Ukuleles are a bit like Potato Chips

I have come to discover that ukuleles are a bit like potato chips – you can’t have just one! When I retired I planned on doing some new things. Through a bit of serendipity, I became the upright bass player for the Front Porch Folk. I loved playing the bass, but soon realized it wasn’t much of a solo instrument that I could sit and play in the evening. My adult daughter had mentioned how she would like to learn to play the ukulele, so I decided to buy her one and thought I’d get myself a baritone ukulele (ukulele #1).Kathy's Ukuleles

Soon afterwards my daughter mentioned there was going to be a ukulele workshop in Erie where you got a soprano ukulele with the price of the workshop, so I signed up (ukulele #2).

A friend had a banjolele that I thought sounded so unique but I knew I couldn’t justify the $500 to get myself one. I searched the Internet looking for a less expensive one, and found one for under $100. I just couldn’t resist getting it (ukulele #3).

My husband thought he’d surprise me with a new instrument for my birthday and got me a mandolin. What he didn’t realize was I had become a ukulele addict! I sent the mandolin back and exchanged it for a concert ukulele (ukulele # 4).

I was shopping in Erie one day and saw a ukulele on a sale rack for 70% off. It wasn’t the greatest of quality, but this would be perfect for my two year old granddaughter – you’re never too young to love the ukulele (ukulele #5).

I was now actively searching eBay for ukuleles, they came in all different sizes, shapes and colors. I found an 8-string ukulele with dolphin cut out sound holes. I didn’t have an 8-string ukulele so I bid on it, and won (ukulele #6).

Other than playing ukuleles together with UkeLadies and Gents, a group of us occasionally drive up to Edinboro to the N.W. PA Ukuleles. One night when we went up I noticed a woman with a bass ukulele.  I knew I had to have one. After searching the Internet for one, I discovered they were between $400 and $500 – more than I was willing to pay. Since Linda Henderson was making cigar box ukuleles, I asked her if she thought she could make a cigar box bass ukulele for less – she could (ukulele #7)!

I didn’t have a tenor ukulele yet so I started looking. I found a resonator ukulele I really liked, only to discover that most companies only made the concert size not the tenor size. I didn’t let that deter me.  I searched the Internet and found a music store in California that had a tenor sized one. I could have waited until Christmas and have my husband get it for me, but I had to have it NOW (ukulele #8)!

You have to understand, I bought my first ukulele in 2012 – it is only 2014 and I now have eight ukuleles! I should also mention that my daughter has now acquired two more ukuleles and she bought a ukulele for her niece and nephew. He liked playing the ukulele so much I bought a flying-vee ukulele for him too. I just can’t stop buying ukuleles for others or collecting ukuleles for myself! Do I still look online or check catalogs for ukuleles? YES! Lay’s may have coined the term, “betcha can’t eat just one” – but I swear you can’t just own one ukulele!

Written by Kathy Bartlett (3/30/14)

Singalong Revival

As we are out and about sharing music we encourage people to singalong, learn a new instrument and make musical gatherings part of their family traditions.  The people we meet share childhood memories about how music was part of their special get togethers.  Singing together and playing together builds happy memories.  Yesterday as we were at the Liberty Galleria demonstrating our homemade canjos and cigar box ukuleles we met some young parents who want to pass this type of tradition along.  The young mom said that she grew up in Kentucky and it was common for friends and family to often bring out an instrument and everyone sang along.  She feared that tradition was dying out.  But as she walked out with a new ukulele there was a sparkle in her eye.  She’s going to revive that tradition where she lives.

At Holly’s house a new Thanksgiving tradition is to pull out the instruments and sing.  Our friend Coleen has said she’s begun to have family hootenannies.  Holly’s little grand daughters age 3 and 4, are showing signs of becoming little entertainers.  Kathy’s 2 year old grand daughter is happily testing every instrument in Grandma’s living room corner.  As long as there are instruments out for young people to see and older folks willing to share a few tunes, this tradition will remain.  There is just nothing better than being part of musical celebrations.


Jean Hawkins Henderson, circa 1954

Southside band122

Grandpa Hawkins in the middle Circa 1934

Since I was a little girl, several family pictures most captured my imagination.  One is a little string band posing in front of my Grandparents southside Oil City home.  I never knew my grandfather but imagined them gathering a small crowd as they played regularly at their little store or out and about the area.  The other is a picture with my mother and her upright bass and guitar.  While I never got to play along with either of them, those two pictures inspired me to learn to play.

