Gliding on stage to a rapturous reception, Cyndi Lauper kicked off 2008 with a crowd-pleasing show at Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Continuing to reinvent and transform herself, she most recently produced a marvelous collection of her well-known songs, "The Body Acoustic."
"I feel very lucky," Lauper said in a Scene interview. "I've done some really cool things, like when you first start playing and you get to travel and all of a sudden all these great things happen."
Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro dazzled his Castle audience in January ably supported by the Maui Pops Orchestra under Conductor Stuart Chafetz. Having covered Cyndi Lauper's "Time After Time" on his recent CD "My Life," Jake was thrilled to play with Lauper at her Kona show.
"I was on cloud nine," he reported. "I played 'Time After Time' as a duet, she played dulcimer and I played ukulele. It was one of the greatest experiences."
An 80-year-old Hawaiian icon returned to the recording studio releasing his first new music in 25 years. Ukulele virtuoso Eddie Kamae supported by a new version of The Sons of Hawaii captured the magic of the past on the CD "Yesterday & Today." This Hawaiian treasure also screened his latest documentary "Lahaina: Waves of Change" on TV.
"The elders have so much to offer about what life is all about," Eddie said. "That's what I want to capture, so the little ones can understand what life was in the old days. Togetherness, respect and kindness were important. It's what's missing today."
Former Jefferson Airplane guitarist and bassist Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady returned to our shores in February as Hot Tuna, with mandolin player Barry Mittenhoff. Kaukonen recalled how the lack of TV in hotel rooms in the early 1970s inspired their acoustic collaboration.
"It's laughable today, but in those days it was a big deal if there was a TV in your room. We weren't making very much money, so Jack and I shared a room, and you'd come back and you couldn't sleep and you picked up your instruments and started playing."
War almost blew the roof of the Castle Theater at the end of February. Blending an irresistible mix of rock, funk, Latin and jazz, War intoxicated its audience. Keyboardist Lonnie Jordan theorized the band's music still captivates audiences because, "it was always universal street music with a message, and we still do it the same way we did it then, and it's even better now."
In March, multi-award winning Filipina stage star Lea Salonga delighted her many fans with songs from her shows including "Les Miz" and "'Miss Saigon."
"Performing is something I always enjoyed from childhood," said Salonga. "Sometime during the run of 'Miss Saigon' in London, I realized that this was God's intended vocation for me, and that every single time I get to perform is a blessing, an opportunity and an honor."
On tour promoting his new Latin-flavored album "Rhythm and Romance," Kenny G revealed how the best-selling instrumentalist in the world had to leave his long-time record company for the Starbucks label to release new music.
"They (Arista Records) said, 'I'm in a category that you just can't do original material any more. I thought it would be really nice to write an album of Latin songs, and put a little more tempo than normal into my records."
Also in March, slack key guitar master Keola Beamer re-teamed with acclaimed Native American flutist R. Carlos Nakai for a magical night.
"It's a really interesting journey, two different cultures, one Plains-based and one Pacific Ocean-based, finding the commonality we share as native people," Keola said. "It's ironic, we won a New Age magazine award, which is hilarious because here we are, two middle-aged guys playing music that is 1,000 years old."
Good times abound when Taj Mahal hits the stage. Drawing from a musical gumbo that embraces calypso, folk, rock, jazz, reggae, African and Hawaiian music, Taj and the Hula Blues Band thrilled fans in April.
"When I was a kid, older musicians taught me, 'Don't get stuck in one kind of music, learn to play as much music as you can learn,' " Taj reported. "So I always had my ears open and I get to be totally creative."
In April, before their Castle Theater show, Barry Flanagan and Nathan Aweau of Hapa talked about how Japan is helping perpetuate Hawaiian culture. "The Japanese have really embraced Hawaiian music and culture and dance, especially in the last five years," said Barry. "There's basically a second Hawaiian renaissance period going on - in Japan. It's not reggae and Jamaican music; it's Hawaiian music with Hawaiian words."
Two months later, Barry with Eric Gilliom began a Saturday evening concert series at the Royal Lahaina Resort, with guests including actor Jamie Foxx, and Mick Fleetwood and guitarist Rick Vito joining in.
