“We were excited but then found they had put us in the jungle area,” he recalls. “They led us through a bunch of trees and bushes and we played on a little stage area where no one could see us. But that led to our gig at the Crab Catcher.”
Twenty-five years later, on June 28, Flanagan will make a triumphant return to Kaanapali performing with Eric Gilliom of the Barefoot Natives with a six-concert run at the Royal Lahaina Resort.
The shows will be held on the resort’s lawn on Saturday nights as part of a new “Kaanapali Nights” concert series promoted as, notes a press release, “nostalgic tributes to decades past, when classic Hawaiian performances by duos were prevalent in and around Lahaina town.”
Three years ago, the irresistible combo began packing Mulligans on the Blue enthralling visitors and residents with a unique dinner show. My review at the time noted how — opening with a stunning version of the Brothers Cazimero’s “Haleakala,” the duo focused primarily on Hapa songs, including selected material from Gilliom’s two solo albums, creating such a rich, full sound, it was hard to believe just two musicians sat on stage. A number of the songs provided Flanagan with the opportunity to launch into blazing instrumental tour-de-forces that reflected rock, jazz, and even Indian flavors. At times, with fingers flying over his fret-board, Flanagan wielded his guitar so forcefully it seemed like it would fly out of his hands. No wonder CS&N legend Stephen Stills proclaimed him “a masterful guitarist.”
“Eric and I bonded four years ago wanting to do music projects,” says Flanagan. “I want to work with him every year. The original plan at Mulligans was to try and get something out on the lawn with the sunset as a backdrop. The backdrop at the Royal Lahaina is the exact picture we’ve had in our heads of what we wanted, in Kaanapali instead of Wailea.”
Excited by the prospect of rekindling a partnership with Hapa’s Flanagan, the Barefoot Natives veteran enthuses: “It’s a tremendous honor to play with Barry. Without question I think he’s one of the great guitar players.”
Since first exploring playing Hawaiian music with Flanagan at Mulligans, Gilliom has creatively blossomed as Willie K’s partner in the Barefoot Natives and as a member of Mick Fleetwood’s Island Rumours Band.
“Barry basically showed me how to be a real rhythm guitar player and that got me to play with Willie and Mick Fleetwood,” he continues. “That position seems to be a lost art. To support someone like Barry you’ve got to know what you’re doing. He’s been the greatest mentor. He’s a truly gifted songwriter and he pushed me on that front, too, and that’s what gave birth to songs like ‘Back to Honopo.’”
Both musicians appreciate that they have the freedom to explore different musical configurations.
“Two nights a week in Honolulu, you can hear (Hapa’s) Nathan play his eight-string bass with Benny Chong,” notes Flanagan. “That’s important. Eric and I like helping inspire each other musically and other thing go on, and we say goodbye and then get back together. We did three shows together last year.”
Mindful of the concert series theme of paying tribute to a golden age in the 1980s when the island’s west side fielded many great Hawaiian duos, Flanagan explains, “I was inspired to bring duo music into the resort areas when I was told by some of the older Hawaiian musicians that they couldn’t get jobs because some of the food and beverage managers in some of the big hotels thought Hawaiian music was kind of boring, and they would rather have calypso. That’s shocking. If anyone should be working there, it’s the older guys who played Hawaiian music for 20 or 30 years that don’t do it anymore. I want people to hear Hapa music and Eric Gilliom music and Olomana and the Brothers Cazimero and all the great duos that to me are the representatives of the Hawaiian renaissance period.”
The opening show on June 28 will be dedicated to the memory of Maui musician Wendell Warrington, who died in 2004. A gifted musician, composer and arranger, Warrington was probably best known for his guitar playing and singing with the ‘Ulalena show.
“Of all the duo groups, Wendell was the first to go,” says Flanagan. “Hapa was one of the groups that filled in for Wendell and Mango and Kula and all those guys. And he produced Eric’s first solo record.”
Striving for novelty, Makana with his latest CD, “Different Game,” expands his artistic palette, exploring new territory that’s more rocking and pop flavored than anything he’s produced before.
Taught at an early age by Hawaiian slack key guitar legend Sonny Chillingworth, this innovative, virtuoso guitarist has developed an original voice, transcending boundaries and embracing culturally diverse music.
With its rousing electric guitar and driving rhythm, the opening track, “Away,” could be performed by Bono and U2, while “Mars Declares” resembles the stirring music of Peter Gabriel, and the wonderful, Celtic-raga flavored “Necksnap Blues” (with an amazing acoustic guitar solo) ventures into Led Zep’s folk-rock territory.
