The 2019 Hawaii Songwriting Festival wrapped up three days of intensive workshops and panel discussions with their Hit Makers Concert. The three-hour show opened with comments from the conference’s President Charles Michael Brotman. “The Hawaii Songwriting Festival offers everything a young songwriter would want to know about how to be in the music business,” said Brotman. “Conferences like this are an important part of the ecosystem of the music business, and they operate like incubators for talent, and we’ve seen a lot amazing talent here in the last few days. I’m pretty sure we have in this room rising stars that you will see on the Grammy stage one day.”
KBIG radio host Keith Vachon acted as MC for the evening and introduced all the performers including the top-three winners from the 2019 Hawaii Songwriting Competition. Maui’s Kenny Ward performed “State Of The Union (Whole World’s Melting).” The following are the performers in the order that they appeared.
Second Place Winner Drew Daniels, former frontman of East Coast reggae rockers Tsunami Rising, delivers a distinct take on the singer/songwriter vibe. His songs weave as if Conor Oberst, The Avett Brothers, Jack Johnson, and Bradley Nowell sat down to create straightforward, conscious music that remains healthily grounded in the human experience. Drew’s upcoming debut album, Fertility from Fire, tells his personal monomyth through honest songs that tastefully stimulate both head and heart. His poetic lyrics gracefully flow over punky folk and reggae, while tapping into influences of hip hop, blues and soul.
Daniels performed “Circles” and received a standing ovation. After losing his homestead to lava last year, Big Island musician Drew Daniels returned home with a resilient anthem titled “Get Back Up.” The new single features an internationally crowd-sourced choir and some vocals from his local music scene (Imani Dreadz of OK2Change, Lopaka Rootz, Sarah Bethany, and others), Daniels delivers an honest account of his journey through trauma and an expression of strength in this genre-bending single. “Get Back Up” comes as a powerful follow-up to last year’s single “Our New Life.”
Shani Rose is an award-winning songwriter and has been called a “Pop/rock songstress with a Soulful Crunch.” She has a unique way of combining her acoustic coffeehouse bravado with hook-laden, anthemic sounds to create pop gems for her solo and duo projects, as well as when writing for other artists. The Los Angeles native started playing piano at age 7 and continued her studies as the pianist in her high school jazz band, and later as a music major (songwriting/composing) at University of Southern California’s Thornton School of Music. Rose won First Place in the HSF’s Open Mic Competition.
Born and raised in Tyler, Texas, Chance Peña is a 19-year-old singer/songwriter and producer. Making music from an early age, he has cultivated a unique style of traditional storytelling infused with modern musical influences. After building a following by writing and performing in his hometown, Peña competed on Season 9 of The Voice at age 15. His experience on the show and working with coach Adam Levine further advanced his knowledge and confidence as an artist. Peña continues to cultivate his artistry by writing, producing, engineering, and performing his own songs. He also has plans to release a full EP in 2019 via Secret Roads Records.
littleDNGR is a musical duo consisting of Grammy and Oscar nominated songwriters, Joshua Bartholomew (guitar/vocals) and Lisa Harriton (Keyboards/vocals). Equal parts brooding and epic, this musical love-affair lives in a world of cinematic soundscapes, anthemic choruses, big riffs and electro-beats.
Sophie Rose is a 19-year old songwriter from Calabasas, California. She began writing songs at nine and signed her first publishing deal at age 14. Rose has currently written over 600 songs and is signed to a publishing joint venture between Prescription Songs and hit songwriter Ester Dean a star of the new NBC show Songland. Her songs have reached the Top 5 on Billboard charts and have been streamed over 20 million times. Rose recently finished a North American tour supporting Nina Nesbitt. You’ve probably heard her songs in commercials for MasterCard, Samsung, and others.
Nashville’s Amy Stroup has had her songs featured on more than 30 TV shows. She is the newest member of the Ten Out Of Ten tour where she is one of the featured artists along side Andrew Belle, Katie Herzog, Trent Dabbs, and more. Recently, Stroup released a single titled “This Is My Time” featured on NBC’s hit show This is USthat she penned with Mary Hooper, her creative partner and co-owner of their design boutique Milkglass Creative. Stroup tours with Sugar and the Hi-Lows and has recently shared the stage with Chris Stapleton, Kings of Leon. Kacey Musgraves, and Ingrid Michaelson.
Jeremy Bircher (Portland, Oregon) and Josh Jones (Honolulu) are international hit songwriters and producers. They created and wrote Coca Cola’s global anthem “Taste the Feeling,” which they performed at the concert. The tasty tune is becoming one of the most widely distributed songs in advertising history, reaching 4 billion listeners. Bircher and Jones just released their first EP with their latest project called Boomeo Music.
Streetlight Cadence is an alternative folk-pop sensation. Jonathon, Jesse, Brian, and Ben began as street performers in 2010 in Honolulu playing to tourists to earn grocery money as college students. Their classical instruments, family friendly brand and storytelling-songwriting style attracts all audiences, making Streetlight Cadence a group enjoyed by all ages.
John Cruz performed on Hawaii’s first Grammy award-winning album and has also won Na Hoku Hanohano awards. Cruz has distinguished himself as one of the most talented artists to have ever come from Hawaii.
Greg Holden is an ASCAP award-winning singer/songwriter from the north of England, most well known for co-writing theAmerican Idol chart-topping single “Home” performed by Phillip Phillips. “Home” sold over six-million copies in the U.S. and was crowned the most successful song to come out of American idol. Holden has also written singles for Grammy-winners A Great Big World, Norwegian folk star Marit Larsen, and indiepop darlings Juke Box The Ghost.
Native Hawaiian and Grammy nominated Henry Kapono is a vocalist, guitarist, songwriter, and composer. He is one of Hawaii’s most popular recording artists and is equally known for his community support and philanthropic endeavors, most recently launching the Henry Kapono Foundation in 2018 with a mission to support the community through music and the arts by giving with Aloha.
Kenny Loggins performed crowd favorites like “Conviction of the Heart,” and “Footloose,” which got the entire room on their feet and dancing in the aisles. The multi-platinum and Grammy-award winning artist’s career dates back to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band in 1970. In the mid-‘70s he was the soulful voice in Loggins & Messina. When the 1980s rolled around, Loggins’ music was featured in popular movie soundtracks such as Caddyshack, Footloose, and Top Gun.
During the Festival, Loggins also offered his songwriting expertise during several speed mentoring sessions where musicians offered samples of the songs for critique. I also had the pleasure of sitting down with Loggins for an interview about his 40+ years in the music business.
The concert ended with an invitation for the HSF staff to join everyone on the closing song “Hawai’i Aloha,” a revered anthem of native Hawaiian people and Hawaiʻi residents alike. It was led by Brandon Nakano.
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.
Photos: Steve Roby