Ukulele enthusiasts plan Norwalk convergence

WESTPORT — The ukulele is having a bit of a moment, according to recent converts Steven Forlano of Norwalk and Peter Propp of Westport.

For those who know where to look, the instrument is everywhere. A ukulele cruise in June brought together some 60 enthusiasts who strummed as they skimmed across Long Island Sound. Music from the four-stringed lute can be found in “The Descendants,” and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam released an entire ukulele album.

And on his way to a ukulele group at the Westport/Weston YMCA, Glenn Hayes of Middlefield pointed to a two-week stretch on the horizon when local musicians will have the chance to attend seven separate ukulele meetups.

“It’s a lot of fun,” Hayes said. “I plan my schedule that way.”

He’s been known to frequent strum sessions in New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and even Dublin, where the Stag’s Head hosts ukulele Tuesdays.

So Forlano and Propp thought it only made sense to start a ukulele festival in Norwalk.

“We feel like there’s nothing like this in the area,” Forlano said.

“We’ve seen the enthusiasm just around Connecticut — and if you look across the country it’s the same,” agreed Propp, a ukulele player with experience with events and marketing. “We feel it’s sort of the right time to be doing this. Ukulele is just hot.”

They teamed up with Factory Underground to organize the Connecticut Ukulele Festival, which will take place at the Factory Underground Studio on Isaacs Street in Norwalk on Sept. 29.

Starting at 1 p.m., there will be workshops, open mics and group strums open to people of all skill levels. The day will be rounded out with ukulele concert. (Ticket information is available at Connecticut Ukulele Festival’s Facebook page, and if you’re an interested ukulele performer, Propp urges you to reach out to

One of the performances will be the CUkes, a group of ukulele players who practice every Tuesday at 7 p.m. at the Westport/Weston YMCA. Forlano started it nearly two years ago, after picking up a ukulele his daughter had checked out from the Westport Library (she’s a fan of the band Twenty One Pilots, in which Tyler Joseph sometimes plays the instrument, Forlano explained). Since then, the group has quickly gained traction — their performance at Connecticut’s Got Talent in February moved the audience to clap along, swaying happily to and fro.

This Tuesday, two dozen ukulele players carrying music and stands trooped into the YMCA for their weekly practice. Many had picked up the ukulele within the past year. Some wore Hawaiian shirts.

“I don’t want to say that the ukulele is easy to play, but you actually get to a point where you have success with playing it more quickly than other instruments,” Forlano said. “It’s very accessible. I could probably sit down with you for half an hour, an hour, and I could get you playing three, four chords — and you could do a lot with that.”

Sam Goldman of Norwalk had brought an extra ukulele that day — clear and made of plastic, perfect for the pool — for her sister, Shauna, who was trying the instrument for the first time.

As the group ran through songs about love and summer living — “Under the Boardwalk,” “All I have to Do Is Dream” — Shauna Goldman imitated the positions of her sister’s fingers and strummed tentatively. Forlano embraced the beachy vibes and kicked off his shoes, tapping out the beats barefoot. In the mirrored workout room, wallpapered with a floor-to-ceiling photograph of waves and clouds, the sounds of two dozen strumming ukuleles filled the air.

The sisters giggled as Shauna tried for the chords. “I like it!” she declared as the group paused to flip to their next song (“Do You Believe in Magic?”).

Lew Horowitz of Fairfield pulled out a kazoo and gave a triumphant toot.

Shauna smiled. “You definitely meet a lot of people who enjoy getting loosey goose.”; @raschuetz