Late April saw Chicago ignite the A&B Amphitheater. One of only two bands to have scored hits in each of the last five decades, Chicago captivated its audience with hits like "Saturday In The Park," "Feelin' Stronger Every Day" and "25, or 6 to 4."
"The secret of remaining relevant has been the continuing love of music, with each of us striving to learn more and improve our skills," explained Chicago's Robert Lamm, who wrote many of the group's early hits.
Grammy Award-winning conductor/arranger Matt Catingub helped lure Boz Scaggs to Maui for the show of the year. The legendary entertainer, backed by the 30-member Matt Catingub Orchestra, enthralled all with a cavalcade of memorable hits from "Lido Shuffle" and "Lowdown" to "Georgia" and "Harbor Lights," and then closed with a stunning version of the blues ballad "Loan Me a Dime."
"It's another way of doing music that I don't do often," Scaggs said about playing with an orchestra. "I've been hearing about Matt Catingub for a number of years, and now we have an opportunity to work together."
In late May, the Brown Ohana presented "Generations" in the McCoy Studio Theater, featuring four generations of one of Maui's leading musical families. Kevin Brown recalled how he was initially apprehensive about teaching slack key guitar at Baldwin High School in the late 1980s.
"When they asked me to teach, I thought I wouldn't get anybody, because everybody's into reggae," he reported. "I only had one student, right under the banyan tree. The second year I had three students, then it started to expand and they gave me the band room, and then the cafeteria."
Banjo virtuoso Bela Fleck was first heard this year in June in the remarkable documentary "Throw Down Your Heart," about the African origins of the banjo, screening at the Maui Film Festival.
"Everything since I went to Africa has been different, the way I'm thinking about rhythm and the kinds of language in my fingers and in my head," noted Fleck.
In June, recently returned from serving in the U.S. Air Force in the Middle East, musician Joshua Alo debuted his inspirational reggae at Casanova and Giovani's. In Iraq, Alo would often play roots reggae.
"I felt a calling to uplift people with the music whether it be on sandbags with helos flying over or straight up in the sand," he said. "I took my guitar wherever I could, though if we had a Black Hawk flight, I couldn't fit my acoustic because I had to take my M-16."
Taking inspiration from guitar virtuosos John McLaughlin, Al DiMeola and Paco De Lucia, the Lima Wela trio ignited the McCoy Studio Theater in June. The combined acoustic guitar power of Willie K, Joe Cano and Avi Ronen generated fireworks whenever they played, including their debut in late February opening for War.
"We're getting standing ovations after every tune, people are just going nuts over it," said Willie.
Crucial roots in July from Rastafarian legends Israel Vibration. Appropriately titling their latest CD "Stamina," the Vibes' "Wiss" Bulgin explained: "Stamina means you have the energy or the potential to carry through on a mission and accomplish your part of the works. Every individual has a part to play. Jah determines the fulfillment, the destiny of each and everyone's duties. We just go ahead and do this until Jah says."
The potent, upbeat reggae of England's Steel Pulse had audiences dancing throughout the show in August. Inspiring crowds for more than 30 years, band founder David Hinds noted: "It's a long time, but it also feels like yesterday, because we've been reinventing ourselves and exposed to different things as the years go by."
With kids in mind, Lisa Loeb's tour in support of her CD "Camp Lisa," brought her to Maui in August for a Castle show (aided by Gail Swanson, the Doobies' Pat Simmons, and Barry Flanagan) and some school dates including Lihikai Elementary.
"I've learned a lot about song writing through the process of making kids' records," she said. "It's important to tell a clear story and focus on the melody and things that you can sing along with."
Veteran consciousness pioneer Ram Das linked up with Hawaiian musician Lei'ohu Ryder for an inspired weekend at The Studio Maui. "I'm modeling old age," he said. "I've just got to stop and place my roots and feel the ground and feel my dying. I want to fix my roots here."
In September, one of Hawaii's most popular contemporary entertainers, Fiji, headlined the fourth annual Reggae in the Valley Festival.
