Julie Merritt is a Panama City local and President of the St. Andrews Ukulele Orchestra.
When is the last time you sat around with a group of friends and played music and sang songs? Whether singing along with the radio, around a camp fire, or a night out on the town with friends singing along with your favorite band. The sheer joy of keeping company with good friends and belting out happy tunes makes for a memorable time.
Enter the ukulele; for the past 4 years a group of music lovers has met at Little Village once a month to play on their ukuleles and sing songs. The group in itself has grown from around 20 participants at that first meeting in November of 2013 to an active playing membership of around 80. Initially, we would bring our TV set and post the songs on the tube via laptop and we would play and sing along to some classic old tunes. To our surprise, the Ukulele Orchestra of St. Andrews has become a very active family of musicians that includes not only ukuleles, but trumpets, cellos, accordions, drums, vibra slaps and kazoos. It is truly an “orchestra”! As the group has grown in number and diversity of instruments, so has the range of musical interests ranging from classical ukulele tunes to rock and roll, blues, folk, and cabaret. The group now performs at venues across the Panhandle and has raised money through donations and tips to spread the love by providing ukuleles to local elementary schools, after school groups and the local library. To date, the group has provided ukes to five Bay County elementary schools, Girls Inc., and the Bay County Library – Panama City. The goal is to continue raising money and putting ukes in all of the local schools as well as to foster teaching and performance.
As the group continued to grow, and raise money, we decided to sponsor a ukulele festival. Several members had participated in workshops and festivals across the country and thought “Why not here?” The Strummin’ Man festival is planned for the second weekend in October at the St. Andrews Marina. This festival will bring internationally recognized ukulele talent from as far away as Hawaii and will include workshops, vendors, local and regional live performances and open mic opportunities for new and old strummers who are anxious to share their musical interests. October in St. Andrews is one of the best places to be on the planet and nothing will put a smile on your face like a ukulele. Come on down, bring the family and join in the fun!