At The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra Show

One thing I like a lot about my friend Jill is that her text messages always use capital letters and punctuations and, occasionally, subjunctive clauses. I am relatively new to the whole texting thing, so it’s always nice to get a message I can actually recognize. What’s even better is when I get a text and it says, in clear English: “Would you like to come see the ukulele orchestra this week?” See? So easy. Everyone, regardless of their ability to decipher words made of numbers on a teeny little screen, can understand the inherent awesomeness in such a proposal.

I regret to inform you that until last night I had never had the pleasure of witnessing the live musical stylings of an actual ukulele orchestra. I hadn’t had the vision to do so, you see. I was content to think of the ukulele as a sort of joke instrument, sort of between the kazoo and the sousaphone in terms of entertainment value. But, as is so often the case, I just wasn’t thinking big enough. Ukulele all by itself? Yes, aren’t you clever. Ukulele en masse? Happiness itself.

And the beautiful thing is…well, it’s not like there was just one person who thought it’d be good to take up the uke. And it wasn’t even that multiple people, all in the same city, decided that it would be kind of a fun thing to do. No. It’s that all these people got together and got organized and formed a band, complete with t-shirts and groupies and everything. I just have to bow down, in the fact of such vision.

So last night I met up with about eight hundred of what I am starting to call my International Friends, i.e. the people I originally met through my tenure at the good old Maple Lodge, months ago now, and some more people that also know those original people. We took the cable car up to the Botanic Gardens, giggling to ourselves about how cool we were to be going to see—on purpose!—a ukulele orchestra. I had checked out the website and noticed that all the orchestra members seemed to be very good-looking and have penchants for wearing fishnet stockings and interesting pants, so I was going to make it my goal to have my picture taken giving one of them, didn’t matter who, a chaste kiss. I was also planning to get my new green octopus into the picture, to take my mind of the sadness of having accidentally left my old purple one on a papier-mache monster someone left out on the street last week. Stupidly, I thought that the ukuleleists would be touched that I was taking such an interest. “They’ll probably be all excited and blush adorably and everything,” I said to Jill as we lurched up the mountain, not realizing their far-reaching influence and fame. “I can’t wait to blog about this.” I had even dithered a little about what shirt to wear, because obviously I wanted to look my best to get my picture taken with a ukulele orchestra but all my octopus shirts were in the wash. It was just getting on to eight and I was looking forward to getting a good seat up near the stage so I could take pictures. Silly me, thinking I’d even have a chance to see the ukuleles up close, let alone meet and greet the players. What I saw when we made it to the bandshell was this:

The Crowd At The Ukulele Orchestra

Except more so, because that’s just like a quarter of the people who had come out on a Thursday night. It was packed. All the hills near the bandshell were just covered with people, all with their blankets and snacks and toddlers and bottles of wine. Everyone was just rocking out, laughing and eating and chatting and totally singing along (I love to sing along). I could hardly see the orchestra and was unable to confirm or deny the presence of fishnet tights, but they sounded great.

As we were despairing of finding a place to sit, we ran into our friend Kees, who was sitting with a bunch of his flatmates and friends on the other side of the bandshell, and managed somehow to squeeze in among them and break out our delicious snacks. It was nice and warm so I didn’t mind having forgotten my jacket, and I got to meet and talk to some nice new people as well as hang out with some old friends, i.e. people I met six months ago. I snorfed up some dried apricots and yogurt raisins and fudge slice and managed to convince the bouncer (the bouncer!) to let me in the taped off area for a minute to take a very badly focused picture. “Okay,” he said, lowering his voice and checking to see that no one was watching. “But come right back because I am not supposed to let you in the area.”

The Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra

You can’t see it in the picture, but the first four rows were entirely comprised of people who were on their feet and screaming out requests: the Wellington International Ukulele Orchestra, apparently, does this funny thing where they have their songlists color-and-number coded, so if you want to hear “Weather With You, (which you do, because you are in New Zealand and it is the law), you yell out, like, “Blue Green Fourteen” and they’ll play it. They played that, and then some disco songs, and then that Hey Ya song, and then “Take On Me,” and other demographically-appropriate tunes for our faux-hipster listening pleasure. They ended with “Iko Iko,” which is a song guaranteed to bring tears of joy to a Key Girl’s heart, no matter how far away she may be from her key and from her other girls, and everyone, everyone in the whole garden, got up and danced, smiling and giggling, shaking our booties and yelling hey now HEY NOW hey now HEY NOW as loud as we could. We all wanted more—more ukulele!– but they decided two encores were enough and introduced themselves and called it a night (“And on my lift, on ukulele, please give it up for Megan! And on my other lift, on ukulele, we have Nigel! To Nigel’s lift we have, on ukulele, Andy!”).

The sun set and the trees were all lit up in different colors, purple and pink and green to match the flowers that mostly didn’t get too stepped on too much. Everyone was still in a good mood, gathering up their trash and hugging goodbye and watching some ten-year-old try to breakdance between the long-suffering flowerbeds. “How long do you plan on staying?” asked one of the people with whom I had been dancing and sharing my dried apricots. “Only another six months,” I said, “but I feel like I never want to leave.” We all walked back to Cuba Street the long way in the dark, laughing and shoving and talking talking talking, thinking about the fabulous fact that there not only exists an international ukulele orchestra in this town, but that said international ukulele orchestra has bouncers and groupies and downloadable ringtones.

Oh, summer, finally. Oh Wellington, city that I love wholly with every part of my heart.


  1. Great entry, you can’t go wrong with a ukulele really – but *tragic* news about Octavia being lost on a papier-mache moster, although if you’re gonna go, that is going with some style!

    No chaste kiss, no fishnet tights, no pic of the green octopus! On these grounds alone you must try harder next time you see a Ukulele Orchestra!!!

  2. Wow. I want to see a ukelele orchestra.

  3. I don’t think Octavia got left behind by accident. I think she’s been planning her getaway. She made herself invisible and forgettable just long enough for you to walk away, and then she made a dash for it. She’s off having adventures, don’t you doubt it.

  4. What a delightful blog about us! Thanks for coming! Gemma (of the WIUO)