My first experience at the Port Townsend Ukulele Festival

This year I attended the second week of the Port Townsend Ukulele Festival. I think folks were saying this was the festival’s third year, and that it’s the first year they had two sessions.  It was my first time attending.

What did I think? I loved it! That’s the tl:dr version. Brisk and sunny fall days, warm and friendly people, excellent ukulele instruction, delicious food, deer running around, open-mic nights, impromptu jams, and a teacher’s concert that was unforgettable; yes, I’m coming back next year!

Off to Port Townsend

Port Townsend is only a couple hours from Seattle, it was an easy drive, at least for normal people (assuming you believe those really exist). Me, well, I often get anxious while driving, so I wanted someone to drive with. One of my good friends, Honora,  signed up to camp with me, and we’d planned on sailing or driving together (see map below), but she got some difficult news and it turned out she’d be unable to make it.

I owe all of what happened next to Honora’s sweetness. Despite she stress she was going through, instead of just calling Centrum and asking for a refund, she told me, “You should see if someone wants to take over my ticket, and find someone fun to drive with, that way you won’t have to drive up alone.” At first I thought, nahh, I can drive it myself. Then I had second thoughts, so I put out a call for co-pilots to the Seattle Ukulele Players Association mailing list, and the first person to respond was Chontel, a woman I hadn’t met before, but who co-ran her own ukulele group. We figured out all the details in email, and then we met when I pulled into her driveway to pick her up.

We had a great time driving together. Not only that, Chontel was so kind and sensitive, both about my fears that I might get anxious while driving (I didn’t on the way up, but on the way home in the dark I did get pretty anxious, but it worked out just fine), and about my having fibromyalgia. We had great conversation, we listened to great uke music, and over the four days we became real friends. I’m so grateful to Honora for urging me to find another co-pilot, and to Chontel for answering the call.

Anyway, I love to make maps, so here’s one for fun:


The green route is the one that Chontel and I actually drove. The blue route was the first idea that Honora and I had for how we’d get up there – why not sail? That seemed like a great plan back in June. By October, after an entire summer only sailing a few times, I was frustrated to realize that it was too big of a trip for our britches. Honora has always been a great crew member on the boat, and we’d have had Greg with us, but still, we didn’t feel comfortable getting up there by sail. I estimated the trip would have been about 8 hours, and require decent navigation and chart reading. Our longest trip is an overnight to Kingston, and that was two years ago – we hadn’t really been honing our chart reading skills since then. And Greg would have been coming up just to help us sail, he’d have had little to do all week. So, we opted to drive, and that was the right choice. Still, next year, I’d love to try going by sail. We’ll see!

This is what our rooms looked like:

IMG_6059 I thought it was very cozy when I opened the door. After the first night, I realized two things. One; the walls are paper thin. Not only can you hear your neighbors cough, but if they want to practice their new uke skills, you won’t be able to take an afternoon nap.

Two; the mattresses are terrible. For someone with a normal body, this is fine for a few days. For someone with fibromyalgia, especially when you combine the bad mattress with the inability to find a quiet place to take an afternoon recovery nap, it was bad enough that I lost significant amounts of sleep. I was a zombie by the time I got home, though it should be noted I was a very happy, ukulele-music-filled zombie.

Still, Chontel and I both agreed that next year we’d prefer another location for our sleeping. Maybe a bed and breakfast, or if we sail up, I can make our beds on board very comfy.


Fort Warden is beautiful. It’s impossible to take an ugly picture here. Everywhere you look, it’s nothing but quaint white clapboard buildings set against a bright blue sky. I suppose when it’s grey and rainy, it might be less inspiring, but our whole trip was gifted with beautiful weather.


Walk far enough, and you reach the water, where you can look out over Admiralty Inlet, and wave hello to Whidbey Island. I spent some lovely hours at here, practicing uke and watching the ferries go by.


One of my classmates in Aaron Keim‘s fingerpicking class had this nifty coil in which to rest her pencil. GENIUS! She said she found it on the Shar Music website, but I couldn’t locate it. Maybe they don’t carry them anymore. I did find this iPad holder which I could really use…(taking notes for Christmas list).


I met a lovely woman who had two(!) stunningly beautiful DaSilvas. Since I began playing uke a few years ago, I’ve always preferred the sound of resonators (I have a brass Morton tenor) to ukes made from wood. This goes against tradition, of course, and I don’t usually admit it. It isn’t that I think regular ukes sound bad, it’s just that the resonators are so much more…resonant. Loud? Volume is part of it, but it’s also that twang-y quality. Not a banjo, but not a uke, either, somewhere in the middle. I love it!

The DaSilva was the first wooden uke I played that made me think, Oooooooo, I’d buy this. It sounded like a harp! It was gorgeous. Both to look at, and to play. A real work of art. I’d love to save up for one. Someday!


When I arrived at camp and saw the list of classes and teachers, I didn’t recognize anyone except Aaron Keim and Del Ray. This isn’t saying anything – I haven’t explored the ukulele word much beyond Jake Shimabukuro. On our schedule were some classes with Craig Chee and Sarah Maisel.

I ended up taking Craig’s class, Ukulele Bootcamp, and learned a ton. I learned more in his class than in all the others combined. Chontel took some classes with Sarah and loved those, too. I had lunch with Craig and Sarah one afternoon, and talked to them a few times outside of class, I found them both so friendly and funny. I hope they come back to the festival next year.

The food was delicious, plentiful, and quite varied for someone without food sensitivities. However, if you’re vegan or gluten-free, you can eat about half or less of most meals. If you’re vegan and gluten-free, you’re in trouble. In that case, I’d bring extra food, or go without the meal plan and prepare your own meals entirely.

IMG_0838A jam with Del Ray!
IMG_6049These happy faces were the regular scene in all the classes and jams. The whole festival was a very laid back, happy place, like you might expect. It was a great experience!

I’ve had this post sitting for a few days, writing as I have the energy.  The fibromyalgia has been especially bad this week, and I’m extra tired. I can see that it shows in my writing and descriptions. I didn’t do the trip justice, but maybe I can write more later.

One comment

  1. Elaine says:

    Sounds a lot like Fiddle Tunes. But they have strict rules about no music in the dorms, ever. Otherwise you’d get no sleep.

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