Music stars align in 2016

From Hawaiian legends to soul divas, performers filled Maui stages

Chaka Khan; photo courtesy the MACC

It was another bumper year for entertainment on Maui in 2016 beginning with UB40 Reunited in January, drawing a massive crowd.

“It’s made all the difference,” lead singer Ali Campbell explained about performing again with fellow founding vocalist Astro. “We’re enjoying a bit of a renaissance, back up to (playing) arenas.”

Hawaiian legends Henry Kapono, Brother Noland and John Cruz thrilled a Castle Theater crowd with a return performance as the Rough Riders.

“The MACC was our first gig,” Kapono recalled. “It’s grown really fast, constantly moving and evolving.”

January also saw the return of horn-powered rock band Chicago to the Maui Arts & Cultural Center. With the group finally nominated for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, founding trumpet player Lee Loughnane noted: “It’s been a long time coming.”

Keali‘i Reichel; photo courtesy Keali‘i Reichel

February’s highlights included Keali’i Reichel staging his memorable Kukahi hula production on Valentine’s Day.

“It’s an important event to allow the dancers to experience performance after their training,” the renowned kumu hula/musician explained. “We took a break (last year) and I wasn’t sure if I was coming back.”

The incomparable guitar legend Carlos Santana ignited the MACC’s amphitheater in March. Santana was excited about reconnecting with his revered early 1970s lineup for a new album.

“As soon as we started playing there was a spirit that was very alive,” he enthused. “As soon as I hear Gregg’s (Rolie) organ and Neal (Schon) playing, we all become one Pacific Ocean.”

March saw the opening of Mick Fleetwood’s new Club Keller basement venue at Fleetwood’s on Front St. in Lahaina.

Billy Currington; photo courtesy the MACC

“When we came here, this is what I fell in love with,” Fleetwood said of the basement.

Phenomenal singer Lisa Fischer (who toured for years with the Rolling Stones) made her Maui debut.

“It’s overwhelming, it’s so insanely beautiful,” she said about the adoration she’s been receiving.

The queen of funk, Chaka Khan, wowed a Castle Theater audience in April. Talking about recording a Joni Mitchell tribute, she reported: “This is the first real labor of love that I’ve done in my whole career.”

Also in April, country star Rodney Atkins recalled an encounter with the late country legend Merle Haggard. Visiting a publisher, “I went to his office with my guitar and a backpack, tried to open the door of the building and it hit my guitar. A hand came around me and a voice said, ‘Let me get that door for you, son.’ It was Merle Haggard. It was my first day on Music Row. It’s such a huge loss.”

Uluwehi Guerrero; Sean Michael Hower photo

May’s memorable shows included acclaimed funksters Tower of Power. Band founder Emilio Castillo recalled how Prince had sampled their music.

“He loved the band and would come and see us play,” he said.

Blues veteran John Hammond played the Historic Iao Theater in Wailuku in June. He recalled the time when both Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix sat in with his band.

“It’s one of those amazing things. Jimi had just come back from England and was a huge star, and Eric was over with Cream. They were there at the same time and they both asked to sit in,” Hammond recalled.

Another legend, David Crosby, made his brilliant solo debut in June.

Carlos Santana; Ruben Martin photo

“It’s fun to play in a band, but when you’re by yourself the words really count and you can take people on a voyage,” Crosby said.

July included the unique singer/songwriter Rickie Lee Jones, who talked about, “defying convention since I began. ‘Chuck E’s in Love’ helped open the door to the folky singer-songwriter thing from some back alley where harder, rougher stories were taking place.”

Reggae star Matisyahu, who was a headliner at the Mayjah Rayjah Music Festival, talked about inspiring people.

“I love that music helps people get through all kinds of different struggles and the monotony of life,” he said.

In August, contemporary Hawaiian musician Kalani Pe’a released his marvelous debut CD, “E Walea,” which was recently nominated for a Grammy Award.

Lisa Fischer; photo courtesy Lisa Fischer

“Coming from a Hawaiian language background, I perpetuate Hawaiian language, and find a way to tell my stories through music,” he explained.

Maui kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero is known for his spectacular concerts, and his latest in September, “Na Mele O Hawai’i — The Golden Years of Hawaiian Music,” was no exception. Lamenting major changes on Maui, he explained: “So many of us grew up in the plantation lifestyle, and seeing pineapple and sugar cane coming to an end and plantation life coming to an end, I wanted to celebrate an era that has gone by.”

Jazz legend Chick Corea demonstrated his keyboard mastery in September with a superb trio concert.

“I owe so much to my father, Armando, and my mother, Anna, for starting me out with such care and love,” Corea reported. “I came from a musical household and I was always surrounded with it.”

The world’s most popular Brazilian musician, Sergio Mendes, made his Maui debut with a mesmerizing show.

“Brazilian music has characteristics that are appealing all over the world,” he noted. “It’s romantic and very catchy, it’s sunny and very sexy, and you can dance to it.”

And September also included the 2016 Maui Jazz & Blues Festival, with pioneering guitarist, Larry Coryell, who has lately focused on composing operas.

“I’ve been in jazz all my life playing standards or originals, and I just wanted to do something different,” he said. “Putting months of work into ‘War and Peace’ and ‘Anna Karenina,’ that’s when I get happy.”

Two highlights in October: swing masters Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and the soulful Martha Redbone. Known for its legendary high-energy shows, BBVD knocked it out of the park with an exuberant dance-a-thon.

“We try and play places where there is a dance floor,” said the band’s drummer, Kurt Sodergren. “People tell us they had a really hard time sitting still.”

Hailed as “a charismatic neo-soul diva,” Redbone grew up in Kentucky’s mining country where “there was one radio station and they played everything,” she recalled. “By the time I moved to Brooklyn in 6th grade, I was probably the only person there who had ever heard of Conway Twitty and Dolly Parton.”

More country music filled the MACC when hit-making star Billy Currington played in November. Currington just loves Maui.

“I seem to have gained more of a family and friendships in Maui than anywhere else in the world,” he reported.

After tremendous shows backing Neil Young at the Desert Trip festival in California, Promise of The Real rocked Charley’s Restaurant & Saloon in Paia for three nights.

“I got to meet Keith Richards for the first time, which was great,” Lukas Nelson said about the historic fest. “Paul McCartney loved us and we hung out quite a bit. It was really cool.”

Finally, in December, Oahu’s indie-folk-pop band Streetlight Cadence captivated a McCoy Studio Theater crowd with sets that included some sparkling, reworked Christmas tunes.

“We had never done a Christmas album,” Streetlight’s Chaz Umamoto noted about their “Home for the Holidays” CD. “We picked nine songs that we really liked and put a new spin on each one.”

And in maybe the best New Year’s Eve show ever in Wailea, a host of rock stars celebrated the close of the year, with highlights ranging from Steven Tyler igniting Them’s “Baby Please Don’t Go” and Michael McDonald’s funky cover of “Grapevine,” to Diana Krall soloing on Joni Mitchell’s “A Case of You,” and tributes to Prince (Willie K with “Purple Rain”) and Leonard Cohen (Lily Meola with “Hallelujah”).

“It was the best, musically,” enthused Alice Cooper after the show.