By Megan Kehoe

The Bulletin

Organizers of the annual Ukulele University festival in Bend say it could be canceled, because Deschutes County may not grant it a permit.

“We’re hoping that they’ll grant it, but we’re not hopeful,” Bob Rasmussen, chairman of the Ukulele University event, said. “We’ve heard about other similar situations recently, and it may be that the county feels the need to be consistent.”

Ukulele musicians from around the state perform and teach at the three-day festival, which has taken place the past two years at Runway Ranch near the Bend Airport. Rasmussen said organizers have had no trouble in the past getting a permit for the nonprofit event, held the third week in July. This year, however, when Rasmussen sought a permit application, he was notified the county may be unable to approve the permit, because the event would take place too close to the High and Dry Bluegrass Festival, scheduled Aug. 15-17 on the same property. This would violate a requirement that events be spaced at least three months apart when on the same property, Rasmussen said he was told.

He also said he was told by the county that Ukulele University has been granted permits for the past two years in error. County officials could not confirm this . Rasmussen said he filed a permit application last week, so the county can officially deny it, and that the organizers are consulting an attorney.

“Quite frankly, it befuddles us that we’re being held to this new situation,” Rasmussen said.

Deputy Deschutes County Administrator Erik Kropp said the permit application was just filed and has not been processed.

“The permit application just came in yesterday, so it needs to be reviewed,” Kropp said. “I’m hesitant to speculate on a decision I’ve yet to make.”

Ukulele University has drawn 80 to 150 attendees in the past, and is run by volunteers. Rasmussen said the Runway Ranch owners do not charge the organizers, because it is a nonprofit event. Tickets cost $60, and any money raised goes toward purchasing ukuleles for local schools. In the two years since the festival started, 100 ukuleles have been purchased for schoolchildren. Rasmussen said the group had planned to expand the program this year, but if there’s no festival, the group will not have the money to continue.

“We’ve done our best to foster music programs in schools,” Rasmussen said. “It’s been a big focus of ours, and we feel this would be a huge blow to this program.”

Prior to encountering permit problems, organizers started selling tickets. They plan to refund the 70 or so tickets if Ukulele University is not granted a permit.

Rasmussen said it would be unfeasible at this point to change the date of the festival, and although organizers are looking into it, switching locations may be difficult. This means that should the permit be denied, Ukulele University might not survive.

Rasmussen hopes organizers will be able to work something out with the county.

“Volunteer efforts like this are hard to organize and maintain support for, especially if there’s a time lapse,” Rasmussen said. “When there’s a lack of volunteer support, people get burned out on these events.”

— Reporter: 541-383-0354,