Local songwriters spotlighted in unique music series
If you ever wanted to sample a taste of the island’s diverse musical talent in an intimate setting, then the Kahilu’s Song Circle series of concerts is a great opportunity.
Last April, the series kicked off with an intimate livestream-only show featuring Higgs, Blayne Asing, and series creator Don May. Texan-born May says the origins of this type of show can be traced back to Nashville’s Bluebird Café when a cluster of songwriters sat in a circle, passed around a guitar, and sang songs. Last Friday’s show at the Kahilu Theatre was the fourth edition in this series and featured Big Island artists Sarah Bethany, Drew Daniels, and Don May.
Sarah Bethany lives in Puna and has been here for 14 years. “I initially moved to the Big Island because of hula,” recalled the singer-songwriter. “I found a love of Hawaiian music and hula dancing when I lived in California, and that musical connection is what drew me here.” After dancing the hula for six years, Bethany rediscovered her passion for music and songwriting. She began taking piano lessons at seven and later attended the University of Missouri in Kansas City, graduating with a degree in music.
Bethany has since developed her musical skills with her husband/producer Michael Suprenant at their studio Mana Music in Hilo. Last summer they went to New York to film several music videos.
Bethany’s music is moving, and the lyrics are thought-provoking. At the Song Circle show, she performed her latest single, “Bury it in Snow,” and had her co-writing partner Drew Daniels contribute backing vocals on several songs.
Probably her most unique number was an improvised untitled piece. After a moment of silence, she began singing lyrics she said were inside her and in development. Bethany often uses this process and leaves song ideas on her phone. Watch for her new singles every few months on streaming platforms and a full album later this year.
Drew Daniels grew up in Gloucester City, New Jersey. The self-taught musician first played punk rock, ska, and later discovered reggae. He eventually became the frontman for Tsunami Rising and opened for Steel Pulse and The Wailers before moving to the Big Island.
One year after losing his Puna homestead to lava, Daniels returned home in 2019 with a resilient anthem titled “Get Back Up” and won second place in the Hawaii Songwriting Competition.
Daniels’ set showcased his straightforward and sometimes edgy lyrics while tapping into hip-hop and soul influences. His standout moments included “Find Our Way” and “Circles.” He closed with an upbeat song he composed during the pandemic called “The Best is Yet to Come.”
Daniels is starting to play public gigs again and most recently appeared at Uncle Roberts and the Big Island Brewhaus.
Waimea singer-songwriter Don May moved to the island from Austin, Texas, in the early 1990s. While here, he landed a publishing deal with Sony and flew back and forth to Nashville to write songs.
“I got into chasing the radio hits lifestyle,” recalled May. “For the last few years, I’ve settled and am concentrating on making my music, producing, and helping organize these Song Circle events.” May spent time upgrading his recording studio during the pandemic and focusing on writing new material.
“I think as artists, we’re all well-skilled at looking inside,” said May during or interview. “We have a rich inner life that we try to grab onto and put out into the world. My life wasn’t built around performing or touring like many people that I know. I’ve just kept up the same program of creating and recording, rather than trying to be the ‘Artist of the Month.’”
May closed out the show with his latest single, “Pretty Alyssa,” released last Friday. He’s currently discussing continuing the series next season with the theatre’s Artistic Director.
Photos: Steve Roby
Steve Roby is editor of Big Island Music Magazine