"I'm trying to be consistent and push through and represent the aloha spirit more than anything," he reported. "I make sure I represent myself and my culture and acknowledge this wonderful place that has given me the opportunity to excel."
Legendary Hawaiian musician Richard Ho'opi'i hosted the seventh annual Richard Ho'opi'i Leo Ki'eki'e Contest, attracting contestants from Molokai, Lanai and Maui. Uncle Richard was featured on this year's Hawaiian Grammy-winning collection, "Treasures of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar."
"I was overwhelmed," he said of the accomplishment. "It's fulfilling all my goals with music."
Also in September, kumu hula Uluwehi Guerrero presented a spectacular show amassing 150 dancers, a large choir, a Hawaiian band and a chamber ensemble. Based on the theme "Home Is Where The Heart Is," Uluwehi explained: "It's a celebration of where I'm from, and bringing the community together, instilling family values in a time where that gets lost when so many people have to work two jobs and don't have time to spend with their families."
A benefit for the MACC saw the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band royally rock the Castle in late September. Featuring the legendary drummer, guitarist/vocalist Rick Vito, bassist Lenny Castellanos and keyboardist Mark Johnstone, the quartet paid tribute to Fleetwood Mac's blues/rock roots.
Praising Vito's contribution Fleetwood noted: "He knows where I come from and loved that music so much, that's why we can do this. We have a mutual respect for early Fleetwood Mac, so it made this a special thing."
Returning to Maui for shows in October, Paula Fuga played Mulligans on the Blue and the third annual Maui Ukulele Festival. Compiling songs for a new album, she said, "I'm letting all my experiences mesh together. I see a lot of growth in my songwriting. Music is something I was born to do, and it feels so fulfilling and rewarding."
Many reported the Styx concert in October one of the best rock shows they'd seen in years. The band's keyboardist/vocalist Lawrence Gowan noted how they still pack venues wherever they go and increasingly attract younger fans. "Every year I've been in the band the percentage of audience under 30 surpasses the over-30s," he said. "It's unbelievable."
Funk legends Kool and the Gang had everyone dancing to classic hits like "Jungle Boogie," "Hollywood Swinging" and "Get Down On It." Talking about the band's timeless "party" anthem, "Celebration," Robert "Kool" Bell noted: "It reaches out for many occasions like sporting events, the return of the hostages and recently the Democratic National Convention and the GOP. It's a blessing to have a song that stood the test of time."
November saw Hawaii's most popular duo Cecilio and Kapono celebrating their 35th anniversary. Knowing how fans love their uplifting music, Henry Kapono suggested, "Everybody needs some spiritual uplift and music really does that. C and K music has done it for many years, and hopefully continues to do it."
The jaw-dropping virtuosity and imaginative creative vision of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones awed a Castle Theater audience in December. Many island musicians showed up to experience the wonder of this amazing Christmas show. Touring behind their superb new Christmas album Fleck enthused: "The level everyone plays on is phenomenal. I feel we're now on the top edge of the best we've ever played, and everyone's charging each other up."
The exquisite tones of a rare Stradivarius violin played by renowned violinist Frank Almond enthralled folks at a special Maui Pops Orchestra holiday concert.
"It's a gem of an instrument," noted Conductor Stuart Chafetz. "It's traced back to Tartini, and (Joseph) Joachim played it, and that's the violinist that Brahms wrote the Violin Concerto for."
Willie K delivered more Christmas cheer with a special Ohana Christmas show that brought his extended family together on stage, and had guest including his Lima Wela mates wowing the audience. Looking forward to singing opera in February with the Hawaii Youth Symphony, Willie suggested, "People are really going to freak out."
And finally, hopping over from his Kauai home, Grateful Dead drummer Bill Kreutzmann rang in 2009 with a show at Voyage East in Haiku. Playing Charley's earlier in the week and a month earlier, the legendary drummer teamed with Papa Mali, James "Hutch" Hutchinson and Matt Hubbard. Kreutzmann last reunited with members of the Dead in October for a Barrack Obama "Change Rocks" fundraiser.
"That was great," he reported. "I really believe in him. I read his second book and it really moved me. I can feel the vibe in the country changing."