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Hawaii island hootenanny has music and hula

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

LAST UPDATED: 3:44 p.m. HST, Aug 10, 2011

When Cyril, Martin and Bla Pahinui took the stage together for the first time, it was not in a prestigious venue. They didn't perform before a horde of reporters, and there wasn't a single TV camera in the house.

They did it to pay tribute to their dad.

That day in 1994, the Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium in Hilo was packed for the fifth annual Big Island Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival, which was dedicated to slack-key legend Gabby Pahinui. Although "Pops" had died 14 years before, he remained a beloved figure in Hawaiian music circles, and the community came to celebrate that.

"To date, that was the most emotional performance in the festival's history," recalled Dennis Taniguchi, executive director of the East Hawaii Cultural Center. "Even people who were too young to have seen Gabby in person were touched to see his sons playing guitars and singing from their hearts in honor of him. Everyone in the audience had tears in their eyes."


» Place: Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium,

323 Manono St., Hilo

» Dates: noon to 6 p.m. Saturday and July 10

» Tickets: $5 per person per day in advance, $10 at the door. Ages 12 and under free. Call 935-9085 or email

» Information: 961-5711, email, visit


The Big Island Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival was launched in 1989 by Gay Tolar, owner of Gay Tolar Productions, which, among other things, produces concerts, manages and books local musicians and provides lighting, stage and sound services.

In 2002 the festival's name was changed to Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival to reflect its change in management and its inclusion of other forms of Hawaiian music, including the steel guitar, ukulele and falsetto. Over the years, the event has been held at various Hilo venues, including Mooheau Bandstand, Hilo High School and the University of Hawaii at Hilo's Performing Arts Theater. The Civic Auditorium is now its permanent home.

The cultural center began coordinating the event in 2009, with Ben Kaili at the helm. Taniguchi met Kaili at a concert in 2008, shortly becoming executive director. "His musical talent really impressed me, as did the fact that he stayed afterward to help clean up. I soon learned that he was part of a big, well-respected Hawaiian music and hula family that included renowned kumu hula George Naope, his uncle."

Taniguchi thought Kaili would be perfect to run the center's cultural events, including the music festival.

Before Naope died in October 2009, he asked that hula be incorporated into the festival's program. Kaili made sure that happened the following year.

"We dedicated the 2010 festival to Uncle George, and hula is now a major part of the festival," Taniguchi said. "Uncle George insisted that hula and Hawaiian music belong together."

This year's entertainment slate features 31 musicians, including Dennis Kamakahi, Kuuipo Kumukahi, Cyril Pahinui, Nathan Aweau, Benny Chong, John Keawe, Sonny Lim, Rob Yamanoha, Brittni Paiva and Diana Aki. Five hula halau from the island of Hawaii also will perform: Ke Olu Makani o Mauna Loa from Volcano, Toa Here and Halau Na Lei Hiwa o Kuu Aloha from Hilo and two halau led by kumu hula Lori Lei Shirakawa: Lori Lei's Hula Studio from Hilo and Waiohinu Hula Studio from Kau.

"Nowhere else in the world will you be able to enjoy 12 hours of authentic Hawaiian music and hula by top performers for a few dollars," Taniguchi said. "There will also be great local food, arts and crafts. The Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival presents the best of Hawaiian traditions in a casual, down-home atmosphere that suits them well."

Council nurtures culture and the native arts

The East Hawaii Cultural Council was founded in 1967 by six charter organizations representing Hilo's multi-ethnic heritage. Today it operates the East Hawaii Cultural Center, which brings together the Hawaii Concert Society, Big Island Dance Council, Palace Theater and more than 800 individuals from Hawaii, the mainland and Japan who are dedicated to preserving cultural, creative and traditional arts in Hawaii.

Housed in a 10,000-square-foot facility at 141 Kalakaua St. in Hilo, the center includes three galleries that host local, national and international invitational art exhibits; a gift shop featuring locally created art and artifacts; a black box theater; an art studio; a meeting room; and one of the best dance floors on the island. Its spacious lanai and balcony also serve as a performance venue.

EHCC's main support comes from the public. Annual memberships start at $20. Benefits include free members-only art classes;, discounts for other classes and gift shop purchases, early registration for workshops and a subscription to the monthly newsletter, Art Centering, which promotes local cultural events and serves as a forum for poets and artists.

For more information about events or becoming a member of the center, call 961-5711 or email


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.


All will be held at the East Hawaii Cultural Center unless otherwise noted.

Life Drawing Sessions

6 to 9 p.m. Tuesdays. Bring art supplies. There is a $10 model fee.

Floral Group

1 to 3 p.m. third Saturday of the month. Learn about colors, structures and techniques in flower arranging. Bring flowers and vases. Free.

Aloha Saturdays

Noon to 4 p.m. third Saturday of the month in Kalakaua Park, Hilo. Bring chairs and mats.

Shakespeare in Kalakaua Park

Hilo Community Players present "The Merchant of Venice" Thursday to July 9 and July 14-16 and 21-23 in Kalakaua Park. Performances begin at 2 p.m. July 10 and 17, and at 7:30 p.m. on the other days. Email for details.

Art Exhibits

» Through July 27: Elfie Wilkins-Nacht, "Chance & Gravity," collage, abstract painting, 3-D collage; Hawaii Photo Shooters/Susan Miyasaka, "Special Places on the Big Island"; Arthur Johnsen, "Recent Works," oil/acrylic paintings with abstract elements and Hawaiian motifs

» Aug. 5-24: Glenn Yamanoha and Lonny Tomono, "Sakurin," oil/mixed media, woodblock prints, wood and metal; Lee Kyung Hye, "Sketches from the North," photography; Ikuko Muto, "Ripple," mixed media

» Sept. 2-28: Randy Takaki, Kaori Ukaji, Stephen Lang, Randy Shiroma, "4 Way Stop," mixed media, 2-D, 3-D, clay, paper, wood, concrete, metal

» Oct. 7-26: 23rd annual Trash Art Show: multimedia works judged by visual and performing artist Ira Ono

» Nov. 4-23: 35th annual Fall Arts Festival: multimedia juried art show

» Dec. 2-21: Wayne Levin, "Kalaupapa," photography


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