Early in 2020, members of Hawaii’s entertainment industry looked forward to a busy summer and holiday season, when gigs are plentiful and people from near and far come to enjoy and connect over live musical performances.
On March 26, COVID-19 turned off the house lights when Hawaii implemented a mandatory 14-day quarantine on visitors. While the quarantine was necessary to manage the spread of the coronavirus, tourism screeched to a halt, and since then, many musicians have lost sleep worrying about how they will provide for their families.
Soon after, stay-at-home orders were issued, and restaurants, bars, hotels and performance venues were forced to close, too. With no place to perform or people to perform for, entertainers were left high and dry; incomes dried up overnight. This dramatic halt also affected sound engineers, hula dancers and many others whose livelihoods depend on the entertainment industry.
Music is the soul of Hawaii, a form of nourishment for our community, and without it, more than just musicians suffer. The question now is when will live events be allowed, and when will audiences feel it’s safe to come back?
Last month, Hawaii took a step in the right direction by launching its Safe Travels program, aimed at safely reopening the islands to travel. I’m hopeful that all of the measures in place will allow us to safely revive the economy because remaining closed is just not an option.
Even with the number of visitors slowly starting to increase, it’ll be a long time before all hotels reopen and we reach the critical mass needed to get the majority of tourism industry employees back to work. It could be a long, hard year-end and beyond for entertainers who rely on income from gigs.
Our ability to share our music and earn a living will depend on what happens next.
The program to reopen gives us a path forward. I’m willing to give it a try because if we don’t, it’ll be even longer before we can get back to enjoying the things that are special to us.
Musicians are members of a tight-knit ohana and look out for one another when someone needs help. One of the things I’ve realized in recent months is that it takes more than a global pandemic to stop the music.
Many musicians hosted free live-stream concerts intended to uplift the community and generate income while others shared their music and aloha online performing virtually from their home or back yard. My fellow founding member of Na Leo Pilimehana, Lehua Kalima, posted a new song on Facebook each day and Make Music Hawaii hosted a first-ever song swap online for local composers.
Entertainers are resilient and innovative because “the show must go on,” and because we have an unquenchable desire to perform and share.
Let’s get our community healthy and revive our economy so live music can return again for everyone to enjoy.
Nalani Jenkins is co-founder of the musical group Na Leo Pilimehana and founder of Make Music Hawai‘i.