Ukes and yo-yos fill afternoon with fun

By Kate Evans

Tripping Lily/Flickr

Ukes and Yoyos brought floods of families and happy couples to the Academy of Music Theatre in Northampton last Sunday. The tantalizing scent of salty popcorn combined with the warmth from the heaters in the lobby created an immediately positive atmosphere. The beautiful theater was nearly half-filled with bubbly children and smiling adults.

A clip from Tony Coleman’s black and white documentary “The Mighty Uke” kicked the event off, touching upon the history of the instrument. The A E I O Ukes and the A2Z Yoyo Team set the stage with a joint opening act.

The group of 40 or so ukulele performers from A E I O Ukes stretched across the stage decked in Hawaiian shirts. The A2Z boys yo-yoed in front of the ukulele players, all donning matching black tee shirts and jeans. One member created a mustache out of his yoyo, giving the audience quite a laugh.

Jim and Liz Beloff performed next with their ukuleles alongside Joe Blumenthal of Downtown Sounds in Northampton. Jim played ukulele, while his wife Liz rotated between playing ukulele and singing. The first song the couple performed was about dating, and the last was about marriage. One of their songs in between, “Magic Island,” created a relaxed vibe, generating a feeling that everyone in the venue might actually have been on a getaway. The uke duo incorporated comical lyrics, such as “I’m carrying a tiki torch for you,” but “you met another Mai Tai man.”

An upbeat yoyo act followed the uke pair. John and Rebecca Higby started off their performance with classic tricks like “Around the World” and “Shoot for the Moon.” The couple spiced things up by inviting an audience member onto the stage. John Higby had him hold a match and then lit the match using his yoyo. His second trick consisted of balancing a quarter on the volunteer’s ear and then knocking it off with his yoyo, wowing the crowd. With a finale consisting of one unicycle, two hula-hoops, four yoyos, and a slow motion kiss, the couple had the audience laughing and roaring for more.

Ruthy Ungar segued the show into another ukulele act, performing solo with a strong, lovely voice. Ungar impressed with her uke rendition of Nelly Furtado’s “Maneater,” and even involved the audience by asking them to hum makeshift saxophone sounds while she played. Ungar’s dedication to the instrument shined through as she brought three different ukuleles with her, one for each song. This grateful, friendly and talented young woman finished her set with Ella Fitzgerald’s “Stairway to the Stars.”

On stage next were Greg Hawkes, Tim Mann and Greg Allison of Hawkes’ trio Three Guys with Ukes. The ukelele group started off with “Honey Pie” and “Eleanor Rigby” by the Beatles, as Hawkes gets his musical inspiration from Paul McCartney. The third and best song of the set was George Harrison’s “Here Comes the Sun,” which was touching, peaceful and flawless. Hawkes and his uke-mates finished their set with one of Hawkes’ very own songs from his band The Cars, called “Drive.”

An intermission at 3:15 pm gave antsy children 20 minutes to stretch and decompress. Joel Eckhaus, yet another ukulele act, started off the second half of the show singing and playing his uke.

Eckhaus’ deep voice paired with his soft ukulele strums made for the perfect contrast. Showing his passion for tango not just through the ukulele but also his funky hat from Argentina, Eckhaus performed “Adios Muchachos” by Carlos Gardel. Eckhaus welcomed his former student Ungar onto the stage with him for a duet finale. The two performed the Billie Holiday song “Me, Myself and I,” which he taught her 23 years ago.

In a much anticipated yoyo act, Eric Koloski bombarded the stage with pop music and flashy tricks. Yo-yoing to the beat of “You Spin Me Right Round,” Koloski displayed his creativity by crafting a star and spider web out of his yoyo string. Koloski moved to the music as the stage went dark and his yoyos lit up. The spiraling toys looked just like the “America’s Got Talent” finalist was literally playing with fire. Koloski was only on stage for a few minutes, leaving the audience yearning for more yoyo tricks.

The last and quite possibly the best act of the day was Tripping Lily, a quartet from Cape Cod. Monica Rizzio and brothers Demetrius and Alex Becrelis took turns in front playing instruments and singing together, while fourth bandmate Laird Boles stood behind playing the stringed bass. The band’s appearance reflected upon their mixed musical genre; ranging from classical and elegant to laid-back and fun.

Both Rizzio and Demetrius Becrelis had beautiful voices, rotating leading vocals. The band revealed that they lost a close friend a few weeks ago and performed a tribute to him called, “Who’s Gonna Laugh Now?” The sadness and genuine feel could have shed tears across the audience. With their talent, style and down-to-Earth attitude, Tripping Lily is guaranteed to be the next great artist.

The concert ended with one final performance of “Down by the Riverside” with all the ukulele performers and Eric Koloski yo-yoing to the side. The performers encouraged members of A E I O Ukes in the audience to stand up and play along with them. Several women donning Hawaiian shirts rose in the balcony and strummed next to their loved ones. The show ended by 4:30 p.m. on a very positive note. 

Kate Evans can be reached at [email protected]