You are the owner of this article.

Ukulele sensation Jake Shimabukuro returns to 'Mountain Stage' Sunday


Acclaimed ukulele star Jake Shimabukuro returns to Mountain Stage this Sunday, along with Railroad Earth, Joe Pug and more.

When he gets home, ukulele phenom Jake Shimabukuro likes to play clubs around Honolulu.

“I always play at home,” he said. “I play every chance I get — even if I’m just crashing in with one of my buddies.”

The Hawaii native, who performs Sunday night on Mountain Stage at the Culture Center Theater, in Charleston, added that he often played at the local Blue Note jazz club.

The Blue Note began in New York City, but in the past several years has expanded and opened locations in Japan, Italy, South America and Hawaii.

“It’s a wonderful club,” Shimabukuro said. “Real intimate.”

When he’s home, the ukulele player will invite his whole family down to the show.

“Sometimes my mom will come and get on stage,” he said. “She was my first ukulele teacher when I was growing up and she has a beautiful singing voice.”

The 44-year-old stays in demand and doesn’t get home as much as he’d like.

Shimabukuro has been performing with the ukulele since he was a teenager. Through his twenties, he recorded with a couple of groups and built a following in Japan and Hawaii.

He was largely unknown in the rest of the United States until 2006, when a video of Shimabukuro playing a cover of George Harrison’s “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” began to circulate.

Since then, he’s toured regularly in the continental United States, as well as internationally, and collaborated or played with everyone from Jimmy Buffet and Bela Fleck to Warren Haynes of Gov’t Mule.

Since he began recording in the late 1990s, the ukulele player has amassed a couple dozen albums that include his own, original compositions, as well as reworked cover tunes.

The past couple of years, Shimabukuro has been touring with a guitarist and bassist. A record by that ensemble, “Trio,” was released Feb. 14.

He said it was a fun record to make, but also challenging. Usually, he said, they would be looking to add drums into the mix to make it a little more rocking.

“With this record, we intentionally stayed away from the drums, so we could hear all the intricacies and subtle nuances in all the instruments,” Shimabukuro said.

Instead, he handled the percussion with the ukulele, as he often does when he tours.

“I rarely tour with a percussionist,” he said. “I always take that role live, but when we get in the studio, I like to bring in a drummer.”

Sticking closer to what Shimabukuro does live in the studio means the record sounds closer to a live performance, “which I really like,” he said.

“Trio” is the first of two records from Shimabukuro out this year. The second, due out in October, features duets with some of his musical friends and collaborators, among them Willie Nelson, Ziggy Marley and Bette Midler.

The year ahead will be pretty busy for the Shimabukuro, but he might not get home a lot.

Since the last time he played “Mountain Stage,” he got married. He and his wife have a couple of kids.

“I miss being involved with the family, but I’m grateful to get to do something I love, something I’m passionate about,” he said. “I hope it inspires my kids to be the best they can at something and work hard.”

Reach Bill Lynch at,

304-348-5195 or follow

@lostHwys on Twitter. He’s also on Instagram at and read his blog at