For National Ukulele Month, we decided to recognize Mr. Joe, a resident of Jacksonville with a small guitar-like instrument and a big passion for performing. He jumps around, rides on his bike, tells stories to children and makes YouTube videos about all the adventures he goes on.
Joe Gaskin, better known by his stage name “Mr. Joe,” is a librarian at the Jacksonville Public Library with a master’s in library studies from FSU. The 36 year old started working at Willowbranch Library in Riverside but now travels around town with his stories as part of the library—and his own personal mission.
Technically, Gaskin doesn’t play a ukulele but rather a guitalele, a sort of guitar-ukulele hybrid, that he discovered in a store window while biking across Croatia. A guitar player since he was 16 years old, Gaskin found the guitalele easy to hold, easy to carry and easy for him to learn since it has the same strings as a regular guitar. It was love at first strum. Ever since, he has played on it for all of his songs, videos and storytime performances.
“I’ve done storytimes without the music and, you know, it takes a little bit to get people invested,” said Gaskin. “But when I start playing? Just like that. Everyone’s with me and we’re all having a great time.”
Gaskin does in-person shows for kids of all ages at the library, Jarboe Park and South Mandarin every week on Tuesdays and Wednesdays and a virtual show via Zoom on Fridays. Having fun is a top priority but keeping safe. His main goal with his performances is to make kids comfortable while helping them adapt to the world they are growing up in.
“I like to tell kids stuff like, ‘If you wanna cough, just act like Dracula and cough into your vampire cape!’” said Gaskin.
When COVID-19 hit and the world had to change how to do things, Gaskin decided to take his usual storytimes down the virtual path and turn them into YouTube videos. He’s recorded trips to the Cummer Museum and Jacksonville Zoo, singing about what he encounters and having a good time with his audience. His adventures were even featured in a “Bright Spot” segment on First Coast News in April 2020, where he performed songs about washing hands and how “Heroes Wear Masks!” Now he’s back to doing them live and in person, with safety precautions like performing outdoors and social distancing.
When he is not riding around town on his bike or performing, Gaskin writes for children’s picture books. So far, he has collaborated with artists on 10 books.
“I wanna make books that help kids explore the world around them and their own emotions,” said Gaskin.
Gaskin loves to do his shows and hopes he can keep doing them. And every time he finishes his adventure, he closes off with a big message: “Have fun, stay safe, wash your hands and BE KIND!”