Last Thursday, June 7th, The ArtsCenter in Carrboro hosted YouTube darling and ukulele virtuoso, Jake Shimabakuro. Jake performed to a sold-out, high energy crowd. There was no opening act but the lobby filled up long before the show began. Much of the audience brought along their own ukuleles with the hope of meeting Jake and grabbing an autograph or a photo opportunity. After the set, Jake was kind enough to remain in the lobby and visit with everyone in the audience who stayed after the show. This display of devotion to the fans is a rare occurrence for a touring act and added significantly to the overall experience.
The show itself featured an incredible display of skill and prowess on the part of Jake. Coming into the show having seen only a few of his YouTube videos, I did not expect the kind of stage presence and high-energy performance that he offered. He mostly performed original compositions, with a number of covers thrown in. As would be expected, the covers received some of the greatest anticipation and applause. Jake covered a varied group of artists including The Beatles, Leonard Cohen, Adele, and Queen, all of which received considerable audience support. The audience itself was incredibly respectful towards the artist; with my own concert-going experience mostly in rock music, it was a nice change of pace to be a part of an audience that remained dead silent and attentive during slower, quieter songs.
Jake was quite talkative with the audience in between songs, discussing the songs’ origins and being quite grateful to the audience for their support. The best part of the show came when Jake discussed his recent trip to Japan, during which he was able to experience traditional Japanese folk music being played on a 13-string native Japanese instrument known as the “koto.” Being so moved by the music, he began adapting it to the ukulele immediately following his return to his native Hawaii. He christened the song “Sakura, Sakura,” a beautiful composition which captivated the audience, myself included, and showcased the true scope of Jake’s talents.
If I had one complaint, it would be the short nature of the set that Jake played. Lacking an opener, the show lasted less than an hour and a half, something I would usually be a little disappointed about. With the sheer physically exerting nature of Jake’s ukulele playing, however, it’s likely that his fingers simply cannot sustain longer sets. A solution to this could be the addition of a relevant opening act in the future, not for the sake of warming up the audience, but simply to expose the audience to a different artist and extend the time of the set.
Overall, the show was fantastic. The venue, coming in at around 350 seats, was small enough to provide an intimate setting for the audience, but large enough to ensure that the energy remained extremely high throughout. The audience comprised of young and old alike; clearly, Jake’s music and personality appears to a wide swath of people. The addition of Jake meeting with everyone in the audience after the show was simply icing on the cake. If Jake ever returns to the Chapel Hill/Carrboro area, I will certainly be making plans to attend.