The Aloha Festivals, which celebrate their sixth decade in Hawaii, will introduce three firsts this fall, including their own recorded theme song, a signature ale and Waikiki’s only food and wine festival.
Tourists and locals have been drawn to the festivals since they began in 1947 as Aloha Week, a celebration of Hawaiian culture, tradition and culture which incorporates music, dance, cuisine and art. Several years ago the festival was in danger of closing due to financial woes; however, new focus from its volunteer board, as well as funding from the Hawaii Tourism Authority, corporate and private sponsorships, and sales of Aloha Festivals ribbons and merchandise, helped it survive. Organizers are taking this year’s festivals further by offering new reasons to go that tap into the desire by locals to take pride in their culture and by visitors to experience authentic Hawaii.
"Aloha Festivals is not so much a tourism festival as it’s a festival of our own community based on aloha and the kamaaina way of life," said Manu Boyd, a festival board member. "Aloha is not a commodity; it’s a Hawaiian value that we share in our community and with our visitors."
Music, which has long played a predominant role in Hawaiian culture, will supply the theme — "Mele Ailana" — for this year’s festivals, which will kick off Aug. 27 during a block-party fundraiser on Merchant Street. Other events, including the investiture of the Aloha Festivals Royal Court, the Keiki Hoolaulea at Pearlridge, a block party on Kalakaua Avenue and the Taste of Helumoa Food & Wine Festival, will run throughout September.
ALOHA FESTIVALS EVENTS
"Music is a tradition in Hawaii. It captures the spirit of the islands and its people," said Jay Talwar, co-chair of the Aloha Festivals board of directors. "This was the inspiration for our theme this year."
Boyd, who remembers watching the festivals parade and participating in Aloha Week as a boy, said he was so inspired by this year’s festival’s theme that he wrote a song adopting the same title. In his music, Boyd reminds listeners that the song of the islands can be heard in sounds of Hawaii’s birds, waterfalls, cresting waves, and thunder and lightning.
"Music expresses Hawaii’s unique way of life," Boyd said. "The song that I wrote is dedicated to the festival."
Other events will offer opportunities to showcase Hawaii’s sights, smells and tastes.
Royal Hawaiian Shopping Center, a major festivals sponsor, will celebrate its 30th anniversary in Oahu by introducing the Taste of Helumoa Food & Wine Festival on Sept. 24. The event, from 6 to 9 p.m., will take place in the Royal Grove. The Brothers Cazimero will headline the event, which will feature 10 food tents showcasing Royal Hawaiian Center and Royal Hawaiian Hotel restaurants. Better Brands, the official wine sponsor, will offer wine pairings. Primo Island Lager, the official beer sponsor, will feature the new Aloha Festivals Ale in its beer tent.
"This is a great way for our visitors to mingle with the locals," said Sam Shenkus, an Aloha Festivals board member and marketing director for Royal Hawaiian Center. "When visitors come to Hawaii, they want to experience the islands. I know they will enjoy tasting some of our local foods and sampling our exclusive festivals ale."
The investiture of the Aloha Festivals Royal Court, which will take place at 2 p.m. Sept. 2 at Hilton Hawaiian Village, will give residents and visitors a glimpse into what was once the kingdom of Hawaii. Locals will be crowned the king, queen, prince and princess of the Alii Court and will receive their royal cloak, helmet, head feather lei and other symbols of their reign amid traditional chant and hula.
The festivals’ climax will be the 64th annual floral parade at 9 a.m. Sept. 25, which will bring a colorful equestrian procession of pa’u riders, flowered floats, hula halau and marching bands from Kalakaua Avenue to Ala Moana Park and Kapiolani Park.
Signature Hawaii festivals and events improve visitor and resident satisfaction scores and boost tourism outside of the sun, sand and surf venue, said state tourism liaison Marsha Wienert.
"The uniqueness of Hawaii is in our people and our culture, and that’s what sets it apart from other destinations," Wienert said. "The festivals, which are held at a time when we need events to draw more tourism, allow our visitors to really experience what makes Hawaii special."