The Hawai’i Songwriting Festival is a unique experience, not only for those who live and perform here in Hawai’i, but for emerging musicians who travel here for this annual event. Locally, it’s the best opportunity for songwriters to work one-on-one with professional songwriters, music producers and business consultants to fine-tune their talent and learn how to advance to the next stage in the music industry. No matter your genre or level of experience, it’s the next step to getting your foot in the door.
Over the course of three intensive days, attendees selected songwriting workshops, seminars, small group sessions, panels, speed mentoring meetings, and joined nightly open-mic sessions. This year the festival ran July 19-21 and concluded with a Hit Makers Concert that featured the festival’s Top Three songwriters and closed with Kenny Loggins performing his most popular hits.
The annual event began as The Kaua’i Music Festival in 2002. In 2015, it moved to the Big Island, and the conference is now called the Hawai’i Songwriting Festival. The conference’s key player is Charles Michael Brotman, who is also the president and founder of Palm Records, and has received several awards and nominations, including multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards and one Grammy win. Various other members of the Brotman family contributed to the success of the festival as well.
It’s opening day for the HSF, and you could see several musicians with either a guitar or ukulele strung across their back. I’m waiting in a line to pick up my packet of festival info when I overheard an Australian woman in front of me chatting with others about how things are different for musicians there. “To perform a song in public,” she says, “you must be granted a license. Performing a cover without a music license is a breach of Australian copyright law.”
In another part of the pavilion I could see others scrambling toward a table to sign-up for speed mentoring. It’s sort of like speed dating, but instead you get a quick moment with well-known music industry professional like Richard Harris whose resume features chart-topping hits, and many awards.
Listen to several Big Island musicians talk about why they attended, and the opening blessing from Hawaiian priest Kahu dean Kauka.
Listen to an interview with Maui-based musician John Cruz. Cruz is a member of HSF’s Board of Directors, and performed on Hawai’i’s first Grammy Award winning album, and has also won multiple Nā Hōkū Hanohano awards. He was named the Best Singer Songwriter byHawaii Magazine in 2008.
The second day of the festival was filled with intensive workshops like the “Dos and Don’ts When Pitching to Music Supervisors,” and “The 7 Laws of Songwriting.” The ballrooms where these events took place were packed with attentive musicians eager to learn the most they could from music business veterans with decades of experience.
There were also smaller rooms where participants could speak directly with successful performers like MUNNYCAT and singer Andre Merritt.
Listen to an interview with MUNNYCAT, the LA-based power duo, K808 & Khaledzou (Katianne Timko and Khaled Tabbara). A true power couple, the pair both share a passion for writing, editing, and producing music.
Listen to an interview with Grammy Award winner Andree Merritt. Merritt launched his songwriting career in 2006 and has worked with top artists including Katie Perry, Rihanna, and Usher.
The day concluded with an intimate Q&A session featuring Kenny Loggins discussing his creative process, approach to songwriting, and other questions submitted from attendees. The event was led by Julia Brotman, Charles Brotman’s daughter and music attorney/HSF board member.
Here’s a brief sample of the Q&A session with Kenny Loggins.
The final day of the festival featured three more workshops and capped off with the Hit Makers Concert with headliner Kenny Loggins. The show open with the top three winners from the 2018 Hawaii Songwriting Competition: Ramey Krumrye, Kimberly June, and Higgs (Ryan Higgins) who performed a new song called “No Problems.”
The middle of the show spotlighted several songwriters/musicians who acted as mentors for the festival. But, perhaps, other than Kenny Loggins, the act that got the crowd on their feet was Streetlight Cadence. It was announced that the independent alternative-folk-pop band, originally from Honolulu, will be featured on KFVE-TV this September with a special called “Will Play for Food.”
In the spirt of Aloha, Kenny Loggins brought up several festival participants to join him on stage. Hunter Hawkins, Adam Zelkind, along with Streetlight Cadence, filled out the stage and performed on “House at Pooh Corner,” a song that was almost scrapped due to legal problems. “In 1970,” explained Loggins, “when the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band wanted to record the song, Pooh had been turned into a Disney character, and the company’s lawyers tried to stop the song from being released. I was going on a date that night, and I mentioned this to my girlfriend, ‘I’m kinda bummed tonight because I thought I had my first song recorded, and it’s not gonna happen.’ She looked at me and said, ‘Disney lawyers? Let me to talk to Daddy about that.’ I did not know that I was dating the daughter of the CEO of the Disney corporation.”
The rest of Loggins’ set included “Danny’s Song” “Conviction of the Heart,” and “Footloose,” which got the entire pavilion on their feet and dancing in the aisles.
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.