Dating back to 1954, Honoka`a’s Western Week is among the most highly anticipated Big Island festivals of the year. To honor a century-old paniolo (Hawaiian cowboy) heritage, the town of Honoka`a serves up a unique cultural blend of rodeo sports, high-energy events, music, food, and education. But this year, due to pandemic restrictions, the organizers shifted most of the events to online including the Saloon Girls and Cowboys Got Talent Show.
On Saturday, May 22, Kahilu TV aired a pre-recorded presentation of the popular talent show that was done a week prior. While most performers were musicians, there were also two aerialists and an acrobatic dancer. The talented Julie Young, who, when reaching the height of the Kahilu Theatre’s 30-foot stage, flung her cowboy hat toward a giant cowboy boot filled with tropical flowers. Honoka`a’s Hannah Kaplon sang “Leather and Lace” in a leather fringed vest while aerialist Alea Backus spun, swung, and swooshed around her in a lacey body stocking. And then there was Veda, a pole dancer from Kona, dressed in Daisy Dukes cut-offs who performed her acrobatic set while wearing a pair of 8-inch-high platform shoes.
There were four judges: Kahilu Artistic Director Chuck Gessert, DJ Darde Gamayo, musician Maelan Abran, and yours truly. We narrowed down the 12 contestants to the top three with a runner-up. The contestants were judged on talent and technical ability, stage presence, costume, and creativity. All the winners this year were musicians.
Runner-up: Hannah Kaplon (Prizes: admission to the Hawaii Songwriting Festival, and concert tickets.)
Song: “Leather and Lace”
Comments: “I asked Alea Backus to perform with me because not only is she my best friend, but she is also the most talented aerial dancer I have ever met. I thought the aerial dance would add an interesting element and dimension to the performance. The song “Leather and Lace” was suggested to me by Angel Prince a previous year. Since the song is slower and more reflective rather than a big dramatic song like I did in 2019, I was looking to create an almost dream-like quality for this performance. Michelle Hartman did my costuming, working on the theme of leather and lace. I thought the costuming was able to reflect upon not only the soft and strong character of the song but also the sensitivity and strength that Alea and I both try to embody as performers and as people. I’m hoping to be able to not only play more shows this year but finish putting out my next single (and possibly the one after that!) and continue building my brand and online presence, as well as increase my connectivity and mobility within the music industry.” – Hannah Kaplon
Third Place: Higgs (Prize $100).
Song: “The Bones”
Comments: “This year I wanted to choose a song that was in the country vein but was also something I would play, that I could put my spin on. ‘The Bones’ by Maren Morris and Hozier fit the bill. I liked the song immediately the first time I heard it and started fiddling around with my looper to create my imaginary band and come up with the arrangement of it I performed at Kahilu. My cowboy outfit was a group effort – ha-ha. I chose the pants, boots, and hat and got input from my fam at Grace Flowers Hawaii for the shirt and bolo tie. My sister made the lei po’o, which added some nice flair. It’s always a bit of a stretch for me to play country music, and although I’ve come to enjoy most country music, I still feel a little like an outsider to the genre. But it’s great to get out and be a part of a community tradition and at the end of the day I’m glad I got roped into it (pun intended)!” – Higgs
Second Place: Scott Buchholz (Prize $200).
Original song: “I’m Never Lonesome (When You’re On My Mind)”
Comments: “I like to think of the song as an end-of-day campfire song, a melancholy reflection, a re-centering song. I tried to flip that age-old trope of the troubadour singing about how sad he/she is about losing their lover by focusing on the warmth and joy just the simple thought of them brings. As for music goals, I’m just trying to become a better songwriter with each tune I write. one song at a time. Also, after some fits and starts with different collaborators, I’m currently working on recording a more lo-fi, simple acoustic EP.” – Scott Buchholz
First Place: Rachael Scott (Prize $300 and a show on Kahilu TV.)
Original song: “Hope on the Radio”
Comments: “My song ‘Hope on the Radio’ is about self-love in a world that can lead us to believe we need to look or act a certain way to be viewed as acceptable. The lyrics serve as a reminder that beauty comes from inside, and your best qualities come from your heart. My costume was a classic saloon girl in red who played the piano and entertained the crowd in an old-time saloon. I’m a singer/songwriter who has recently re-branded as a producer. I’m currently writing and producing music with the potential of TV, film, and ad placements.” – Rachael Scott
The top three prize winners will also be featured in Big Island Music Magazine articles.
If you missed the free livestream presentation, you could still catch it on Kahilu TV.
About the author: Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Phineas Adams and Steve Roby