Saturday night, Stella Blues. Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom are on stage bridging cultures and ages, encapsulating their diverse influences, merging an ancient Hawaiian procreation chant with a seductive soul classic.
They've launched into the traditional Hawaiian song "He'eia," about King David Kalalakua's favorite surfing spot. In between their soaring harmonies and stunning guitar embellishments, Barry provides brief English translation explaining some of the song's hidden kaona, and then, with Eric taking the lead vocal, it morphs into Marvin Gaye's "Let's Get It On."
Complementing and inspiring each other, tapping facets of their creativity that might not be heard in other configurations, the duo is definitely having fun. Fusing their collective histories from Hapa to the Barefoot Natives and Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band, the two musicians have expanded their repertoire together, nimbly segueing from Flanagan's original Hawaiian gems to familiar songs by Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley and Bob Dylan, and even some blues.
"It was time for us to expand," Eric explains. "We both wanted to dig into the deepest resources of our repertoire. We come from deep musical backgrounds that are just not Hapa or my R&B roots. There are no boundaries, which makes it more interesting and fun."
Stella Blues' intimate, miniconcert setting provides a perfect vehicle for this endeavor. For a special evening out, it would be hard to top this dinner show, combining superior musicianship with a delicious, four-course meal. Introducing the duo, Mana'o Radio's Kathy Collins explained how former owner Ray Ennis had envisioned Stella's as a venue where folks could enjoy, "excellent music with fine food."
"I had a talk with Ray about a week before he passed away," Barry recalls. "And one of his dreams was having a supper club going, and me playing there. It's a lovely room and I hope it works out."
Presented Saturday evenings through February, the show will also sometimes feature renowned bassist James "Hutch" Hutchinson. Bonnie Raitt's bassist for 26 years, Hutch has played with an extraordinary array of artists from Elton John and B.B. King to Ringo Starr and Al Green. Living on Maui, this bass virtuoso recently joined Willie Nelson at his New Year's Eve Charley's gig. Teaming with Barry and Eric, Hutch's funky riffing skillfully colored and embellished songs like Stevie Wonder's "Superstition" and Sonny Boy Williamson's "Coming Home Blues."
Obviously thrilled by the opportunity to play with such a gifted artist, Barry commented after the gig: "I had chicken skin for most of the night up there with him."
For Barry, the partnership with Eric provides a forum to explore music beyond the boundaries of Hapa. "Hapa has been part of my life for 27 years, and it's a lot of time-consuming work behind the scenes," he notes. "Performing with Eric is like being at Sunset Beach with a really cool wave. It's a lot of fun to work with him. He's very entertaining and ebullient and I feed off of that."
A versatile artist known earlier for his movie and theater work, Eric had previously applied his musical talent to playing funk and R&B with The Project and releasing two excellent solo CDs, "Into the Mystic" and "Like Chow Fun." Since first exploring playing Hawaiian music with Barry at Mulligan's some years back, he has teamed with Willie K in the Barefoot Natives and performed with Mick Fleetwood's Island Rumours Band.
"Both Willie and Barry have been great mentors," says Eric. "I discovered early on that the last thing that Barry Flanagan or Willie K need is another lead guitarist. Both of them were saying the position of being a rhythm guitar player is pivotal. Being a rhythm guitar player has paid off, that's why I get to play with Rick Vito in the Island Rumours Band. "
Upcoming, Eric begins shooting a new feature film next month with Willie K. "It's a romantic comedy and we're shooting it all on Maui," he reports. "There are loads of cameos like Jake Shimabukuro and Rick Vito, and it's being scored by (Hapa's) Nathan Aweau. It shows the cultures of Hawaii in a way that has never been done before."
n Barry Flanagan and Eric Gilliom perform at Stella Blues in Kihei on Saturday evenings through February. Four-course dinner and show costs $60. Dinner at 6 p.m., show at 7:30 p.m. Call 874-3779 for reservations.
