on Saturday. Tickets and information are available at and