Op-Ed: An Outright Assault on Kona’s Live Music Scene


My husband and I moved from California to Hawaii, and chose downtown Kailua-Kona specifically, due to the robust live music scene, which showcases numerous talented musicians catering to all music tastes virtually every early evening of the week at the local establishments in and around Kona.

Based on local musicians’ experiences over the past six months, in particular, we are concerned that certain regulators – seemingly in response to a vocal minority of residents – are inappropriately and discriminately applying the sound and liquor laws that govern live music establishments (cafes, restaurants, clubs, bars) with the aim to curtail or quash the robust live music scene here. Therefore, on behalf of the very happy and therefore typically non-vocal majority, we are speaking out to express our appreciation for and dedication to the live music scene and talented musicians that distinguish this area.

Contrary to the letter of the law, which subjects live music establishments in downtown Kona to a maximum sound level (60 decibels, which is lower than a vacuum cleaner, not to mention the 90-decibel coqui frog) based on measurement from a complainant’s property (or, at a minimum, the outside boundaries of the establishment’s property), representatives of the liquor commission are targeting establishments along Alii Drive in particular, entering the venues and standing in front of the speakers to measure the sound, obviously generating a much higher sound level that not only reflects an improper measurement of the sound generated by the musicians, but also – as one local musician noted – “includes the sounds of the crowd.” The liquor commission is also targeting musicians with alcoholic beverages on their breaks between sets and even after they are done playing, which is contrary to the law, which disallows alcohol only during the time the musicians are on the stage or performance area. One local musician described it as an “outright assault on live music.” Another said that a regulator threatened that soon all of the music activity will have to be stopped.

One local musician commented: “Thank you so much for your support and for going above and beyond with our situation involving a certain commission that somehow looks at what we do with contempt. All we are doing is trying to make people happy, just another option for tourists and residents to look at for having a good time here on the Big Island. But this certain commission is trying to discourage us from giving people this option. We like to think that what we do is a good thing. So, I thank everyone who comes to hear and support us.”

The Johnny Shot Band at Laverne’s in Kona

Johnny Shot’s Neil Barnett also astutely noted the indirect implications of the regulator’s activities, which is that their behavior sends a negative message to musicians, which, in turn, impacts the patron experience. “What proves most difficult to understand is the attitude the regulators convey to the talented musicians who are simply offering a fun atmosphere. Their attitude immediately deflates the musicians and then brings down the audience,” he said.

Countless residents and tourists alike seek out live music of all genres along Alii Drive and elsewhere in/around Kona. The varied live music scene – featuring top-notch talent – sets this area apart favorably and draws people from all over, including those of us from all professions and walks of life who moved here for the easily accessible, joyful live music events in and around this community. The overall community scheme – if fairly regulated, monitored and enforced – is designed to accommodate everyone, including those individuals who choose not to partake, although presumably those who opted to live around Alii Drive in particular deliberately chose or were willing to accommodate a lifestyle that encompasses activities inherent in this environment including traffic, luaus, parades, street fairs, Ironman, etc.

Local area live music fans chime in

“My husband and I make a date to go out every Friday night and most Saturdays to enjoy the music and dancing at Laverne’s, Holualoa, Tiki Mamas, Huggos on the Rocks, and other venues.  Live entertainment here on the island begins around 6:00 pm and ends around 10:00 p.m., unlike the mainland. We follow several different bands that play different styles of music. We encourage visitors to also attend. We support our musicians AND the venue,” said Debbie Slay.

Cyndi Dunn commented: “Back on island tomorrow–plan to make it to any venue with live music—–hope to see all my friends at the live music venues—plan to bring new and old friends, too!!! One of the most fun reasons I enjoy the Big Island–live music.”

Jennifer Rushing adds: “My husband and I enjoy music from all parts of West Hawaii. From the Blue Dragon to Laverne’s to Gertrude’s to Ola Brew, Sunset Terrace, Korner Pocket, Kona Brewing, Mauna Lani Shops, Tommy Bahamas, Ke’ei Cafe and even Jackie Rey’s.  We are so grateful that quality live music is a part of the culture and experience that we can enjoy so frequently!”

We are concerned that the vocal minority fails to take into account the majority view, which is passionate about the music and our musicians. This is having a disproportionately unfavorable impact on area musicians’ ability and motivation to continue supporting the community with their unique talents and hard work. We urge local community establishments, tourism/business bureaus, and other stakeholders to understand the relevant laws, and to remain aware and informed about the breadth of talent we have here, and the associated positive impact economically and on the quality of life for the many residents and tourists who have searched far and wide to find what we have here in Kona.

Randi Morrison & Jim Derrick

Founders: West Hawaii Live Music Fans

Photo credits: Glen Van Dewiel and Randi Morrison.

Disclaimer: The viewpoints expressed by the authors do not necessarily reflect the opinions and viewpoints of Big Island Music Magazine.


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