The Maui Pops Orchestra presents an internationally flavored "Music from Around the World" concert at 3:30 p.m. Sunday in Castle Theater. Under the direction of James Durham, the orchestra will showcase some of the characteristic sounds associated with music from 10 nations.
Four drummers and two Japanese flute players from Zenshin Daiko will perform during the Japanese flavored "The Warrior" by Christopher Hisamoto. The quintessential French sound of "Can-can" from "Ballet Parisien" will come to life with a performance by dancers from Maui Academy of Performing Arts. And string students from the Maui Youth Philharmonic Orchestra will join in Samuel Barber's "Adagio for Strings."
* Tickets are $36, $26, $21 and $10 for adults, and half-off for children 12 and younger, plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org.
On Friday evening at Stella Blues, the David Nelson Band will kick off a three-club minitour of Maui. The collective history of this group of veteran musicians encompasses playing with the Grateful Dead, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, Jefferson Starship, John Lee Hooker and Kingfish with Bob Weir.
The Band includes guitarist/pedal steel player Barry Sless, keyboardist Mookie Siegel, bassist Pete Sears, drummer Joe Chirco and special guest David Gans, who plays with the band Guilty Pleasures, and co-authored the book "Playing in the Band: An Oral and Visual Portrait of the Grateful Dead."
One of the founders of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the vocalist on their biggest hit "Panama Red," Nelson has fronted his own band for many years. He tours with a reformed version of the New Riders, and he also plays in a bluegrass band, The Paper Mill Creek Rounders, with Banana from the Youngbloods.
Nelson's long association with Grateful Dead guitarist Jerry Garcia began in the early '60s as a member of the bluegrass trio the Wildwood Boys. He later formed psychedelic country-rock legends, the New Riders of the Purple Sage. In their early days with Dead, members Phil Lesh on bass and Mickey Hart on drums, the New Riders often toured as the Dead's opening act. In 1973, the band scored a major hit with the song "Panama Red," which became an FM radio staple.
Having previously been invited to play on the Dead's "Aoxomoxoa," Nelson also contributed to the classic albums "American Beauty" and "Workingman's Dead," recordings that signaled a significant stylistic shift for the band.
Sless and Siegel have performed with Phil & Friends, Ratdog, Cowboy Jazz and Kingfish. Performing with the Jefferson Starship from 1974 to 1987, followed by 10 years with former Airplane musicians Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen in Hot Tuna, Sears now plays with guitarist Sless in the band Moonalice.
n The David Nelson Band performs at Stella Blues on Friday at 9 p.m., the Hard Rock Caf on Saturday at 9:30 p.m., and at Paia Garden in Paia (579-9491) on Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets from venues or Bounty Music.
Some big shows heading our way: Still having "Fun, Fun, Fun," the Beach Boys perform at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center Events Lawn at 7 p.m. Feb. 12. General public tickets go on sale Saturday. Ticket prices are $35, $45. $55 and $65 plus applicable fees, available from the MACC box office, 242-7469 or www.mauiarts.org. The always amazing Latin/funk/hip-hop ensemble Ozomatli lands in the Castle Theater on Feb. 20. And the "Red Rocker," Sammy Hagar, heads to the Castle Theater on April 9. Tickets are now on sale for MACC members, general public tickets available on Saturday.
Self-described "sonic alchemist" Scott Huckabay returns to Maui to play the Blue Lotus House in Kihei (1158 Uluniu Road) on Sunday, and Mandala Ethnic Arts on Jan. 29. An exceptional guitarist, Huckabay imbues his music with a shamanistic fervor, drawing from a broad palette of tones and tunings to create otherworldly, trance-like soundscapes. His unique fusion of rock, folk, world-beat, and blues incorporates a violin bow, E-Bow and other string sliding techniques to sometimes mimic the sound of dolphins and whales. Quite mind-blowing in concert, this one-man band was hailed by jazz great Stanley Jordan as "one inspirational cat."
* Both shows at 8 p.m., tickets $12.