Backing Up Willie K at Ukulele Fest

Ukulele Mele was part of 150 backing up Willie K

What a thrill to be part of 150 adult ukulele players “backing up Willie K” on stage at the 45th annual Ukulele Festival on July 19th at Kapiolani Park, Waikiki, on the island of Oahu! I made new friends, shared some of my ukulele techniques and unique strums, and enjoyed the experience of just playing music as one of many. As a ukulele teacher and professional entertainer, this festival provided a great venue for me to just have fun playing the instrument with other like-minded people from all over the world. See me in the white hat to the right of Willie K?

This was my first year participating with Roy Sakuma’s adult strummers group on stage, whereas last year, I was just a spectator. It was Roy who had a dream over 45 years ago to put on a free festival for the public. In 1971, the first Ukulele Festival drew an audience of a hundred. Today, the Ukulele Festival attracts thousands who come to enjoy the music of 800 performers from Hawaii and around the world. This year’s lineup included groups from Canada, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, and across the U.S. The popularity of the ukulele has come a long way, baby.

My experience started a few months ago when Kathy Sakuma, Roy’s wife, invited me to be part of Roy’s adult strummers to back up Willie K at the July festival. In June while on Oahu, I took a private lesson to learn the 2 songs we would be playing. I showed instructor Reece how I play the Latin strum to “Jamaica Farewell” and “Twist and Shout,” and he said that was fine to do although everyone else would be playing an easier strumming pattern to those songs. At that time, I also purchased my festival t-shirt so that I would blend in with the rest of the group.

Willie K and Ukulele Mele at Oahu workshop

On the weekend of the festival, I arrived in time on Oahu to attend the free workshop on Saturday, July 18 at Ala Moana Hotel ballroom. The first person I introduced myself to recognized me from the online video lessons she watches on my website. How great was that?! Erin from Canada was so happy to meet me in person that she even wrote on her blog about it. During the workshop, we rehearsed the 2 songs we would be playing with Willie K the next day. Afterwards, I asked Willie K for some one-on-one off stage help to learn a specific riff that he showed everyone how to play while he was on stage.

The Oahu Ukulele Festival on Sunday went from 10:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at Kapiolani Park. I was proud to receive a metal for participating in one of the groups on stage.

The Maui Ukulele Festival will be Sunday, October 11 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center in Kahului.

Aloha, Mele Fong aka Ukulele Mele


Mele Fong is a professional singer, song arranger, and master of multiple strumming styles for the 'ukulele. She is an experienced educator with over 50+ years experience playing the 'ukulele and entertaining worldwide. Mele performs with her husband in the duo "The Hawaiian Serenaders" and leads student groups. In 1996, the duo represented the State of Hawai'i in concert at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. Mele and her husband Richard Tom were both born and raised on Oahu and now reside in Maui.