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All-ukulele group from Bowling Green enters national contest

A local ukulele quartet entered NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert Contest.

The group, the Grande Royale Ükulelists of the Black Swamp [GRÜBS], consists of three University faculty members, Geoff Howes and Sheri and Jason Wells-Jensen; and Anne Kidder. Howes listens to NPR podcasts and Jason has watched other Tiny Desk Concerts.

“It’s just a wacky idea,” Jason said. “It’s just one of those things that apparently you can decide to do on public radio and get away with… Like, ‘I know, let’s invite bands in and have them just play around my desk.’”

But the wackiness of the format leads to more stripped down performances. Regardless of what spaces and technology a band is accustomed to, Jason said, when it comes to a Tiny Desk Concert, all groups have a small performance space and little equipment.

“I just like to see people dealing with interesting situations and being creative about it,” Jason said.

For ukulelists, it’s not so hard to gather around a desk because the instruments are smaller. That could be an advantage or disadvatage in the contest, Jason said.

To enter the contest, the group had to submit a video of themselves performing an original song. It’s the group’s best video so far, Sheri said.

Some videos are recorded performances, not staged and prepared videos like their contest entry. The sound quality isn’t as good in those videos, Jason said. Other videos haven’t featured the entire group.

The song the video features, “Where You Go,” is an original folk-type song written by Sheri, but the band plays other styles, including covers of songs like “Eye Of The Tiger” and “You Can’t Always Get What You Want.”

Other bands may cover the same songs, Jason said, but most bands are doing them solely on

ukuleles.

The band differs even from other ukulele groups by using a bass ukulele, Howes said. Some top ukulele groups use a bass guitar or upright bass instead.

The bass ukulele is a relatively new instrument, said Jason. “It’s really hard to make a bass instrument that small.”

The group’s last contest experience was with Bushman Music Works, a company that makes ukuleles. That contest had around 80 entries, and GRÜBS was a finalist. This time, there are more than 5,000 entries for NPR’s judges to go through.

The winner will be announced Feb. 12 and will perform at

NPR’s offices.

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