From Waimea to Hilo, Big Island audiences were recently treated to some of the Christmas joy that comes with watching a live holiday performance. But, if the pandemic was still uppermost on your mind, you could’ve taken your shoes off, lolled on the sofa, and watched the livestream shows at home.
Last Friday, ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro offered his “Christmas in Hawaii” concert at the Kahilu Theatre. The event opened with a 20-minute set by the talented Thunderstorm Artis. He was a finalist on the 2020 Spring season of “The Voice,” and his music is destined to soar on the charts with an upcoming album.
Shimabukuro performed with bassist Jackson Waldhoff and percussionist Taku Hirano and then played a solo section in the middle of his concert.
There were beautiful renditions of holiday classics like “We Three Kings,” but everyone in the crowd waited with anticipation for the songs where Jake’s five fingers catch fire, and he starts working the 11 effects pedals at his feet. “Let’s Dance,” a blazing self-penned flamenco epic inspired by Carlos Montoya, drew roaring applause.
This was one of Jake’s last shows of a 40-city fall/winter tour of the U.S.
Kalani Peʻa always presents an outstanding performance with multiple acts to enhance it further. Last Saturday’s “Wrapped in a Bow Christmas Concert” at the Kahilu didn’t disappoint. He sang selections from his new Grammy-nominated album and brought out vocalist Damon Williams for a heartfelt duet on “O Holy Night.”
Dressed in a green floral-patterned jacket that he said he picked up on Amazon for $99, Peʻa told the crowd that he enjoyed being back on his homeland island and earlier picked up a malasada before going to go the Waipiʻo lookout. His only disappointment was finding out the Starbucks in Waimea closed at 2 p.m.
Peʻa featured a variety of hula dancers throughout the show, including NBC’s “Little Big Shots” superstar Hunnay Demello.
The most touching moment in the concert came when Peʻa spoke about the recent loss of his close friend and former band member Uncle Aiau Koa. Peʻa paused, teared up, and said, “2021 has been a rough year for me, but music is my medicine.” At that point, Peʻa’s mother entered the stage and hugged her son while wiping away his tears.
The two-and-half-hour show ended with the audience joining in on “Hawai’i Aloha.”
My trifecta of Christmas shows ended with a Sunday matinee at the Hilo Palace Theater. Home for the HiloDays, directed by Larry Reitzer, featured a thrilling line-up of local vocalists, musicians, dancers, and a comedic elf named Lumpy (Alexander Knapp).
The lively seventy-minute musical was produced with the Hilo Education Arts Repertory Theatre (HEART) and was a fundraiser for the Palace Theater. The show was a fun mix of vaudeville slapstick, Broadway-style production numbers, and even a bit of hula to close the show.
Some of the outstanding performances included “Someday at Christmas” by Sam Deitch, “Happy Xmas (War Is Over)” by Kyra Gomes, and showstopper Bridge Hartman’s touching version of “Miss You Most (at Christmas Time).”
Kudos go out to set designer Jeramy Boik for the cozy living room look, and the Hilo audience deserves a round of applause for being the most vibrant crowd on the island – some even brought roses for the performers.
As of this writing, New York and California have both paused live audience shows due to an uptick in COVID cases. However, the consensus I heard from entertainers backstage is that the wave may continue west, and Hawaii could experience a similar setback in the coming months. On the other hand, I remain cautiously optimistic that we’ll further adapt to an ever-changing entertainment scene.
Steve Roby is the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby