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Star power behind and in front of ukulele festival

By Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

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

During a career that spans more than 20 years, Emmy, Billboard Music and Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner Ken Martinez Burgmaier has worked with a who's who of gold and platinum singers and musicians, including Bonnie Raitt, Wynton Marsalis, B.B. King, Dave Brubeck, Lionel Ritchie, Roberta Flack, James Taylor and Kris Kristofferson.

He has directed and produced documentaries, videos, TV shows and commercials in more than 30 countries, from Japan to Jamaica, Australia to Aruba, Thailand to Turkey.

Even so, Burgmaier — a Makawao, Maui, resident— says some of his most rewarding experiences have been at home in Hawaii. He's expecting to add the Lanai Ukulele Festival, which will debut at the end of this month, to that list.

Burgmaier came up with the idea for the festival as he worked on two other projects on Lanai. He puts on the annual Lanai Film Festival and is directing and producing a video oral history project honoring elders from Lanai's pineapple plantation families for the Lanai Culture and Heritage Center.


» Place: Various venues on Lanai

» Dates: July 29-30; times vary

» Admission: Free (charges apply for food and drinks)

» Information: 800-321-4666, email

» Website:

» Accommodations: Four Seasons Resorts Lanai is offering festival rates for Hawaii residents starting at $199 per night at Manele Bay and $179 per night at the Lodge at Koele. Call 800-321-4666.


"Because of that, I've been spending a lot of time on Lanai, making new friends and learning a lot about the island's history and special sites," Burgmaier said. "I thought an ukulele festival would be a great event to offer the community, which doesn't get opportunities to see big-name entertainers perform very often."

Partnering with Four Seasons Resorts Lanai and several businesses in Lanai City, Burgmaier has planned two days of free miniconcerts by eight of Hawaii's top ukulele virtuosos: Tony Conjugacion, Brittni Paiva, David Kamakahi, CJ Helekahi, Walt Keale, Benny Uyetake, Herb Ohta Jr. and Grammy award winner Richard Hoopii.

"Uncle Richard is a legend who is 70 years young, Brittni is only 22 and the rest of the performers fall in between," Burgmaier said.

"They come from diverse backgrounds, and their playing styles are also very different. The ukulele is versatile; it's not just for Hawaiian music. As audiences will see during the Lanai Ukulele Festival, you can perform everything from classical and blues to jazz and rock 'n' roll with it."

Burgmaier describes the music of local artists in a single word: inspiring. "You can't listen to them playing the ukulele and not be touched," he said. "Many of them have become close friends; they stay at my house whenever they're on Maui. Watching Keola Beamer, John Keawe and Brother Noland sitting in my kitchen teaching my son, Nick, how to play the ukulele gives me chicken skin."

Thirteen-year-old Nick, an eighth-grader at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao, has taken coaching from these masters to heart, and it has paid off; last October he was one of the winners of Hula Grill Kaanapali's 14th annual Youth Ukulele Players Contest. Nick is a member of Kalama School's Ukulele Jazz Band, 50 talented students under the direction of Benny Uyetake.

Whenever possible, Burgmaier helps the group with fundraisers and arranges for them to play at events he produces. He knows that sparking children's interest in the ukulele will ensure its place in Hawaiian culture in the future — which is another reason he decided to launch the Lanai Ukulele Festival.

"Who knows? Maybe the next Uncle Richard will be born because of the event," Burgmaier said. "It'll create wonderful memories and relationships that could last for a lifetime. Like Lanai itself, most of the venues are intimate and casual. Just come in your T-shirt, shorts and rubbah slippahs; hang out with the artists; talk story with them; and experience true aloha through music."


July 29
» 3 p.m.: Lanai Ukulele Club, Great Hall, the Lodge at Koele
» 6 to 9 p.m.: Kailani Terrace, Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay. Dinner, with music by Herb Ohta Jr., Walt Keale, CJ Helekahi, and Benny Uyetake and friends.

July 30
» 9 to 11 a.m.: Benny Uyetake, Coffee Works, Lanai City
» 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.: CJ Helekahi, Cafe 565, Lanai City
» Ukulele classes: Music Room, Lodge at Koele. Benny Uyetake teaches from noon to 1 p.m.; Brittni Paiva, 1 to 2 p.m. Sign up at concierge desk; seating limited.
» 3 to 7 p.m.: Lodge at Koele. Richard Hoopii, Tony Conjugacion, Brittni Paiva, David Kamakahi, Walt Keale and Herb Ohta Jr.; Great Hall. Namahana Fuller from Conjugacion's Halau Na Wainohia on Oahu will also perform. Free tastings of Pau Maui Vodka.
» 8 to 10 p.m.: Pele's Other Garden. Several artists will gather for dinner and a jam session.

Music and movies
Ken Burgmaier's companies, and Jazz Alley TV, produce these events. Call 573-5530.

Lanai Slack Key Guitar Festival
Aug. 26-27, various venues. With John Keawe, Sonny Lim, Dennis Kamakahi, Kevin Brown, Cindy Combs and Brother Noland.

Maui Jazz and Blues Festival
Sept. 2-3, Grand Wailea Resort, Maui. Les McCann, Red Holloway, Javon Jackson, Grammy Award winners Tom Scott and Skip Martin, the Honolulu Jazz Quartet and the Kalama Intermediate School Ukulele Jazz Band are among the headliners.

Lanai Film Festival
Oct. 15, the Lodge at Koele and Four Seasons Resort Lanai at Manele Bay.

Hana Film Festival
Nov. 5, Hana Bay.


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Sta-Advertiser have won many Society of American Travel Writers awards.

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