Michael Knudsen played guitars for nearly 40 years before an infection left him with a bum finger that no longer works for a guitar's six strings.
So he turned to a four-stringed instrument — a soprano ukulele he picked up for $5 at a yard sale — and joined a group that meets monthly just for the joy of strumming.
Those cute little instruments that many still tie to Hawaiian music or recall from Tiny Tim's Tiptoe Though the Tulips are enjoying a robust worldwide revival, and the local area is no exception.
Sandwiched between a quilt shop and a car dealership in Dade City is Sufficient Grounds coffee shop, where smiling owner Sharon Barron has the perfect gathering spot for the East Pasco/Hernando Ukulele Club. The strummers opened their session last Saturday with a lively rendition of Woodie Guthrie's This Land Is Your Land, voices blending with the harmonious ukuleles.
Chyrisse Tabone heads up the ukulele group, which grows from a handful to a houseful when northerners arrive for the winter. Experience ranges from beginners' unsure strumming to Knudsen's fancy finger work, which he demonstrated while offering helpful suggestions on I Can See Clearly Now.
"There's so much more you can do than just strumming up and down," Knudsen said.
Tabone has been playing piano since she was 6 years old. She also plays drums, harmonica and guitar.
"Music is my love," said Tabone, a Dade City environmental scientist, who said music is her stress reliever.
Tabone attended a Tampa Bay Ukulele Society "get away" about a year ago and a love affair with ukuleles took hold. In the spring she posted a notice on Meetup.com and soon she had organized the East Pasco/Hernando Ukulele Club.
"The ukulele makes people smile, and it's so easy you can learn to play in a couple of hours," said Tabone, adding that she learned to play her instrument from a Youtube video.
The small ukulele is portable for anyone, children to adult age, and it's usually an inexpensive instrument, though higher-priced custom creations are available.
Tabone is treating herself to a super-duper model, handmade by local woodcraftsman Andrew Gibson. With a sycamore top and cherry sides, it looks as beautiful as it sounds.
The unusual shaped soprano ukulele that Jim Strickland plays was free, given to him by a Hudson fellow who'd made it from a piece of wood pulled from a local river.
Strickland, host of old time music on WMNF 88.5, suggests the next song, Hey, Good Lookin'. Then retired Zephyrhills High English teacher Gail Reynolds calls out Raindrops Keep Falling on My Head.
After each song there's friendly chatter, players pointing out techniques they've learned or asking for assistance from another member.
Dade City musician Dennis Devine has played Florida folk music for years and performed throughout the country. He strums along on his concert ukulele and helps beginner Oliver Dewitt with a baritone ukulele that's almost guitar size.
"I've got desire but no talent," laughed Dewitt, of Dade City, allowing that since his children gave him this ukulele for Christmas, he has full intentions of playing it.
Tampa lawyer Pamela Hartley gathered compliments for her vocals on My Funny Valentine. She got her first ukulele when she was 6.
"I was too small to play a guitar," she laughs, then pops a kazoo in her mouth for a song, strums her ukulele, sandals slid off, allowing her bare feet with blue polished toenails to keep a steady rhythm.
"The ukulele is a happy instrument," said Wesley Chapel health care rep Mark Mainardi. He said he was terrible at the guitar, but the ukulele was just right.
The group takes off on Under the Boardwalk, and Mainardi pulls out a washboard, sweeping brushes over it for percussion. Knudsen flips his ukulele over, tapping out hollow sounds, adding bass accents.
The song ends with friendly laughter and chatter.