Saturday, September 26, 2009

Herb Ohta Jr in Dallas

What do you do with Herb Ohta, Jr when he comes to Dallas?

Well, you go to his concert and attend his workshops, of course! Noel Tardy of did a great job of arranging for Herb Ohta to come to Dallas.

Click here for Hawaii Music Live!

But that’s not what I meant: I was talking about when he WASN’T doing workshops and concerts. Civic pride. Showing off the town. Making Dallas MEMORABLE, so he’ll come back!

Taking him to see the outside of “old” Cowboy Stadium and “New” Cowboy Stadium? (And what would he do at the stadiums anyway? Stand around outside in the rain and nod?) We discussed trying to make it all the way to The Stockyards in Fort Worth for a taste of the “real” West – We’d have made it, but just barely! Shopping was mentioned: The Galleria and Northpark Mall are well known, although probably nothing particularly exciting to world travelers.

Tip number one if you are entertaining performers: Ask them.

As it turns out, Herb and his promoter, Susie Kagami, had a “hankering” to try some “real down-home Texas barbecue” – They didn’t actually say “hankering” and “real down-home,” but we Texans knew what they meant! We decided to take them to Sonny Bryan’s Smokehouse, arguably the best barbecue in Dallas. I say “arguably” because EVERYONE has an opinion on this.

Click here for GREAT Dallas Barbecue!

Tip number two if you are entertaining performers: An army travels on their stomachs, and performers on tour are an entertainment army! It doesn’t have to be expensive, but it does have to be good.

Sonny’s is a very unique hole-in-the-wall. It’s a simple one room building. You go up to the counter and place your order. When it’s ready, you can sit at a handful l of old-time school room desk/chair combinations. They are open 10 am to 4 pm, unless they run out of food. Corporate lawyers sit next to blue collar construction workers. Or in our case, famous ukulele players.

It wasn’t too crowded, but Kathy and Susie wound up on the other end of the room from Herb and me. This worked out: We were able to talk a little football. Herb is a huge Cowboys fan, and was actually very interested in the new stadium. (Note to self: Try to bring Herb back when he can attend a football game next time.)

We did talk a little about touring, and wound up sharing a few interesting stories. The truth is, Herb and Susie are nice, charming people. They enjoy what they do, and they enjoy meeting the ukulele community and all their fans. I really enjoyed getting to know him, too.

I specifically did not talk about playing the ukulele: I was showing them the city, not trying to score a secret lesson. I also didn’t spend a whole lot of time talking about our little club here, Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. OK, that’s not entirely true: Herb actually asked a lot of questions about how the group started. So, yeah, I admit, I talked about our little group.

Tip number three if you are entertaining performers: Get to know them. They are people, and in a strange city. Be yourself, be open, be friendly. Be a friend. They may not become your BEST friend, but they should be a connection.

When we finished lunch, we decided to take them to Hula Hotties. This is a Hawaiian Café opened in a somewhat Bohemian area of Dallas. I wrote a recent blog about Dallas Ukulele Headquarters performing there, and we are going back for another jam there in October. I had one reason in particular to go there: To see the look on owner Roger Simpsons face when I introduced him to Herb.

Click here for Hula Hotties in Dallas!

I didn’t mind bringing Herb into an area where he’d have to be a little bit “on stage” – Yes, this was his “down time,” but I wasn’t putting him in an uncomfortable situation. The big plus here was relationships: Roger was a part of the Dallas ukulele scene, a local business owner, and a supporter of Dallas Ukulele Headquarters. This was a little bit of meet-n-greet.

We were not disappointed. When I introduced Herb, Roger’s eyes grew wide as saucers, and he called out, “Jill! Jill! Get out here!” as his wife ran from the kitchen.

Roger was very excited, and talked about his home in Hawaii and different performers he knew. The restaurant was very Hawaiian, and a very comfortable place to kick back and relax. Of course, when you can have the great Hula Hotties baked goods and fine Kona coffee, how could you not be relaxed? Herb signed Roger’s uke, and a good time was had by all.

Tip number four if you are entertaining performers: Share your time with your entertainer with people who support your group. As long as it’s OK with your guest, this is a chance to build some bridges.

