Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro, who has toured the world playing a mix of original and cover songs, will perform at The State Theatre on Oct. 24.
“I was born and raised in Hawaii,” Shimabukuro said. “The ukulele is very popular there. It was basically invented in Hawaii. My mom played when she was a kid, and when I was four she sat me down and taught me a few chords. That was it, I was hooked.”
Shimabukuro’s fame has been bolstered by millions of views on YouTube. In 2006, his version of The Beatles’ classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” became one of the first early viral videos on the site. Eleven years later, Shimabukuro is living his ideal life touring the globe.
“It’s a dream come true,” he said. “This is my passion, and I love doing it. To be able to travel and meet other musicians and have these experiences — it’s just such a tremendous education. I appreciate every chance I get to go out there and share a little bit of the instrument. ... I think it’s such a unique instrument, and I think in the process I get to share a little bit of Hawaii with the rest of the world.”
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Another popular cover song from Shimabukuro is his stripped down version of Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody.” He loved the song and appreciated its place in the pantheon of popular music, but was slightly hesitant about tackling Freddie Mercury’s magnum opus.
“I’ve always thought that ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was the greatest classic rock song of all time,” Shimabukuro said. “I remember when YouTube came out, I’d always look up covers for it. I’d see guitar versions or piano versions and all of that, but I noticed that most people just did versions like that. So, I looked at it and thought, ‘I wonder if I could pull this off in the ukulele?’ Mainly, that was out of curiosity. I just wanted to know what it would sound like.”
Shimabukuro’s respect for Queen’s 1975 rock classic has only grown as he has added the song to his consistent repertoire. He still finds it to a be a beautiful and difficult performance.
“It’s so challenging to capture all the different styles of music in the piece,” he said. “You almost have to be a chameleon to take on all those different feelings and styles. It’s a really challenging piece, but it’s so much fun to play. I’ll definitely be playing it at the show.”
Beyond his popular cover songs, Shimabukuro writes plenty of his own music as well. Last year, the ukulele specialist released an album chock full of original material.
“Last year, I recorded a progressive rock trio record,” he said. “It’s called ‘Nashville Sessions.’ It features Nolan Verner on bass and Evan Hutchings on drums. I’ll be performing new songs off the new record as well as some older recorded music as well.”
Shimabukuro’s audience is wide and deep, compelling listeners from all age groups.
“I think that’s the nice thing about the ukulele — it appeals to all ages,” he said. “One of the cool things at this show that I’ve heard from seemingly every promoter that we work with is that they always say they’ve never seen such a wide demographic. A lot of times with our shows, especially when it’s all ages, we’ll have kids, teenagers, college kids, 30/40-year-olds and also senior citizen community, too.”
Shimabukuro hopes to see people of all ages in attendance at his State College show.
“It’s so family oriented, but at the same time I think all the different generations appreciate it for different reasons,” he said. “For some of them, they may have discovered me on YouTube. But, for some of the others, maybe they just have a connection to Hawaii or to the ukulele because maybe they played it as a kid or their parents play it or something. Sometimes you’ll have three generations of a family come together and enjoy the show together.”
IF YOU GO
- What: Jake Shimabukuro
- When: 8 p.m. Oct. 24
- Where: The State Theatre, 130 W. College Ave., State College
- Info: www.thestatetheatre.org