This was my first ʻĀina Fest experience, and as a child of the Sixties, it had all the familiar festival elements from that era along with a Hawaiian spiritual component. There was something for everyone – environmental workshops, yoga, a lei making class, and of course great live music. Festival founders Dash & Erika Kuhr celebrated the event’s ninth anniversary, and it certainly was a memorable experience.
This festival moved to a new location at the Kohala Village Hub in downtown Hawi. There were two stages for music and both were well separated so one didn’t drown out the other. The promoters also timed the sets, so the crowd could catch different acts within a short walk from each other.
The Hub Barn Stage was a more intimate setting and had the advantage of being indoors with plenty of seats. In the open backfield area (roughly an acre) was the ʻĀina stage. A variety of vendors semi-circled the stage area and offered fresh coconuts, Kava and organic tea to keep the crowd well-hydrated till 9:30pm. The intermittent heavy downpours caused some to take shelter under an umbrella or a nearby vendor tent, however the brave ones danced uninhibited, and considered it a blessing as the music played in the open air.
Besides the great music, ʻĀina Fest also featured an on-site garden, classroom and yoga studio space, plus a children’s jungle gym. There were opportunities to learn from indigenous leaders, cultural experts, and environmental activists. Although the site location was smaller this year, the promoters said they wanted to create “a more intimate gathering to learn, grow and celebrate.”
In the opening blessing, cultural practitioner and activist Pua Case set the tone for the ten-hour festival. “We’re going to have fun today,” said Case. “Let everything go, and just love one another. Let’s just do that today!” As people arrived, volunteers planted trees and vegetables.
“What we’re working on is creating a just food system,” explained Dash Kuhr to hundreds of concertgoers. His effort to make that happen is his work on the Farm to School Initiative at Kohala High School. “When we got there,” said Kuhr, “the school’s farm was overgrown with weeds. Over the past year-and-a-half, we’ve been invigorating the site, planting, and bringing the harvest straight to their kitchen.” Kohala High’s kitchen serves about 600 meals a day to its students, as well as Kohala Elementary and Kohala Intermediate schools.
In 2011, the Kuhr’s founded an educational nonprofit in Kohala called the Hawaiʻi Institute of Pacific Agriculture (HIP Agriculture). All proceeds from the annual ʻĀina Fest support HIP Agriculture’s programs such as a bi-annual six-week farm internship, field trips for local youth, workshops on health, and food and gardening at local schools.
Before turning the stage over to singer Paula Fuga, Kuhr encouraged the crowd to get involved with the Famers Union and volunteer to help keep the momentum going. About a dozen local youth joined Kuhr on stage to talk about their farming experiences.
Singer/songwriter and Oahu resident Paul Izak echoed these sentiments during his set. “It’s about nourishing the young keiki to become strong ‘trees’ in our communities”, said Izak to the crowd gathered in front of the ʻĀina stage. “It’s so important that we empower each other to stand strong in these times, and to bring awareness to permaculture.”
In my interview with performer Ydine, she described what ʻĀina Fest’s message is all about. “It’s about food sovereignty, and with that there’s freedom.” Ydine has been playing the festival since it started nine years ago. “It was just one small tent [back then]. We were just a bunch of ‘little pirates’ trying to make something happen, and it worked!”
Listen to interviews with John Keawe, Drew Daniels, Noelani Love, and Ydine. Also stage commentary from Aina Fest founder Dash Kuhr.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photo credits: Steve Roby. Drone photo: Jordan Christopher of Lofty Imaging (www.loftyimaginghawaii.com). Gerald Besson. Besson is a French photographer based on the Big Island of Hawai’i who specializes in food & events and with a focus on music photography. Find him on instagram: #ishootmusichawaii.
If you’d like to learn more about the Hawaiʻi Institute of Pacific Agriculture (HIP Agriculture), please visit their website: https://hipagriculture.org