One of the Big Island’s most exciting events is the annual Laupāhoehoe Music Festival, held at Laupāhoehoe Point Beach Park, now in its 13th year. The festival and fundraiser drew a large crowd of residents and tourists for a jam-packed day of music, food, silent auction, and fun activities for the whole family. The festival was created in 2005 by volunteers, including Hawaii island musician Braddah Smitty, to raise scholarship money for Laupāhoehoe students (Laupāhoehoe Community Public Charter School (LCPCS)), and to fund community projects.
MC’s Darde Gamayo (aka “Tita Nui”) and Auntie Penny did a marvelous job introducing bands and adding colorful history about the event and musicians throughout the day. A touching highlight was an audio recording of the late Hawaiian Senator Daniel Akaka at the first Laupāhoehoe music festival singing “The Rainbow Song” accompanied by his son Danny Akaka Jr.
Hawaiian Senator Lorraine Inouye was in the crowd and gave a brief speech. “We have a treasure at the Laupāhoehoe Charter School, and I will do everything I can to make sure it’s alive and well,” said the Senator. “There’s a difference between public and charter schools, but as long as they’re in my district, I’ll continue to fight for charter schools… Laupāhoehoe School is on my radar!”
Komakakino opened the festival, a traditional Hawaiian quartet, based in Hilo. The band’s name is a lyrical blend of the founding members’ first names: Koma Wana, Namaka DeMello, Kinohi Neves, and Christian Wadlington. They were joined by hula dancers who entertained with the dramatic Hāmākua coast’s hillside as backdrop.
Up next was local slack-key guitarist Ira Varize, son of long-time popular slack-key guitarist Manny “Boy” Varize. (Read our interview with Manny “Boy” here.) Ira was joined by the island’s ubiquitous fiddle player Jeff Quin. Ira’s deep husky vocals fit perfectly on Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and Danny O’Keefe’s “Good Time Charlie’s Got the Blues.”
Waimea’s country/folk singer Dagan Bernstein opened his set with the title track from his CD Change Something. Just as he was ready to start his second tune, Auntie Penny called out a request for Dagan to do a Johnny Cash number. “If you close your eyes,” Penny told the audience, “you’ll swear it’s Johnny Cash.” Bernstein and Quin broke into an uplifting version of the Cash classic “Ring of Fire.” Bernstein, like several other festival musicians, donated his performance fee to LCPCS.
Ho’aikane, a Jawaiian/Country/Reggae four-piece band quickly got the crowd up dancing – some even formed an impromptu conga line! The group was formed in 1983 on the Kona side of the Big island, and features Noland Ha’o, Walter Tavares, Russell Mauga, and John Mauga.
In between sets, Romeo Garcia, Executive Director at LCPCS, spoke about six of the school’s students attendance at the World Tsunami Conference last November in Okinawa. “Japan brought in students from 23 countries from around the world,” said Garcia. “We were happy because we thought we were representing the State of Hawaii, but it turned out we were the only school from the United States.” In 1946, a tsunami destroyed the original Laupāhoehoe school building where the festival takes place today.
In addition to the great music line-up, festival goers were treated to a wide variety of food vendors offering everything from fresh-cut coconuts, to Kalua pig, and pizza cooked in a wood-fired oven. Keikis got to experience pounding poi and traditional lei-making, in addition to a water slide. The ample silent auction’s revenues benefited students at LCPCS, and Music Festival ticket sales support the music programs at LCPCS.
The Laupahoehoe Ukulele Band, led by Todd Otake, and classic rockers, Monster Zero closed out the music portion of the program.