There's something about ukuleles

"I think he played in Megadeth?"

Shirley Orlando is thinking back to her days as the owner of Huntington Music at Goldenwest Street and Warner Avenue. For 26 years, she ran the place, and in addition to it being a music store, Shirley also used the space to create a haven for musicians in our area — a place where late-night jam sessions were a common occurrence.

And yes, she's correct when recounting the intense teenage guitarist who used to shred in her shop. It was Dave Mustaine, founder of the metal band Megadeth.

"We had other big names in that store, too" she tells me. "The famous jazz players George Van Epps, Tony Ricci. There were more, too. It was a happening place!"

But no less happening than Shirley's current place, although the metal and jazz have been replaced with the mystical sounds of the islands. For the last eight years, she has run Island Bazaar in Huntington Beach, a "ukulele paradise," as she calls it. As the website says, Island Bazaar provides "not only sales, but a complete ukulele accessories department featuring ukulele music books, ukulele CDs, ukulele DVDs and other instructional aids. Ongoing ukulele classes and workshops provide enthusiasts with beginning, intermediate, and advanced ukulele instruction."

What is it about the small, guitar-like instrument popularized on the Hawaiian islands?

"I've just always loved playing them," the 52-year Surf City resident laughs. "There's something therapeutic about the simple plucking and strumming, and that's what I tell people today. Anyone can play a uke. It's much easier than a guitar. You just learn a few chords and your life changes for the better."

This "Surf City gal," as she calls herself, says the innocence of the instrument takes her back to being a teenager in Huntington Beach — "when my siblings and I could ride our bikes three miles to the beach, spend the whole day, come back early in the evening and our parents didn't have to worry. Today, playing the uke helps me and many others recapture the best memories of our lives. We have several groups that get together to play in the store today. There's really something for everyone." (Shirley also wrote the play "Surf City U.S.A.," which was a sellout at the Huntington Beach Playhouse several years ago.)

To celebrate the Fourth of July, as she has for years, Shirley will be having a special patriotic ukulele concert at the shop tonight, July 1. In addition to ukulele versions of American patriotic classics, the group will also be telling the stories of American history in the form of short narrations between the songs. The guest of honor will be the legendary World War II pilot, Vi Cowden. "It's not every event that you get a woman like Vi to attend," Shirley says. "Imagine, a Congressional Gold Medal winner right here in Surf City."

By the time you're reading this, the event may be full, but Shirley said to give a call to see if they can squeeze you in. You can contact Shirley at (714) 843-9350, and Island Bazaar is located at 16582 Gothard St., Suite R (between Warner and Heil avenues)???in Huntington Beach.

But even if you can't make it, perhaps consider taking up the ukulele. To hear Shirley eloquently describe it, it can only make your life better. "I call it a warm and wonderful hobby," she adds. "The ukulele has a special magic that works differently on different people. It can open up things inside of you that you may never have been aware of. And you can meet great people and it's just a lovely, simple art that doesn't require a large degree of musical skill. You can be making beautiful music in just minutes."

July 17 at the Barnes & Noble at Bella Terra, I'll signing and discussing my new book, "Hello, It's Me – Dispatches from a Pop Culture Junkie." The event will take place at 6 p.m., and it would be great to see you there. We may have a couple of special guests, but for sure we will have lots of good stories from this book that spans adventures from the last 40 years or so. I look forward to seeing you.

CHRIS EPTING is the author of 14 books, including the new "Huntington Beach Then & Now." You can write him at

Copyright © 2019, Daily Pilot
EDITION: California | U.S. & World