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Ukulele Wizard casts spell with rock, pop and folk music

Jake Shimabukuro jams on stage at Laxson Auditorium on Friday.
Jake Shimabukuro jams on stage at Laxson Auditorium on Friday.

A printed rug, a pedal board and a ukulele were all Jake Shimabukuro needed to dazzle the audience Sept. 13 at Laxson Auditorium.

The Grand Ukulele Tour stopped in Chico to kick off Chico’s World Music Festival. For Shimabukuro, this tour was a way to raise awareness and help children.

“This year, we’re sponsoring a village of kids in the Philippines through an organization called Child Fund,” Shimabukuro wrote in an email to The Orion. “I’m hoping we can help these kids to get clean water and nutritious food.”

This trip marked Shimabukuro’s third visit to Chico. However, it was the first time performing as a solo artist. He showed the crowd exactly why he has been coined the Ukulele Wizard. His solo performance was packed with as much energy as a five-piece band.

He took center stage with a ukulele over his shoulder, stood in the middle of a printed rug and took a bow to the roar of applause. After the crowd fell silent, he opened up his two-hour instrumental performance with three different songs that displayed how much range he has on the four-stringed instrument.

He started by playing an intricate song, then moved onto something with a more upbeat and high-energy sound. The third song he played was an intense cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep.”

Shimabukuro opened up to the audience by telling humorous stories about his first child being born and the difficulty that came with teaching him how to walk.

The story was a perfect lead-in to the song “Gentle Mandolin,” a relaxing song where Shimabukuro made his song sound like a mandolin. Like the soothing song, Shimabukuro hopes his will grow up to be a gentle man, he said.

The highlight of the show was his performance of “Dragon,” where he transformed the sound of his four-string ukulele into a six-string electric guitar. He introduced the song by telling an anecdote about his first concert —Van Halen — and how they influenced him to master an electric ukulele sound.

“Dragon” is a song inspired by Bruce Lee, and is a tribute to guitar heroes, Shimabukuro told the crowd.

He started off “Dragon” with a synthesizer effect on his ukulele. Shimabukuro strummed the rhythm and used his digital delay pedal to keep the rhythm going. As the rhythm played, he channeled his inner Eddie Van Halen and shredded a tapping solo on his electronic ukulele. No longer did the ukulele sound like a humble, light-hearted instrument, but rather a series of fierce, powerful riffs that resonated throughout the auditorium. After he finished the song, Shimabukuro triumphantly threw a metal sign in the air and glistened with sweat.

Keeping with the rock theme, the next songs on the set list were a cover of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” and The Eagle’s “Hotel California.”

He finished the set with a performance of The Beatles’ “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” and a traditional Hawaiian song called “Akaka Falls.” The crowd cheered and applauded as he ended the show the same way he began it — by taking a bow.


Sharon Martin can be reached at [email protected] or @sharonbmartin on Twitter.

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