Ukelele Club of Santa Cruz
Some might say the stars aligned. Others might say it was the perfect convergence of a laid back instrument with a laid back community. But when Donna and Peter Thomas threw a “ukulele extravaganza” party that immediately grew too big for the house, the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz was born.
In less than a year, more ukulele players than anyone could possibly imagine began crawling out of the beach houses and alleyways of this small ocean side California town. From its initial gathering of 40, The Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz grew to a membership of nearly 2000. It was a harbinger of things to come and foretold the current worldwide ukulele renaissance.
UNDER THE BOARDWALK: A UKULELE LOVE STORY, a joyful documentary film, tells the story of the Santa Cruz club’s beginnings and subsequent growth. It artfully interweaves this story with the history of the ukulele itself. This lively film is a romp. As one reviewer put it, ““My objection to Koocher’s sweet and sometimes sad documentary about the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz is that it was hard to watch, take notes and at the same time horse around with my Makala Soprano… Koocher’s film captures the fun and magical Santa Cruz vibe.” (Richard von Busack, film critic San Jose, CA)
Watching the film just might change your life. UNDER THE BOARDWALK: A UKULELE LOVE STORY has persuaded many of the uninitiated of all ages to reach out and pick up a ukulele. The humble instrument lures one with its unassuming presence and emboldens you to give it a try. It’s the friendliest of instruments, a gateway instrument, if you will, to the world of music.
As the film’s narrative emerges from its interwoven threads, the film’s subject becomes more than the ukulele and the club. It becomes no less than a roadmap for a life well lived. It takes us along for a ride where music and friendship lead to a profound discovery; that one of life’s little pleasures, making music together, can be the cornerstone for a life fulfilled.
UNDER THE BOARDWALK: A UKULELE LOVE STORY traces the evolution of the ukulele from its mid 19th century birthplace in the Hawaiian Islands to its introduction on the mainland at the 1915 Pan Pacific Exhibition in San Francisco. The ukulele has the distinction of being a uniquely American instrument. It has three times captured the imagination of the nation catapulting three major Ukulele crazes. The first was during the Tin Pan Alley era of the 1920’s, when Roy Smeck and Ukulele Ike were household names. The second was when Arthur Godfrey popularized the uke on his 50’s TV show. The third is the current wave of ukulele revival, epitomized by clubs such as the one in Santa Cruz.
It is the Santa Cruz club’s receptivity to all kinds of music—pop, blues, do-wop, Hawaiian, vintage classics, etc.—that unites different tastes and interests and brings all variety of people together. The music ranges from the softest, smoothest Hawaiian melodies, to mainland ragtime hits, to pop and western music, and even to jazz.
The Santa Cruz Club offers a performance venue for some of the best ukulele performers in the world. Guest artists who show up in the film, include the likes of Bill Tapia, George Kahumoku, Herb Ohta Jr., Lil Rev, and Ian Whitcomb. But some of the best evenings are when the club entertains itself with open mic. Every third Thursday, anywhere from 150-200 people gather, ukes in hand, to strum and hum, laugh and sing and generally raise a ruckus.
As the varied and lively members of the Santa Cruz club make music for one another, they exude warmth and humor. So it’s not a surprise when the second half of the film witnesses a beautiful outpouring of community and love, as an unexpected turn of events bringshuman tragedy to the forefront of the club.
To view the trailer for UNDER THE BOARDWALK: A UKULELE LOVE STORY click here
If you enjoyed this article and are a ukulele fan, make sure to check out to check out the first ever Virtual Ukulele Ensemble
This article was written by contributing writer, Nina Koocher.