As I walked in through the side doors of the Kahilu Theatre, on the Hamakua side of the building, I felt like I was walking into some sort of underground speakeasy. From outside, the Theatre appeared dark and uneventful, but once inside the sound hit me. I walked along the hallway, drawn to the melody of the song “Ex’s and Oh’s,” originally recorded by Elle King. This is one of my favorites of the contemporary covers the band Lorenzo’s Army has in their repertoire, and it lured me right on to the dance floor.
Lorenzo’s Army has been playing music on the Big Island for almost 20 years at well-known local hot-spots, jazz clubs, and private events. But this was the first time they took the Kahilu stage to play for the public, as part of the theatre’s new ‘dance night’ initiative. If putting on a night of dancing was the intention, it’s safe to say it was achieved!
The Mike Luce studio was set up with chairs, but only a third of those chairs were being sat in at any given moment because everyone was on their feet. Personally, I preferred the intimacy of the stage area as the house seats were blocked off and couches and chairs were positioned around the dance floor to create more of a speakeasy vibe. As a performer who’s been on the stage numerous times, I know how magical it feels to have the lights shining down and the curtain behind me, but as I looked around I realized that many people don’t get that opportunity. How special is that, and to the music of our local musicians who specialize in ‘good time music for the masses’.
The band’s set list was diverse indeed. After grooving out to “Ex’s and Oh’s,” I caught up with a few familiar faces, made a visit to the bar (beer and wine were for sale), and got back on the dance floor to skank to the Bob Marley’s “Is this Love.” Bassist Clay Matsusaki and percussionist Diesel Tucker hit the bass and drum lines perfectly as Scott Nelson’s keyboard skills helped everyone found their reggae rhythm. You gotta love a tune you can not only dance to, but also sing along with. As the song finished and the clapping dwindled, guitarist Larry Roppolo went right into a guitar riff that got me running back to the dance floor. I’d recognize that riff anywhere! It was one of my favorite songs, and one I’ve heard the band play many times; Santana’s “Corazon Espinado.” I started to jive into a bit of a salsa step, but as I looked around I couldn’t help but grin, seeing all the dance styles around me. It was action. The couple to my left doing a cha-cha, across the way some swing dancers, and of course the classic step touch and get low. Vocalist Melissa Samura was not only impeccable in her pitch and full of passion in her delivery, but also had the pronunciation of every single Spanish lyric in the song down pat. When a band is that tight, the crowd feels it, to the point that as the last chord is strummed, everyone falls into what you can only describe as a finishing pose. Everyone was loving it, and probably loving the fact that they didn’t have to drive to Kona or Hilo to find live music.
The band took their break and finished the evening with another diverse and sweet set, including “Island in the Sun,” “Chain of Fools,” “Uptown Funk,” and my personal favorite, “I’ll Take You There.” ‘Lorenzo’s Army definitely took the crowd ‘there’, and delivered, and as a community member that loves a good dance party, I’m really excited about this initiative to have more nights like this, open to the public.
However, like any new initiative there are some kinks to work out, such as the spacing, the lighting, and the décor (the sound was fabulous). And I was a little disappointed in the turnout, which was mostly people in their forties and above. There are plenty of young people like myself around who would have loved rocking out to Lorenzo’s Army, so perhaps as the word gets out the audience will be a little more diverse. Great live music by talented and cohesive musicians covering all genres in an epic venue deserves a diverse audience.
Noelani Isabella Anderson is from the Hamakua Coast, studied Theatre at Chapman University, and teaches Musical Theatre and Acting Technique for Prince Dance Institute, North Hawaii’s performing Arts School, where she is also Managing Director.
Photos: Steve Roby