It’s taken 51 years to bring Paul Simon back to Hawaii for a concert, but it isn’t a big payday that lured him.
The legendary singer-songwriter — one of only 15 artists inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as both a solo artist and a member of a band — is doing it for the aina. His net proceeds from shows at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center on Tuesday and Wednesday will benefit two local environmental charities — the Auwahi Forest Restoration Project and Kua‘aina Ulu ‘Auamo.
This act of philanthropy is the latest in this phase of Simon’s career. After last year’s “Homeward Bound” farewell tour — named after one of the signature hits he had as half of Simon & Garfunkel — he said he was done with such endeavors. The only shows he now plans are for charity, mostly environmental ones.
PAUL SIMON IN CONCERT
>> Where: Maui Arts & Cultural Center
>> When: 7:30 p.m., Tuesday and Wednesday
>> Cost: $55-185
>> Tickets: mauiarts.org or 808-242-7469
The idea has its roots in a 2017 tour in which his proceeds went to the Half-Earth Project, to support its focus on global biodiversity. Simon adapted the effort to last year’s slate.
“Every city that I played I would leave a gift for some small environmental group,” Simon said from Montauk, N.Y., in a recent phone conversation, “and then when I finished the tour I decided that whenever I play in the future, that’s what I’m gonna do with the profits. I think it’s the most pressing problem that we face — global warming and the continued pollution of the planet.”
Simon and his family — wife Edie Brickell and their offspring Adrian, Lulu and Gabriel (he also has a son, Harper, from his first marriage) — spend significant chunks of the year on Maui, sometimes months at a time, so Simon sought to help Hawaii nonprofits benefiting environmental causes.
“It’s a way of saying thank you,” he said, “and that we’re grateful that we’re able to live on Maui, and that we care about the island, the environment, we care about the people, we care about the culture.”
In searching for the right beneficiaries, Simon wanted groups that were community-based and attentive to biodiversity. Nearly everyone he asked directed him to Art Medeiros and his Auwahi Forest Restoration Project.
“(The forest) used to be from Makawao to Kaupo, the whole southern side of Maui, and there’s only 2% of it left,” Medeiros said in a phone call from Maui.
The amount of the donation will depend on the success of the concerts, so Medeiros isn’t sure yet what it will fund, but he said the priorities would be to buy a new truck to transport volunteers, or even a new forest area.
“I hope the return on investment is something that he’ll be proud of,” Medeiros said. “I hope he can actually see his forest area become green.”
Medeiros was one of several to recommend Kua‘aina Ulu ‘Auamo as another worthy nonprofit for Simon to support. KUA, as described on its website, “supports creative and collective community-based solutions to problems stemming from environmental degradation in Hawai’i.”
Co-director Miwa Tamanaha said Simon’s contribution will allow the group to help more communities address environmental needs as they arise.
“How philanthropy is structured … to write a grant, you really have to know what you’re doing a year in advance, but the context of community is always changing, so to be able to be responsive and nimble and flexible really increases the impact of what you’re able to do in real time,” Tamanaha said.
Simon’s priority on community involvement aligns with his approach to activism, which dates back to the 1980s with the Children’s Health Fund.
“I noticed that there were a lot of homeless people on the streets of New York, and so I went to a shelter to ask if there was something that I could do,” Simon said. He was introduced to Dr. Irwin Redlener and they came up with the idea of creating mobile units to provide pediatric care. Simon says the Children’s Health Fund has supported “several million doctor-patient visits” across about 32 years.
He’s taken a similar approach with his environmental crusade, choosing to do what he can with those ready and willing to help, rather than try to persuade others to get involved or lobbying the government for help.
“I don’t spend a lot of time trying to convince people, because there are a lot of people that are involved, and you can accomplish quite a bit just by going and making your contribution, however big or small it is,” Simon said. “You don’t actually have to get into a big argument and waste your energy and your emotions in the argument when you can go to work and accomplish something.”
Simon is at a stage in life where he can keep the negativity away. He’s had a successful enough career — four No. 1 hits and 12 Grammy Awards — that he has the freedom to work on his own terms and dedicate his time to causes he’s passionate about.
Though he has recorded steadily through the years, as recently as last year’s album “In the Blue Light,” Simon said the Maui shows will focus on his extensive catalog of hits. Between his solo work and his time with Art Garfunkel, he has 14 Top 10 hits — including the chart-toppers “The Sound of Silence,” “Mrs. Robinson,” “Bridge Over Troubled Water” and “50 Ways to Leave Your Lover.”
He has made many musical connections on Maui over the years — Keola Beamer, Michael McDonald and Pat Simmons Jr. among them — and would not rule out one of them making a guest appearance, though he noted the quick turnaround from his California shows would make it difficult to rehearse ahead of time.
“I’m open for something loose to happen, if it’s meant to happen,” he said. “It doesn’t have to be a more perfectly rehearsed or orchestrated piece for it to be musical and part of the celebration.”