If you ever wanted to learn to play an instrument – this is your time!  Some easy instruments to learn are the ukulele, lap dulcimer and strumstick.  They sound great and they are not expensive.  If you need a little help getting started, call Front Porch Folk.  Join us at Uke Ladies and Gents night at the National Transit.

Our wish for you this Holiday and throughout the year is to open your heart and let the music out.  It’s revival time!!!

Fall 2013 News

IMG_6625Since our last post in July, we have been quite busy.  What a summer and fall this has been!  From HotaFest in Titusville, to the Allegheny Trails Association Conference at SRU, to Perry Station for the Hobo gathering, to great family reunions, the Barrow Civic Theatre Hee Haw show, the Red Hats and continuing to sing and play for our friends at four area nursing homes – we have been on the road and having great fun.  There are also many more unnamed events we were happy to join.  It’s difficult to describe the feelings behind it all.  Obviously we love playing and sharing our music.  Like anything else, the more we do, the better we get.  You’ll hear more harmonies and we are practicing every week.  We even have a press packet, photos and a website now (  But the most important thing has been to keep the music fun and our gatherings – with or without an audience – fun.  It’s a balancing act but definitely worth every ounce of effort – to be serious, try to be better at what we do and still have a great time doing it.

Hee Haw 2013Audience participation is the one thing that we enjoy the most and that may set us apart.  We typically carry a bag of egg shakers, little drums and other percussion instruments that we pass out to the audience.  Our playlists include a lot of old familiar songs, and songs that are easy to catch onto, in hopes that folks will sing along.  If possible, we add a ukulele lesson break and carry a half dozen little ukes to demonstrate that they are easy to learn to play.  Always the audience gets a kick out of seeing people they know try to learn to play. Of course, another thing that sets us apart it that we are now an all woman band.  However, if you look at our business card, you will see that we are Front Porch Folk (the five core members) and friends.  Right now the friends who most often join us are Colleen Nelson and Kathleen Mabry but we know others will come and go as well.  We are open to that because it’s all about sharing music and having a great time.

North Country Trails Ukulele Workshop at Slippery Rock University

North Country Trails Ukulele Workshop at Slippery Rock University

Every member of Front Porch Folk (and friends) has great heart and a deep sense of community.  We are doing what we do because we truly believe that music is a joyful expression that connects people across barriers that may otherwise divide.  If we can lift our voices together in song, we can learn to lift our voices together to make a better community – a better world.  It’s our small contribution and we are honored be included in whatever celebration you may wish to include us.

Front Porch Folk

An All Woman Folk Band (Lea, Linda, Kathy, Holly and Gail) located in Oil City PA.

Uke Ladies and Gents

Playing in the Transit Garden

Uke Ladies and Gents

The rain passed and we were able to play in Pipe Line Alley.  The past few monthly gatherings have had a theme.  This night it was Peter, Paul and Mary favorites.  Many of the songs they performed were written by great folk singers who are also well known; John Denver, Pete Seeger and Tom Paxton, to name a few.  Of course, Peter and Paul wrote for the group as well and we sang a few of those.  One of our favorite discoveries as we gathered songs for the evening was “Freight Train” written by Elizabeth Cotton.  Here is the YouTube link to hear her play it.  Then listen to the Peter, Paul and Mary version.

Peter, Paul and Mary were such a source of inspiration and it was great fun to Uke it up with those old songs.

If you would like to learn now to play a ukulele, please contact Front Porch Folk at 814-673-5641,

Homemade Instruments on Display at the Mosaic Cafe

June 2013 Featured Artist at the Mosaic Cafe  in Oil City  – Linda Henderson

LindaDespite being told by an elementary school music teacher that she had no musical ability, Linda Henderson has never stopped singing, playing and she now makes musical instruments.

“My mother played the upright bass, guitar and piano. She had a few 45’s – Elvis, Harry Belefonte, Doris Day and Tex Ritter.  I knew every word to every song maybe before I could talk.  Then Grandma got a player piano and we would play it and sing as loud as we could.”

In fourth grade, that music teacher did finally allow her to begin violin lessons and then the cello.  The orchestra program was cut before having a chance to join so Linda learned to play guitar.  She sang in the high school choir and madrigal then took voice elective classes in college.  “Some” decades later she is still singing and playing guitar.

Perhaps because of that music teacher, she has believed that music should and can be enjoyed by all.  Sing-alongs on Holly Gibbon’s Southside Oil City front porch led to a search for easy to learn instruments and now a line of home spun instruments.

