The Hawaii Performing Arts Festival presented its 18th Season Opener, The Spirit of Hawai’i, at The Plantation Estate venue at the Fairmont Orchid last Thursday; under palm trees dancing to the trade winds, there was palpable excitement as the patrons took their seats.
The set list was perfect, with Kaulu Amaral and Pomai Brown & Friends leading the show with old “hula classics” from the 1940s-50s. Pomai Brown is quite famous in his own right; on Thursday night, he was so humble with a wealth of information narrating as Master of Ceremonies for this first part of the show, which was dedicated to Kaulu’s mentor and “hula mama,” Sally Kalala Alohikea Lyons known as “Aunty Sally” (mentioned in Kaulu’s interview for Ke Ola Magazine and OHA (Office of Hawaiian Affairs) “Under the Kona Moon.” The festival perfectly set the musical line-up beginning with Kaulu’s and coming full circle by ending with Halau Ka’eaikahelelani (the kumu sisters, Kahelelani and Ka’ea, are Aunty Sally’s daughters).
As the sun set, the lighting complemented the palms in red and blue hues; later, subtle changes to green. Kaulu, 35 years as the Big Island’s “Hula Girl,” was exquisite as usual, with her “lovely hula hands” and graceful dance, giving lei to some of the seated kupuna and sponsors. Musicians Russell Paio on upright bass and Dwight Tokumoto on steel guitar added their expertise and sweet vocals to the beautiful ambiance! The enthusiastic audience thoroughly enjoyed the old classic Hawaiian songs.
Headliner Hāwane Rios, Kia’i (cultural protector), is an HPAF alum and studied with the Young Singer Tropical Glee Program in 2013. Rios blended her performance and music exquisitely with her activist stance in beautiful mele and spot-on vocals, generously supported by the very talented husband and wife team, Brandon Nakano on guitar and vocals, and Emma Coloma-Nakano on bass and vocals. “Together We Rise” was magical, and Rios’ stories on how she wrote songs about her dad fishing and running from the eels were delightful and inspiring.
Hometown favorite Blayne Asing held his ground in the third act, with a secure stage presence despite a small exodus of some elderly patrons’ departure. I appreciated his sharing the foundational musical practice and songs he delved into and created during the initial months of COVID; I was amused at the wedding vows he had written in song for his wife, and the audience was eager to hear his Na Hoku Hanohano award-winning “Moloka’i On My Mind.
The festival perfectly set the musical line-up beginning with Kaulu’s dedication and coming full circle by ending with Halau Ka’eaikahelelani (the kumu sisters, Kahelelani and Ka’ea are Aunty Sally Kalala Alohikea Lyons’ daughters). ‘Ōlelo, ōli (chant), and genealogy shared by Kumu Ka’ea, followed by the halau’s response; use of ipu (gourd), brought a more traditional Spirit of Hawaii experience in comparison to the first three sets.
A big mahalo to the Hawaii Tourism Authority for the grant and all the additional sponsors who assisted in this season opener at such a lovely venue. It is wonderful to know that all proceeds will be going to Local Student Scholarships for the HPAF Program.
Please get your tickets now for Great Performances 1 at Kohala Ranch on Thursday, July 7, and I’m especially looking forward to next weekend’s As One at Kahilu Theatre. A Hui Hou!
About the author: Rona Lee studied theatre arts and film at SUNY Purchase (Conservatory – College of Performing Arts) and Communications at the University of Arizona. She traveled abroad with Up With People! (1983-84) and moved to the Big Island from New York in 1990.
Photos: Steve Roby ©2022 images are available for liscensing.
Performance date: 30/June/2022
A full calendar of HPAF events and tickets for all events are available by visiting https://hawaiiperformingartsfestival.org/. Tickets for Kahilu Theatre events may be purchased at https://kahilutheatre.org/ or via phone at (808) 885-6868.