ELMORE FEATURED JAKE Shimabukuro as oneof our “11 Artists to Watch in 2011”exactly one year ago. We asked Jake to tell us how his 2011 went, and his plans for 2012.
The last year has just been incredible. The audiences are bigger now, and you should see the number of people who actually bring ukuleles to the concert. Eddie Vedder’s one of my heroes, and now he’s up for a Grammy for a ukulele album. I never could’ve imagined any of this happening.
I started out performing in coffee shops, and a couple of years ago the smaller places would be 150- to 250-seaters, but now smaller venues are 400 to 500 and we’re going into the 1,000- or 2,000-seat performing arts centers. I just played the Warfield Theatre in San Francisco. It’s been one of my dreams; Jimi Hendrix, the Grateful Dead and U2 played there, so to be on that stage was overwhelming. I’m still more comfortable in intimate settings where you can see everyone in the audience, but the sound in the bigger halls is amazing. Those rooms are built for symphonies, so to have a solo ukulele playing in that room is just magical, inspiring to me as a player.
The audience has definitely changed. Three generations of a family, kids to seniors, come to the show together and all enjoy it in their own way. It’s so touching. There aren’t a lot of things that a whole family, especially three generations, can do together and enjoy—except maybe going to a nice dinner.
The internet is the perfect vehicle for artists like myself to reach people because I don’t get a lot of radio play. I’m totally fine with that—it’s the instrument I chose and the music I chose to play. But YouTube has really been a driving force for me and I swear, at the very least, half of the people that come to my concerts discovered me on that YouTube video of me playing “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” Nevertheless, I still love holding a magazine and being able to read real pages.
In 2011, Elmore reached an entirely new audience for me because now you have people who are picking up the magazine because they’re fans of the magazine and, while looking for something else, they come across something written about me and they’re like, “Oh! I’ll check him out.” My simple YouTube video shot up a few million again in 2011, to over 9.3 million views.
Next year, I’m going to focus on touring. We’ll be doing a lot of fi lm festivals because I’ve been working with PBS, and in March we’re going to release my first feature film, a one hour-documentary. We’ll show the film and I’ll do a short performance after, so I’m excited about that. That’ll be really different; I’ve never done a film festival tour.
I’ve realized that success is really just an emotion. It’s a frame of mind, and as long as you feel good about what you’re doing and you’re happy, that’s success. That’s how I feel right now. I’m happy, I’m thrilled with the way things are going, I’m having the time of my life and I’m looking forward to whatever comes ahead. —Jake Shimabukuro