The hallways of Jacksonville Elementary School echoed Saturday with the opening chords of "Ring of Fire," albeit with a decidedly Hawaiian flavor.

The hallways of Jacksonville Elementary School echoed Saturday with the opening chords of "Ring of Fire," albeit with a decidedly Hawaiian flavor.

Inside one of the classrooms, Jim D'Ville guided a large group of ukulele novices through Johnny Cash's classic tune as part of the Britt Institute's inaugural Ukulele Getaway.

"OK, this is going to be killer," the animated D'Ville said. "Man, we're going to nail the mariachi intro to 'Ring of Fire.' "

At one point during the lesson, group members settled on their ukulele band name: The Johnny Cashews.

Devoting an entire camp to the ukulele sprang from the mind of Rachel Jones, director of education and community engagement for Britt Festivals.

The ukulele's popularity has spiked in recent years, with young and old choosing to tap into their musical side with the tiny, four-stringed instrument.

"It's relatively simple to learn, and after our first session at the camp everyone knew how to play one chord," Jones said. "You can come here and after just a few hours feel successful."

The ukulele is popular enough that it affords D'Ville the opportunity to travel across the state in a Airstream trailer spreading the ukulele gospel.

He was among a handful of ukulele players to lead workshops over the course of the three-day camp.

Britt was surprised at the enthusiasm the Rogue Valley showed when the camp was announced. The camp quickly grew to capacity when 75 people signed up to learn or improve their ukulele skills.

"We have a range of ages, from kids to older adults," Jones said. "That's exactly what we were looking for."

Instructor Ben Gaskin, who plays ukulele in his local band Sweetgrass, said he has to turn people away who want private lessons.

"I see a lot of kids and parents wanting to learn it together," Gaskin said. "It's understandable. When you hear the ukulele, it's like a wind at your back. It's a soft sound."

Tish McFadden, who taught at the camp and offers private lessons at her Rum Tum School of Music in Ashland, said the ukulele is the perfect beginner instrument for kids.

"When you're 5 or 6, the guitar is a bit much to have success with," McFadden said. "But the ukulele is such a beautiful instrument, and it's so inviting for anyone to pick up and play. And that's all that matters to me. I love it when someone uses it to open the door to a musical life."

Three Walker Elementary School ukulele veterans gathered in the hallway to work on their own song. The girls were among the more seasoned players to attend the camp.

"When I started playing the ukulele, nobody was doing it," said 9-year-old Avrie Dreyer. "Now you see a lot of people playing."

Julie Corey, who is 10, said she always wanted to play the guitar, but its size was a barrier.

"The guitar was too big, but I could play the ukulele," she said. "I just like the sound of the ukulele. It's happy."

The pair, along with their friend Mia Rollins, plan to play a song at the camp's showcase concert, set for today at 5 p.m. at 2Hawk Winery, 2335 N. Phoenix Road, Medford.

By Saturday evening, about 40 attendees had filed into a large lecture hall in the school to jam to Neil Diamond's iconic "Sweet Caroline."

"You can do so much with the ukulele," Gaskin said. "It's not just for Hawaiian music."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or