Maui Connections

Boy, that guy sings real good for free, I thought before realizing the distinctive voice and guitar playing on the Market Street stage at last week’s First Friday in Wailuku belonged to John Cruz. The soulful musician will be heading back to Maui March 30 and 31 for the 26th annual Celebration of the Arts at The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua. Celebrating the theme “Ma Ka Hana Ka’ike . . . In Work There Is Knowledge,” this year’s COA includes a screening of “Out of State,” which won awards from the jury and the audience at last fall’s Hawaiian International Film Festival.

The two-day event begins with the “Hiuwai & E ala E,” a protocol of cleansing in the ocean before welcoming the sunrise, and a new day, on the beach. This act of renewal and rebirth is as symbolic for Easter weekend as it is for this annual celebration of all things Hawaiian that just happens to take place in one of the island’s most opulent resorts.

Clifford Nae’ole, COA’s visionary director who creates this mostly free event anew each year, was the emcee on the First Friday stage. A table nearby dispensed pamphlets for COA’s montage of hula performances (and lessons this year); music; hands-on art demonstrations throughout the resort corridors; a Celebration of Island Tastes; and the signature panels, exploring history, culture, politics and sometimes the challenges of living in the islands at this very moment.

Clifford promised more big-name surprises to come. I don’t consider it a coincidence that the place to go for more information — — has the word “heart” at its core.

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Walking along Market Street, chop-sticking my chow fun served up by owner Jennifer Nguyen at the Saigon Cafe booth, I realized that I hadn’t attended First Friday in Wailuku, maybe not since the very first one all those years ago. Being part of an ethnic rainbow of faces on the sidewalk, with smells of cooking in the air and colorful lights in the night’s blackness felt a little like a street scene from some exotic Asian locale.

On an island that loves its Fridays, Wailuku’s celebration is still the first, in so many ways.

But it also has roots closer to home. Kili Namau’u was handing out flyers at the Punana Leo O Maui info table announcing Ho’omau 2018, the annual fundraiser for this remarkable Hawaiian language immersion program that returns to Maui Nui Botanical Gardens from 9 a.m. to sunset March 24.

A bunch of knee-high Punana Leo serenaders took the stage next. Now in its 31st year, products of the program are young adults already, not only perpetrating a language once on the brink of extinction, but imparting the ancient wisdom it contains to the world we live in now.

Enjoying the evening were friends George McElravy; Brendan Smith, aka the mayor of Market Street; Bob Burrichter; Rui Takenada, one of my English 100 students at UH-Maui College; Maury King, Patricia O’Neil, and Cynthia Conrad and Jerry Labb, on their way to the theater where they filed this report: “While things were jumping at First Friday on Main Street, inside the Historic Iao Theater, Maui Onstage’s production of ‘Cabaret’ was kicking up a tantalizing and titillating show. Some opening-night attendees spotted were Carolyn Schaefer, Christine and Paul Alkire, Arianna, Jake and Allen Grodzinsky, Rob Cole, Larry Feinberg and Vinnie Linares, who will be producing Moliere’s ‘Tartuffe’ in a couple of weeks at Seabury Hall.”

On Saturday, Cynthia and Jerry joined the honorees and dignitaries at Maui Economic Opportunity’s inaugural gala, “Honoring Our Past, Supporting Our Future” at the King Kamehameha Golf Club House. They report, “CEO Debbie Cabebe and COO Gay Sibonga welcomed the sold-out crowd, and emcee Tony Takitani kept the audience amused as he introduced past directors and distinguished guests. In the crowd were Gov. David Ige, Shan Tsutsui, numerous state senators, representatives and Maui County Council members. Giving moving speeches were Chubby Vincens, Grant Chun and Speaker Emeritus Joe Souki, who received an award for his 16 years of service as executive director of MEO. A remarkable portrait of Joe Souki by noted artist Tonia Marks Baney was revealed for the first time at the event.”

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This Thursday, Emmy-winning filmmaker Dr. Tom Vendetti will screen his new “Tibetan Illusion Destroyer” in 3-D in the free Akaku Upstairs Salon Series from 6 to 8 p.m. at 333 Dairy Road in Kahului. Featuring a wonderful musical score by Keola Beamer, the film documents a colorful, mesmerizing, multiday Tibetan Buddhist ceremony performed high in the Himalayas in Nepal to dispel “the illusions that cause human suffering.”

Sounds like a good idea to me.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at