The Elton John concert to be held on Maui this month sold out so fast that a second show was added, even with tickets that start at $77. But there was a magical night 34 years ago when some Maui folks got to hear Elton John for free.
"Maybe it was a $10 cover charge," Sanford Hill says, "but if you got there early or if you knew people, you got in free."
The place was a club called Blue Max on Lahaina’s Front Street where Chicago Pizzaria is today. Hill remembers that the Blue Max was decorated with black-and-white photos of World War I airplanes and a big stuffed owl. No rock ‘n’ roll theme, no tiki torches, no disco ball, but there were huge stuffed couches and waitresses wearing Danskin leotards and sarongs.
In 1977, Hill was 26, single and living on a farm in Hana. He was hanging out with friends in Kula when he got the call from some buddies in Lahaina who said Elton John was planning to show up at the Blue Max, so they got in a car and drove over the pali.
It wasn’t all that unusual for a big act like Elton John to show up at the Blue Max. George Benson had jammed there, as did Stevie Nicks.
"In the ’70s, Maui was like that. David Crosby and Steven Stills would be hanging out on somebody’s porch. Sly and the Family Stone did a show at the Silversword," Hill said. "The era started with Jimi Hendrix and the Rainbow Bridge concert upcountry."
When Hill got to the Blue Max, a grand piano had somehow materialized on the balcony of the club. "I don’t know how they got that thing up the stairs," he said.
Elton John showed up with some friends and took the table next to where Hill was sitting. After a few drinks, John went over to the piano and banged out songs for over an hour.
"He just put on this killer show," Hill said. "No drums, no backup. He carried the whole thing with just himself on the piano and a guy on electric bass. He did ‘Saturday Night’ and people on the street were singing along with him."
Hill borrowed a camera and shot photos of the performance, though he did his best to be unobtrusive.
"There’s the Maui Rule with famous people," he said, "You just don’t want to bother them."
Elton John didn’t mind the camera, and Hill said, "If I didn’t have those photos, I wouldn’t remember as much about that night as I do now." Indeed, photos of the Blue Max are hard to come by.
Hill, who has worked as a photographer, filmmaker, videographer and screenwriter, is working on a book called "Maui Tales" that chronicles that era on Maui in 1971 to 1984 when famous people hung out on Maui, and not just hidden away in their multimillion-dollar gated estates. He has a collection of photos that documents those colorful halcyon days.
When the upcoming Elton John concert at the MACC was referred to in the media as the "first time" the superstar would be playing on Maui, Hill took exception. After all, he was there 34 years ago when Elton John played in Lahaina. He has the pictures to prove it, and that was decades before the iPhone.
Lee Cataluna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.