Johnny Nicholas & The Dragon Jazz Band’s Big Island Tour


Blues master Johnny Nicholas and his all-star band Hell Bent from Austin, Texas will perform three shows on Hawai‘i Island, along with the young musicians of the Dragon Jazz Band, at the Hilo Palace Theatre, Honoka‘a People’s Theatre, and Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kailua-Kona, January 26-28.

Led by Gary Washburn, music director of Grammy Foundation Award-winning Honoka‘a High School, the Dragon Jazz Band is a select group of students who’ve proven themselves as strong performers, ready for a professional music experience.

Honoka‘a High School’s Dragon Jazz Band (photo: Sarah Anderson)

“A few years ago, when we were playing the Palace Theatre in Hilo with Marcia Ball,” said Nicholas, “Jay Curlee came up and told me about Gary Washburn and his Honokaa Jazz Band. Gary and I met, he picked up a couple of my CDs. A year later he sent me his CD that had a few covers of my songs and Marcia’s.”

“I got in touch with Gary,” Nicholas continued, “and we talked about collaborating on a tour of the islands with his Honokaa Jazz Band. He loved the idea, and the kids raised money for a tour that covered Hilo, Kauai, Maui and Oahu, opening for Marcia and myself. They killed it, man. They were so good!”

Nicholas and Hell Bent are no strangers to Hawai‘i, having toured under their own name, and backed up Delbert McClinton and Marcia Ball. Nicholas, described as one of the premier blues and roots music interpreters and artists alive today, has performed with blues legends such as BB King, Big Walter Horton, and Johnny Shines, as well as a stint with Asleep At the Wheel. He was one of the lead singers, writers and multi-instrumentalist in the band when they won their first of many Grammy Awards.

“The opportunity to tour and perform with Johnny Nicolas and Hellbent offers many educational opportunities not normally offered in the high school education system,” said Washburn.

Little Lady Band (photo: Sarah Anderson)

“Students work with and experience the real professional tour and road expectations and responsibilities. Setting up, sound checking, rehearsing while ‘on the road’ and interacting with professional musicians offers a great mentoring opportunity,” Washburn continued. “When touring with Johnny and his band members in 2015, I witnessed his band members willingly tutor the young musicians to help improve their musicianship, inspire developing improvisational skills, and have fun the same time.”

This year’s concert series will feature a new, all-female horn section, The Little Lady Band, including Terri Connors and Jeanne Altura on trumpet, Mollie Green on trombone, and Zhanelyn Cacho on tenor saxophone. As an additional bonus at the Hilo Palace, popular saxophonist Randy Skaggs and his band Soul on a Roll will play a 30-minute set prior to the Dragon Jazz Band.

If You Go

Concert Schedule: Johnny Nicholas and Hell Bent, with the Dragon Jazz Band
Friday, January 26, 7 p.m., Hilo Palace Theatre. $25 general admission, $35 side reserved, $45 center reserved. Info:

Saturday, January 27, 7 p.m., Honoka’a People’s Theatre. $25 general admission, $35 preferred seating.

Sunday, January 28, 4-7 p.m., Gertrude’s Jazz Bar. $5 cover.

Tickets available at the concert venues. For more information, visit

Feature photo courtesy of


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