Wednesday, December 13, 2017
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The Barnkickers ukulele duo make sweet ukulele music as father and daughter

They jokingly bill themselves as "Tampa Bay's Favorite Father and Daughter Ukulele Duo." Or at least he does — and she responds with a roll of the eyes, as kids are prone to when they've heard the same line for the millionth time.

"Now let me bring up the man that has taught me everything I know," she quips after finishing a solo that silenced the chatty diners on the outdoor patio of the Ohana Cafe in Ozona.

"I've been waiting 20 years to hear that," he says with a tip of his brown felt fedora.

It's all part of the their shtick, a parent/kid repartee that slips into easy, musical rhythm with strums and plucks of a couple of ukuleles.

His tiny bass is the backup to her lead and a distinctive, lilting voice that exudes loveliness the moment the auburn-haired 20-year-old leans into the mic to sing an ironic lullaby written by her dad called Father Knows Best.

"There is no end

to the lengths that I'll go

to prove that you're wrong about most things."

Yes, it's about her.

There's a lot to like about the Barnkickers, Steve and Amanda Boisen of Tarpon Springs, who can be found performing at places like the Ohana, Safety Harbor's Whistle Stop Grill and Bar, and the Ale and the Witch and Hideaway Cafe, both in St. Petersburg.

Their eclectic set list features vintage favorites like Pennies From Heaven and Someone to Watch Over Me and covers of some modern bands such as Death Cab for Cutie, Green Day and the Shins. They play tunes pulled from The Daily Ukulele songbook and an impressive collection of their own originals such as Clawfoot Tub, In Spite of You and the edgy Friendly Service Announcement and Apology Song.

The two have been performing together since she was a tot spouting gibberish lyrics to his accompaniments that were captured on family videos. He had ditched his mercenary bass-playing gigs for the security of full-time work. She went on to pick up the guitar, clarinet and tenor saxophone among other instruments, and started penning her own songs.

"My first legitimate song was called Baby Come Out," Amanda Boisen said. "I wrote that for my younger brother when I was about 8 years old. We still play that one today."

The duo began performing as the Barnkickers in 2008 and found an accidental niche after they swapped her acoustic guitar riffs for a ukulele strum for a rendition of the 1933 tune It's Only a Paper Moon.

“It was something quirky that we added in — sort of as a joke," she said. "It resonated with people."

"We thought it would be better than the guitar," said dad Steve, 44, who also manages Horizon Bay, an assisted living facility in Lutz. "We didn't know there was an upsurge going on."

The four-stringed instrument that hails from the Madeira Island of Portugal and popularized in Hawaii, is riding a new wave of popularity, fueled in part by the Israel Kamakawiwo'ole rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World. Other musicians such as Eddie Vedder, Bonnie Raitt and Jimmy Buffett have also worked the instrument into their repertoires.

"Both of us got caught up in it and we began to take it seriously," the elder Boisen said. "We thought it was a unique instrument that we could build our sound around."

The Barnkickers attracted hoards of ukulele fans after posting a 2008 performance on YouTube. They were named winners of UkeWarehouse's video contest and garnered invitations to perform at ukulele festivals in Indiana, Texas, Nashville and Atlanta.

But you don't have to travel to hear their sound. In fact, you can put them on your play list.

The Barnkickers have two CDs under their belt. The first, Up After Noon, released in 2009, features original tunes. The other is a compilation called Square Pegs & Round Holes, featuring various artists including Greg Hawkes, Lyle Ritz and the Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain. Proceeds benefit the American Aspergers Association, a favorite charity of the two since Bosien's son, Andrew, 13, was diagnosed with Asperger's syndrome, a developmental disorder similar to autism.

No doubt, there will be more CDs to come, courtesy of the duo's musical talent and prolific writing skills.

"I write about five songs a week. Not all of them end up in our sets, but I learn something from each one of them," said Amanda Boisen, who is working on her music degree at St. Petersburg College and has a part-time job at Sam Ash Music in Clearwater.

The Barnkickers also serve as sponsors for the Tampa Bay Ukulele Society, which hosts regular open mic nights and jam sessions and an annual ukulele festival held in early November.

This year's lineup includes Cars keyboardist and ukulele aficionado Greg Hawkes and Jim Beloff, heralded as "the rock star of ukulele players."

"It's fun — it's a lot of fun," said Jay Nunes of Clearwater, a fellow player and ukulele society member who brought his new instrument to the latest Barnkickers gig so the duo could check it out.

"It's great for small venues," said Steve Boisen, who plays a bass ukulele with polyurethane strings that — remarkably — offers the same rich sound as the hefty, standup version. "People get enthralled with them and then they want one."

"There's a definite allure," his daughter said. "First of all, look how portable it is. I can play it in the car on a road trip. And it's got a charming sound to it. It doesn't sound too ringy or silly."

And, she added, "I can play one of my songs or an old song from the '20s and it makes people smile."

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