The sing-alongs grew into a band; Front Porch Folk.  The instrument making has become collaboration as well with Lea Jolley helping to make them while Holly Gibbons and Kathy Bartlett help people learn to play

On display here are “canjo’s” and CBG’s (cigar box guitars).

The single string canjo is based on a design created by Hershal Brown in the 1970’s who shared the same philosophy.  He refused to copyright his design and passed it out freely encouraging people to make them.  He had often seen and heard the Appalachian diddlebow and wanted to create something easier to learn and play.  The most difficult part to making a canjo is the fretting – setting them and spacing them properly.  The scale is very close to a lap dulcimer without the half note.  After fretting the neck, assembly is quite easy and they are fun to play.

Also on display here are two types of Cigar Box Guitars (CBG’s):  a 3 string strum stick and 4 string “Uke Boxes”.

The 3 string CBG is based on the lap dulcimer scale and tuned to DAD.  A person can learn to play the canjo, and then graduate to a 3 string CBG.  The high string is the same and the other two can be played open.  The 3 string CBG or strum stick can also be chorded to play along with anyone playing music in the key of D.  Many other tunings are also possible.

The “Uke Boxes” on display are tenor scale ukuleles.  These are the largest of the GCEA tuned ukulele family.  The nylon strings and the larger scale make them easy to play.  The ukulele is one of the friendliest 4 stringed instruments to learn and has made a huge come back.  Locally, a group “UkeLadies and Gents” meets the 4th Tuesday of each month at the National Transit Studios.  It’s free and open to the public.  There are always a few “Uke Boxes” for you to try out for the night if you don’t have your own ukulele.

If you would like to learn more, email Linda at  She is available by chance or by appointment in Transit Studio 27A.  To learn to play or book a Front Porch Folk performance, call Holly at

Music is Magic!

Lots of new band members drumming, shaking eggs and playing ukuleles

There are many benefits to singing and learning a musical instrument.  Music has the potential to heal hearts and many believe that music heals bodies as well. Check out this list of 18 benefits to learning to play an instrument:
Since Front Porch Folk began a little less than 2 years ago, we’ve seen folks enjoy most all those 18 benefits. When you’re playing music and singing, your entire body and spirit are lifted to another place. We love getting our audience involved as we nearly always carry so egg shakers or other percussion instruments to encourage people to play along.  Sharing that experience, at the same time, with a whole group of people creates a whole new positive energy. A connection is formed with those involved that transcends all differences. The greater the harmony and shared rhythms, the greater the joy. With as many as a dozen Front Porch Players, there are layers of sound. It’s been fun to experience the creative process as individuals seek just the right instrument to add their own touch to a song. Suddenly old traditional and familiar songs become uniquely ours – Front Porch Folk style.
The same is happening with our spin off group – UkeLadies and Gents. The last uke night 29 players – beginner to experienced – were playing in sync within just an hour. It’s magic.
In a world full of conflict, there’s nothing better! Listening to music can be healing but if you really want to experience magic, play and sing. It’s the immersion that reaches the deepest.

Front Porch Folk CBG Project

Front Porch Folk are testing Linda’s new Cigar Box Guitars (CBG).  Kathy is testing both a fretless and a fretted model.  In the video above, she is playing her fretless model.  Holly is playing build number 4, which was a big hit recently on Time Square in NYC.  Sue is playing number 3 and numbers 6 and 7 are now complete.  6 has a particularly sweet sound – something about the cigar box shape and wood.  Number 7 is the first electric version.  8, 9 and 10 will soon be complete.  The group is helping to fine tune the design and playability.  Holly believes that we’ll be ready to offer them to the public with number 11 and she’s probably right.  So far most models are fretted and scaled as dulcimer/strumsticks with 3 strings.  They are tuned to DAD though you could easily adapt your own tuning.  They will be available to try in Studio 27A at Oil City’s National Transit Building.  In January you can find them at the Queen City Cafe – the Q – in Titusville.

Every CBG is unique with real wooden cigar boxes fitted to the neck.  The necks so far have been made from re-purposed poplar, cherry and oak.  The goal is to use as many re-purposed parts as possible to make a nice sounding instrument that’s fun to play.  Studio 27A is open the second Saturday each month.  Come see us and pick up a CBG to check out the sound for yourself.  Or watch for Front Porch Folk to play in your area.  Someone in the group will play a CBG on a song or two.

CBG Photo Op (New York City)

When my little brother really liked something, he would sleep with it under his pillow.  He put some big items under his pillow and somehow slept propped up on a lumpy pillow.

