Not every town can say it has a singing group like Ramona’s The Ukuladies.
The group of a dozen women — all from Ramona — sing along while strumming ukuleles at special events and club activities. And their performances are free.
In the past week, the women, ranging in age from 50 to 80, have performed at the Ramona Tree Lighting and the San Diego Country Estates Tree Lighting ceremonies.
They’ve also shared their large repertoire of oldies and Elvis tunes, John Denver sets and country and western music at the Ramona Senior Center, First Congregational Church of Ramona, the Republican Women of California-Intermountain Club and the Ramona Pioneer Historical Society.
One of their favorite requests is to perform Hawaiian luau music. The only genre they don’t play is jazz, said The Ukuladies Director Karla Brustad.
“Everything we do is singing and playing,” Brustad said. “That’s what’s fun about the ukulele. It’s an instrument to sing along with so we sing and play.”
Although Brustad didn’t know it at the time, The Ukuladies were born five years ago. She had accidentally locked herself out of her car and was looking around the parking lot for help. She only recognized one woman, from the Ramona Garden Club, so she asked her for a ride home.
Then she asked how she could repay the favor.
“The woman said, ‘I hear you play the ukulele and I’d love to learn,’” Brustad said. “So I gave her a lesson.”
The next week the woman brought another woman from the Garden Club for lessons.
“Then another lady came from the Garden Club to take lessons,” Brustad said. “They kept inviting their friends into my living room. They all bought ukuleles.”
Brustad said the women have since outgrown her living room and are now rehearsing at First Congregational Church of Ramona on Eighth Street.
The Ukuladies took a break from performing during the worst of the COVID pandemic but kept rehearsing at Collier Park and on Brustad’s patio while maintaining 6 feet of social distancing.
“A lot of people in Collier Park would come around and sing with us,” Brustad said. “Especially the Elvis sets. They loved Elvis.”
The group resumed performing at the Ramona Senior Center a couple of months ago. They usually stop by during the senior lunch hour, said Lora Cicalo, executive director of the Senior Center.
The music varies depending on the occasion, Cicalo said. One time The Ukuladies performed love songs, another time country Western, and on Dec. 8 they came to perform Christmas songs.
“Everybody really enjoys them,” Cicalo said. “They’re awesome. They’re so upbeat and fun. I feel like the seniors respond to them well. They’ll get the seniors to join in on their songs and get them excited about singing with them.”
Cicalo said it’s especially nice that the The Ukuladies provide free entertainment at a time when the Senior Center doesn’t have a lot of extra money to spend.
Brustad said she wants to give people free ukulele lessons at the Ramona Library once it opens during the weekends, which she says, could be as early as February.
“I’m just waiting for the library to open on Sunday,” she said. “Then men, women, kids, anybody with a ukulele will be invited to come and jam for free. I’m all about free. I watch how much fun people have and that’s my payment.”
One of the founding Ukuladies members, Rita Eastman, said she’s enjoyed the camaraderie of being part of the group, and particularly likes the holiday performances. Before COVID they performed sing-alongs at the Ramona Library and at assisted living facilities such as the Gateway Center in Poway.
The Ukuladies try to choose songs that the audience likes to sing along with such as Hawaiian themes and ‘50s songs, Eastman said.
“Our favorite was to play at the Ramona Senior Manor, which is assisted living,” Eastman said. “It just raises their spirits. You can tell they appreciate having lively music to come and entertain them.”
The Ukuladies’ next goal is to purchase better sound equipment. But it has been difficult to raise the money for the equipment because they’re a volunteer group, not a nonprofit, and they don’t perform fundraisers, Brustad said.
“At the Historical Society they passed a hat around and we got $150,” she said. “I said, ‘We don’t charge,’ and they said, ‘No, we want to give you money.’ I don’t charge for lessons, everything’s been totally free. Maybe we need to play at the Historical Society again.”