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BUSH MAKES 'EM SO SICK, THEY CAN'T HELP BUT UKE.

 
   
   
 

Tom Harker is one of the rabble-rousers the NY tabloids have been warning people about, an outsider coming to New York for the sole purpose of causing trouble during the Republican National

 
 

Convention. Like any good cleric, shaman, mullah, self-proclaimed prophet -- take your pick -- he's organized a group of like-minded evil-doers to meet here and join him in his cause. He flew in last Friday, easily getting his weapon of choice through airport security. After all, people often underestimate the power of the ukulele, but not Harker.

"Six or eight months ago I got the brilliant idea that ukulele folks otta be doin something with this," said Harker, who will turn 60 come December. So, he got his fellow left wing uke playing buddies

 
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together from across the country and formed Ukuleles For Sanity, Ukesanity.org. Their motto: "The smallest voice can be a mighty force."

Like any musician worth his salt that grew up during the 1960s, putting on concert was the next logical step, a UkeStock if you will. Thankfully, the concert was billed as "Dubya's Ukulele Farewell Party." Things took off from there. The concert was booked at Fez

 
     

Under the Time Café and boasted a lineup of 17 ukulele players. TV and film actress Illeana Douglas (who got her first Uke several months ago) lent some star power to the evening by volunteering to serve as the event's emcee. As performers reminded the audience, the Uke's For Sanity would shine again on Sunday when they marched, played their Ukes and buzzed on kazoos with the thousands of other protestors.

Not bad for a guy who spent the year playing bars and the local pumpkin festival in a state that isn't known as a hot bed of liberalism. "I'm from Circleville, Ohio," said Harker. "As in circle, as opposed to square, ville. We're pretty square in Circleville."

By Friday, the night of the concert, Harker said he had 53 people on his email list, with people from places like Hawaii, Paris, Minneapolis, Wisconsin and Maryland saying they were coming. Word had gotten out around New York too, apparently, as more than 100 people filled the seats of Fez. The $15 admission was donated to United For Peace and Justice.

Not surprisingly, the crowd was filled with more bald spots than ball caps, but the event did not lack for energy. Each of the 17 artists performed one song, usually somewhat political in nature. There was a brief intermission before the same 17 performed all over again. And if it's your first ukulele-related event you're in for a workout of your own. There is no passive viewing

 
 

at a uke concert. Almost every song is a sing along.

These also weren't just any ukulele players either. Peter Stampfel has performed with Mississippi John Hurt, Bob Dylan, Sam Shephard and Buckminster Fuller. Carmaig De Forest has shared bills with The Ramones, Arlo Guthrie, They Might Be Giants and The Violent Femmes. Kirk Kelly played on the Bruce Springsteen tribute album, Light of Day, which included Elvis Costello and Billy Bragg. His ukulele accompanied version of Springsteen's "Downbound Train" appeared on the album and was one of the more powerful songs performed Friday night.

"Ukulele Lloyd" Gold fronts the band My Pocket Zoo, billing themselves as "The World's Greatest Ukulele Boy Band." One of their songs, "Hey, King George the 2nd" included a sing along of the lyrics: "Hey King George the 2nd / the sun shines out of your behind."

Michael Leviton specializes in nautical-themed ukulele love songs. His first song was called "The Captain is in Charge of the Rigging," referring to Bush and Florida debacle. His second song, "I'm in Love With the Tip of Your Iceberg," dealt with the feeling of being in love with someone you don't know. Choice lyrics from that included, "Your fathoms are unfathomable," and "Why must you always play the iceberg and I the titanic."

The award for the best sing along would have gone to The Whisky Rebellion, or rather, Alex Battles, the band's most regular member and founder of The Brooklyn country Music Festival, JugFest and the CasHank Hootenanny Jamboree. According to his bio, the Rebellion "contains anywhere from 1 to 7 members, depending on venue constraints and the weather."

Ted Gottfried and Jason Tagg make up Sonic Uke. "In the summer they play on their Village stoop or at the beach," said their bio on the Uke Sanity website. "In the winter they play anywhere warm with beer. They performed frequently with the late great transgendered punk ukulele star Donna Lee, who created Ratcage records, which put out "Cookie Puss," the Beastie Boys' first recorded material.

After they played, the Uke players attended Sunday's march, where they were a hit. Doormen and other marchers gladly joined in on, "Help me Kerry," sung to the tune of Help Me Rhonda by the Beach Boys. There was also Aloha George, done to a familiar Hawaiian tune. "Aloha George, Aloha George, We hope to never see you again." There were even Uke versions of give Peace a Chance and Marley's Stand Up For Your Rights.

Sick of covering the burning paper mache dragon on 34th Street, reporters and film crews swarmed the uke players. MSNBC has even requested an interview with Harker on Tuesday, with a short on-air performance to follow.

"Part of the idea originally was, people have a strange notion about what ukulele players are like," said Harker. "That's good because it's going to be hard for them to bust our heads for carrying weapons of mass instruction, deadly ukuleles and that sort of thing. The ukuleles diffuse any head-busting cop and it allows us to show that there's regular folks that play ukuleles that are pissed off too."

Still, five hours of marching, ukeing and kazooing in the August sun took a toll. "I thought I wouldn't have to do this again," said one lady ukulele player, implying she had been through this in the 60s. Breaks were taken, players emerged from bodegas with drinks for their fellow musicians and smiles and music ultimately overcame the sweat.

Tom Harker had a small dream for a small instrument. As he says in a letter on the ukesanity website, "Our dream is to bring together as many ukulele-playing protestors as possible to march together in a Tsunami of Smallness ... a Tidalwave of Tininess ... a Deluge of Diminution ... strumming and singing four-stringed songs of resistance and defiance against Dubya and the RNC to show these arrogant oligarchs that THE SMALLEST VOICE CAN BE A MIGHTY FORCE!"

"I'm getting tired of being ignored," said Harker, "so listen to my ukulele Mr. Bush." Harker's little instrument certainly made a big noise this week.