''Did you know we had 964 ukulele players last year?''
Marcy Marxer is reminiscing about the success of last year's UkeFest at Strathmore, which attracted a crowd of 2,100 people. Marxer, with her partner Cathy Fink, actually worked to ensure all 964 players knew how to play before the feat, designed for the Guinness Book of World Records.
''It was a stunning, community group effort,'' Marxer says. ''It was more like a joy fest than anything else.'' And that success has inspired Marxer and Fink to make this year's UkeFest, the fourth annual, even larger. The duo – in music and in life – has organized a three-day Uke and Guitar Summit preceding the UkeFest concert and party next Wednesday, Aug. 15. This year's event focuses even more than before on ukulele's place in Hawaiian music and culture, and features notable Hawaiian artists the Hula Honeys, Moanalani and Keola Beamer. ''[In recent years] the ukulele has been getting a lot of attention but Hawaiian artists aren't necessarily getting as much attention as we think they deserve,'' says Marxer.
Marxer grew up in Detroit in a very musical family, including a grandmother who was in a folk band that performed regularly for car pioneer Henry Ford. Marxer started playing guitar when she was 5, and picked up the ukulele about seven years later by happenstance. ''I was walking to school past a garbage can that had a little instrument sticking out of it,'' she remembers. ''It was a very cheap ukulele, but it worked just well enough to get me hooked, before it fell apart a couple years later.''
Marxer met Fink 32 years ago, while both were in Canada performing at a folk festival. The couple, longtime residents of Takoma Park, would go on to work with Cleve Jones's AIDS Quilt-focused NAMES Project and perform at various women's festivals. They're also regular studio musicians for folk stars including Tom Paxton and Pete Seeger, and have won several Grammy Awards.
In recent years they've been getting an increasing number of gigs to play the uke, after Marxer finally turned Fink onto the instrument. ''Now she's unstoppable,'' Marxer smiles.
UkeFest is Wednesday, Aug. 15, at 7 p.m. preceded by a Uke and Guitar Summit starting Saturday, Aug. 11, at 11 a.m.
Strathmore, 5301 Tuckerman Lane, North Bethesda. No tickets required for UkeFest; $300 to participate in the summit. Call 301-581-5100 or visit strathmore.org.