“The record is heavily influenced by all my favorite artists, Jeff Buckley, Zeppelin, U2, Peter Gabriel, Mark Knopfler,” Makana explains. “I needed to rock on this record. It’s not hard rock, but it’s not a Hawaiian record. Every record I do is different because music is an exploration for me. I don’t set boundaries when I go in to record music.”
So how are audiences responding?
“People who hear this record without having the context of my other records fall in love with it. When they expect it to be Hawaiian then it’s harder,” he continues. “It’s not normal for somebody to do such a different record when my last record was traditional. But people who know my music have come to expect me to be varied and diverse. This is my fourth record and the next will probably be more of a balance of my slack key Hawaiian and rock and acoustic.”
With subjects ranging from the insanity of war to relationship loss, on “Necksnap Blues” he rails against the dictates of the music industry.
“That’s from a conversation I had with the guy who produced the record,” he reveals. “It was before I wrote the song. I had brought him a bunch of pieces of songs and he was saying things like, it could use some better hooks and get a better looking band because you can get twice as many girls after a show. He’s right if that’s what you want.”
“I’ve really come to a place in the past month of reevaluating my entire life and career,” he reports. “Letting go of this pursuit of fame and just doing my music and having a great time doing it, and if doesn’t go beyond Hawaii on a large scale, that’s fine, and if it does that’s fine.”
Involved with music most of his life, Makana (born Matt Swalinkavich) joined the Honolulu Boy Choir at the age of 7, and began studying ukulele with Roy Sakuma two years later. Picking up guitar, at age 11, the young prodigy was selected to study with the late slack key master Sonny Chillingworth. Billed as the “Ki Ho‘alu Kid” by 15, Makana was performing professionally at Duke’s Canoe Club in Waikiki.
On his memorable debut album, he incorporated Indian tabla, cello, and didgeridoo into an amalgam of musical styles. His follow up, “Koi Au,” opened with a beautiful instrumental where he combined traditional slack key guitar with an ancient Chinese harp. For his third album, “Ki Ho‘alu: Journey of Hawaiian Slack Key,” Makana focused on his roots paying homage to some of the masters interpreting songs by Gabby Pahinui, Raymond Kane, Ledward Ka‘apana, Arthur Isaacs and Sonny Chillingworth, while contributing some extraordinary original compositions.
A Hawaii Music Awards winner for Best World Music Album, he played on the Grammy nominated CD “Hawaiian Slack Key Kings.”
“With slack key, my whole approach is very different from anyone else’s,” he notes. “I really want the art form to reach a broader audience and survive. Thankfully I had such amazing teachers that I’m mastered in the traditional technique and that allows me to pioneer. It might seem that my style is so radically different, but that’s only because I have such a strong foundation in the old style.”
• Makana is among the artists performing at the 17th annual Ki Ho‘alu Festival between 2 and 7 p.m. Sunday at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s A&B Amphitheater. A free concert sponsored by The Maui News, the lineup includes Hapa, Ledward Kaapana, Dennis Kamakahi, John Cruz, Dwight Kanae, LT Smooth, Kevin & Ikaika Brown, Paul Togioka, George Kahumoku, Jr., Noland Conjugacion, Walter Keale, Michael Ka‘awa, and Donald Kaulia.
John Cruz, winner of the 2008 Na Hoku Hanohano contempoary album award for “One of These Days,” makes a rare Maui visit this weekend to play at the slack key fest and on Saturday night at 10 at Casanova, accompanied by bassist Randy Lorenzo of Country Comfort and the Peter Moon Band fame.
Cruz’s latest CD, “One of These Days,” is one of the best contemporary albums released by a Hawaii artist in many years. A landmark recording, it brims with memorable songs marking a triumphant progression from “Acoustic Soul”; displaying his maturation as a vocalist, guitarist, composer, arranger and producer.
Making waves on the Mainland, Cruz’s recent touring schedule has included stops at Tennessee’s Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, Summerstage in New York’s Central Park, and Carnegie Hall.
Tickets are $15 for the Casanova show.
• Contact Jon Woodhouse at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom have teamed up again to present a series of “Kaanapali Nights” concerts at the Royal Lahaina Resort.
Fact Box• Eric Gilliom and Barry Flanagan begin a six-concert series on June 28 at the Royal Lahaina Resort’s beachfront lawn. Show admission is $40 and $20 for children 12 years of age and younger. A dinner-and-show package is available, price varying by menu selection. Dinner at 6:15 p.m., show at 7. For reservations call 661-9119.