Our last spot was the Kennedy Assassination Site. OK, it’s a little dark, but EVERYONE who comes to Dallas wonders about it. On any day of the year, when you drive buy you will see groups of tourists pointing at the School Book Depository, the Grassy Knoll, or each other. It’s iconic. Heck, I didn’t even know what a “knoll” was except for the assassination stories.

We walked around a little bit, and the rainy weather let up for exactly the amount of time we were out of the vehicle. Susie and Herb pointed, got a souvenir map, checked for used shotgun cartridges in the grass, and we left. OK, it wasn’t a long stop, but it WAS what Dallas is KNOWN for.

Tip number five if you are entertaining performers: Show the local sights. When Herb and Suzie got to San Antonio, they did not miss The Riverwalk or The Alamo. It’s just that in Dallas, we have no catchy phrase like, “Remember The School Book Depository.”

The key thing I can tell you from this experience: Herb Ohta Jr is a very real person, and a great guy to know. In a way, this blog topic bothers me because I think of him as a friend now, not a “touring performer.” It feels a little awkward and uncomfortable writing about him this way, with little tips. He’s a buddy who I would gladly have over. This was a terrific experience. And I guess that’s as it should be. If you come away from your experience entertaining the out-of-town talent still thinking of your guest as “out of town talent,” perhaps you shouldn’t invite them back. Herb Ohta Jr? He’s welcome anytime.

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Monday, September 14, 2009


Dallas Ukulele Headquarters now has their name out there in enough places that we get calls for performances pretty regularly. Many of these come from shrewd activities directors who are looking for entertainment for their senior residents.

1) Some find us on our main site: Dallas Ukulele Headquarters Home Page

2) Some find us in senior publications, like The Senior Source: The Senior Source

3) We even have one who found us by searching YouTube: Yankee Doodle Dandy

The important thing is that we have phone numbers and emails out there in various places. And our Internet presence is strong enough that if you enter "Dallas" and "Ukulele" in a search engine...There was no Google when Dallas Ukulele Headquarters started, but it's a convenient name, isn't it?

"There was no Google when Dallas Ukulele Headquarters Started"
(Here's a trivia question for you: Who came up with the name Dallas Ukulele Headquarters?)

Dallas Ukulele Headquarters is committed to bringing the ukulele experience to the community, but we are also sensitive to the fact that our members also donate their time and energy to the program. Balancing the needs of our members and the needs of the community requires some investigation:

1) Some facilities are extremely well funded, and I always ask if they have a budget. It's not offensive, and usually doesn't impact our ability to perform a concert. However, a facility that is well funded can usually provide a small per diem, which is a great help to participating musicians. This can offset gas costs, music printing, and other costs associated with just heading out to perform.

2) Is a meal served? Sometimes, a facility without budget does have the ability to provide food and refreshments to the musicians.

3) What sort of performance are you anticipating? Usually, facilities are thrilled if we come in, set up our music stands, and play right out of the book. There's a lower level of showmanship here, but also the ability for a lot more musicians to participate. It's much easier for me to get a performance group together if I am pulling from 160 musicians, then if a more specific kind of concert is anticipated. If soloists and a higher level of play is requested, I have a much smaller pool of musicians to pull from! I also have to make sure we have microphones and amplifier equipment.

4) How big an audience should we anticipate? If it's 5-10 people, one musician can easily sit down with them in a circle and put on a very nice, simple show. If there arre 50 people, I want to make sure all my musicians can be heard, and what kind of staging area is available.

This is a little bit of pulling-back-the-curtain, but it doesn't mean "No pay, no play" -- On the contrary, I know we can go into a facility and make an audience feel special. I need to make sure my members feel special, too. We have traveled fairly significant miles outside of Dallas to do a performance just because the facility WAS underfunded, and the people we were performing for had very little in the way of entertainment available.

Of course, there's always the After Party. We usually do something like this regardless of the performance, but it's always fun to go grab a bite to eat and perhaps imbibe after strumming. Nobody is particularly worried about per diem or audience size after the show. Usually, everyone feels good about performing, and we can swap stories about a blown chord or missed cue during the show. All the preparation and organization in the world comes down to this: We perform in the moment. And the After Party is a chance to relive that moment together.