Ukulele master to return to Elsinore Theatre

In Jake Shimabukuro’s hands, the familiar four strings of the ukulele become conduits for incredibly complex arrangements ranging from bluegrass to jazz to experimental.

It’s a range of sound he’ll be bringing on a return to the Elsinore Theatre on Thursday, Dec. 8, which will feature holiday classics in addition to songs from his most recent album. 

“What I really like about this show is it kind of takes people on a little ride from the very traditional sounds of the instrument to the more modern, contemporary sounds,” he said. “We’ll start off with something like (Israel Kamakawiwoʻole)’s “Over the Rainbow,” right, where it’s played more in the traditional sense, just the beautiful acoustic sound of the ukulele, but then by the end of the song we’re rocking out to “We Will Rock You.”

It feels good to be back on tour since the pandemic, he said. He’s been performing with two friends from Hawai’i, Jackson Waldhoff and Justin Kawika Young.

“We have been enjoying it immensely. We’re so grateful to be playing in front of live audiences,” he said.

They’ve started doing meet and greets again, too.

“A lot of kids will come to the show, and these kids, they bring their ukuleles to the show, and they’ll have me sign them,” he said. “It’s been so fulfilling and wonderful.”

Thursday’s concert at the Elsinore, titled “Christmas in Hawai’i,” features holiday classics such as “We Three Kings,” “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” and “I’ll Be Home for Christmas.” 

Each song on his most recent album, “Jake and Friends,” included one or more famous collaborators, including Willie Nelson, Bette Midler, Jimmy Buffett, Ziggy Marley and Jack Johnson.

Most of the songs were recorded live and in person, and putting the album together took about four years of work, he said. 

The biggest challenge, he said, was trying not to act starstruck while in the studio.

Already well-known in Hawai’i, Shimabukuro’s career took off in 2006 when his cover of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” someone else posted on YouTube went viral in the website’s early days. 

Since then, his career has taken him around the world, including more recently into the Abbey Road recording studio where he recorded a tribute album for George Harrision in collaboration with Harrison’s widow and son. 

“Which is like, oh my goodness,” he said and laughed. “Coincidentally, I’m wearing my Abbey Road hoodie right now that I got in the studio. But, oh man that’s been just such an honor.”

Though Shimabukuro is not one to compliment himself, Zane Kistner, booking manager at the Elsinore Theatre, called him an incredible musician. 

“Jake’s playing it’s very nuanced. It’s very emotional. He can put the parts from five different musicians all into just his instrument, and that’s kind of what makes his show so inspiring,” Kistner said. “He’s a really nice guy. It’s always just a real feel good time for everybody.”

Shimabukuro said he looks forward to playing at the Elsinore again. He’s made a few visits, including in 2018, and complimented the theater’s work with music education in the area. 

He said he especially enjoys visiting Oregon, which has a substantial Hawaiian community. Last time he came, he said someone brought the band a whole platter of spam musubi. 

“Everyone makes us feel so welcome,” he said.

“Jake Shimabukuro: Christmas in Hawai’i” is Thursday, Dec. 8 with doors at 6:30 p.m. and showtime at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $39 to $59, and are $5 more the day of the show. Tickets are available on the Elsinore Theatre’s website.

Contact reporter Abbey McDonald: [email protected] or 503-704-0355.

JUST THE FACTS, FOR SALEM – We report on your community with care and depth, fairness and accuracy. Get local news that matters to you. Subscribe to Salem Reporter. Click I want to subscribe!

Abbey McDonald joined the Salem Reporter in 2022. She previously worked as the business reporter at The Astorian, where she covered labor issues, health care and social services. A University of Oregon grad, she has also reported for the Malheur Enterprise, The News-Review and Willamette Week.