When Holly likes something, she looks for photo opportunities with it.  Such is the case with the Cigar Box Guitar I recently built for her.  And so, her CBG went to New York City for photos on Times Square.  A cigar box instrument is not a
normal sight in NYC so we got plenty of looks and inquiries.  It was a conversation starter and interestingly, it was native New Yorkers who were the ones to ask about it.

So, what is a Cigar Box Guitar or CBG?  It’s a musical instrument with a Cigar Box as the body.  So far, I’ve made 4 string instruments which could, more appropriately, be called Cigar Box strumsticks or dulcimer’s.  The one’s I’ve finished are fretted like a dulcimer so they are very easy to play and tuned to DAD.

Since there are many shapes and sizes of Cigar boxes, no two are alike.  Every neck must be custom cut to match the cigar box.  I have to determine the best place to put the sound holes for both aesthetics and sound.  There’s no way to know just how it will play and sound until it’s put together.  With each build, I’m a little happier with how it comes together.  I’ve collected a few luthier tools to make the work easier and more precise.  Build #1 is in the studio, 27A in Oil City’s National Transit Building.  It’s interesting to look at but plays horribly.  

Front Porch Bass player, Kathy Bartlett has build #2, a fretless model.  Sue Wren, singer/strumstick player, has build #3 and Holly has build #4.  I know they will each give me suggestions for future builds.  Build #5 just recently went to Kathy Barlett (who now owns 2), one unfretted and her 2nd one fretted.  When I get to Build #7 – it will be mine.  That’s my lucky number.

Meanwhile, enjoy the pictures of CBG #4 in New York City.  Holly, has already set sales goals for 2013. So, stay tuned, my CBG’s  will hopefully be on the market during the 1st quarter of 2013.

Happy Strumming!


UkeLadies and Gents

1950’s Harmony Ukelele ad

1879 Hawaiian immigrants from Portugal brought unusual stringed instruments. One was a little Madeiran guitar know as a machete. Today it is broadly known as the Hawaiian Ukelele. It’s popularity grew after it was featured at the Pan-American Exposition in 1915. Soon the little 4 string instrument was available in department stores across the country as record companies released a slew of novelty songs featuring the Uke. The ukelele craze waned as the big band sound became the rage in the 30’s and 40’s.

After WWII, and the return of troops who served on the Pacific Islands, the ukelele was in again. The popularity of Arthur Goodfrey’s TV show where he often played the Uke, is credited with spurring the sale of millions of plastic ukelele’s in the 50’s.

At the National Transit building the last Tuesday of every month at 7 pm – the Uke is back. UkeLadies and Gents are meeting to share their enthusiasm for music. At the first gathering in August in Studio 27a – 18 uke-sters – beginner, novice and even a ukelele maker – strummed their first tunes together.

So if you have an old ukelele sitting around, dust if off and join in the fun. Extra ukes are on hand for you to try. If you like it, we can point you to some regional sources to pick one up for a low cost. No experience required. Hope you will join us – National Transit Building – Studio 27a – last Tuesday of the month. It’s free and open to the public.

1950’s Harmony Ukelele

A Tip from Kathy Bartlett

Kathy’s stand solution

I have acquired a significant assortment of stringed instruments that I display in one corner of my living room. Now that my 17 month old granddaughter is adept at ambulating at warp-speed, and the fact she loves to go into the living room to strum on the instruments – I needed to make sure all the instruments are secured to prevent any accidents. My double bass, acoustic bass guitar, baritone ukulele, and acoustic guitar are safely secured in stands. My strum stick’s, banjolele’s, and dulcimer’s bodies were too narrow to be held securely and off the floor in a guitar stand. I searched the Internet for stands that would adequately support the body of these instruments, but was disheartened by the price. I could only find stands, most handmade carved out of wood, costing $50 to $250+. I just couldn’t justify paying more for a fancy stand then I paid for an instrument. My guitar stands only cost a whopping $9.99.

I started thinking and realized if I made some sort of a hammock to hold the body between the wide arms an inexpensive guitar stand could work. First I thought I could slip a stocking cap over the arms. It worked to a degree, but didn’t hold tight enough in the back and wanted to slip off. I then thought if I sewed together a pair of socks I could slip them over each of the arms. The guitar stand was black, so I used black crew socks. They slipped over the arms, stayed tight in the back, and supported the body of my instruments perfectly. I made inexpensive stands for these instruments costing me only $9.99 and pair of old socks!