Recalling all the great shows we experienced in 2011, Sir Elton John regaled us in February with one of the most amazing concerts ever presented at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center.
Over two nights, upwards of 10,000 fans participated in mass singalongs as Elton performed one memorable hit after another, for almost three hours without a break.
A frequent visitor to Maui (he'd brought his new kid), this consummate showman expressed his appreciation for our island. "This is the first time I've done an 'official' concert," he said. "I love this place so much. There's a special feeling here."
The Maui News / AMANDA COWAN photo
Before heading out on tour with his dad in January, the formidably talented Lukas Nelson talked about his new CD with his band, Promise of the Real.
"I think it's going to be a good year for us. I'm happy, I'm doing my own thing, and I'm making a living. I'm not trying to be famous; I'm just trying to make music. When it's all said and done, I'd rather at my deathbed, look back and say, 'Wow, what an authentic life,' rather than, 'What a successful life.' "
Before charming their audience in January, Ladysmith Black Mambazo's Joseph Shabalala relayed how the concept of the sublime South African a capella group came to him in dreams. "I dreamt the music, a choir was singing to me," he recalled. "The power was amazing. I called them children of God."
Performing at one of the MACC's "Solo Sessions" concerts in February, Grammy-nominated guitarist Jeff Peterson revealed how he had been helping score the soundtrack for the new, critically acclaimed movie "The Descendants," starring George Clooney.
Also featuring music by Gabby Pahinui, Keola Beamer, Dennis Kamakahi and Makana, Jeff noted: "This is going to be the first major Hollywood film to exclusively feature Hawaiian music."
Teaming with hip-hop star Nas in February, Damian "Jr. Gong" Marley talked about his father's legacy. "The biggest blessing is the whole legacy and heritage," he said. "We have one of the greatest examples to follow. My father laid a foundation, an infrastructure that we could plug our thing into."
Winner of the 2010 Best Maori Song award, New Zealand's soulful Maisey Rika played Casanova in March. "I take my strength from our ancestors who have gone before us, when we were strong and noble people," she noted.
Making a rare return to Maui, New Orleans-style pianist David Paquette recalled his time at Lahaina's Pioneer Inn in the late '70s. "We had so many people sitting in, like Bobbie Raitt, Kenny Loggins, and most of Fleetwood Mac. Everybody who came to town came in."
A great double bill of the Doobie Brothers and War at the beginning of April at the MACC, with guest contributions by some of our stellar residents, Michael McDonald, Willie Nelson and Mick Fleetwood. The Doobies were celebrating the release of their exceptional new CD, "World Gone Crazy," where they embraced influences from folk, funk and gospel, to Latin, Caribbean, New Orleans and even country (with Willie on board).
"It was most important to produce an album that would continue our legacy and stand up to our past performances," said Haiku's Pat Simmons. "The feedback has surpassed our expectations and allowed us the luxury of having new music to play for our audiences. It's very exciting."
Blues/rock guitar legend Johnny Winter discussed his upcoming album, "Roots," in April. The guest-heavy project, out now, features Sonny Landreth, Vince Gill, Warren Haynes, John Popper and Derek Trucks. Paying homage to some of the pioneering musicians who influenced him, he reported, "I've been wanting to do something like this for a long time."
"Living Treasure of Hawaiian Music" Henry Kaleialoha Allen presented his third annual Steel Guitar Festival at the Ka'anapali Beach Hotel in April. Beginning learning how to play at the age of 10, Allen recalled, "The sweet steel guitar playing in the '30s, '40s and '50s were the nahe nahe times. This was most important to my education in Hawaiian steel playing."
A reunited Toad the Wet Sprocket performed at the Royal Lahaina Resort in May. "I think the only reason to actually ever like us was you liked the songs," said the band's singer/guitarist Glen Phillips. "We were never all that cool. We were kind of a band full of nerds before nerds were cool. Maybe at the end of the day our lack of coolness has helped us."
The Waitiki 7 introduced nouveau exotica music to Stella Blues in May. "Exotica was a huge thing in the '50s and '60s and it has big local roots," the band's bassist Randy Wong explained. "It was like an early world-music hybrid. It's awesome, but nobody in my generation really knows about it."
John Jorgenson thrilled gypsy jazz fans with his guitar virtuosity in June at the McCoy Theater. "I love the gypsy jazz style because it incorporates so many things that I love in other music," he enthused. "There's the romanticism and virtuosity of classical music, the improvisation of jazz, great swing, the high energy of rock and the acoustic, string-band sound of bluegrass. It kind of has no boundaries."
Before heading to Lanai for a jazz festival at the Four Seasons resorts, legendary saxophonist Tom Scott recalled a recording session with Paul McCartney. "I was just back from the road with Joni Mitchell, and Paul played this tune 'Listen To What the Man Said.' I closed my eyes and started playing along and at the end everyone applauded. I said, I'm just learning it, and Paul said, 'No, that's it,' and that's the take that's on the record."
Reggae star Matisyahu thrilled a MACC crowd in June blending rousing music with uplifting lyrics. "I feel like I have a purpose and an opportunity to inspire people, to create music that's meaningful in their lives," he said. "I was put here to create music. It's amazing to connect people with music."
In July, Henry Kapono debuted songs from his new "HENRY" CD at Duke's Beach House. A follow-up to his landmark "Wild Hawaiian" project, the multi-Hoku Award-winning musician delivered a trove of new classics. "I really wanted to make people feel good, make something that people would love and enjoy," he said. "Love and peace is a big part of it."
Also in July, Tibetan flutist Nawang Khechog performed with pianist Peter Kater at Makawao Union Church. "The heart and soul of my music lie in the Tibetan spiritual tradition, which has served to inspire humanity to become compassionate, peaceful and wise," he said about his serene flute playing.
Celebrating their 40th anniversary, America rekindled memories in August at the MACC. Along with favorites they debuted a couple of tunes from their latest "Back Pages" covers CD. "This project has opened up a rich new outlet for us to arrange and sing songs that are part of our musical DNA," said Dewey Bunnell.
The godfather of funk jazz, keyboardist/vocalist Les McCann closed the tremendous Maui Jazz & Blues Festival at the Grand Wailea in September. Talking about his hip version of the legendary anti-war protest song "Compared to What," McCann reported: "People have told me they play it every morning. I love hearing that because I know then they're going to be awake and open for something new."
The veteran British blues/rock powerhouse The Yardbirds made their Maui debut in September. Co-founder Chris Dreja recalled opening some shows for the Beatles in the 1960s. "You couldn't hear the Beatles or us really because the girls were screaming so much. They used to throw things at them, and one night John Lennon came over to me, 'Look at this,' he says. It was a lump of coal, gift-wrapped. 'That's why I want to stop touring; they chuck things at us all the time.' "
Returning to the Castle Theater in October, blues great Taj Mahal expressed his early appreciation of Hawaiian music. "I remember hearing this music as a youngster one night on the radio and my brain went, wow, I hope I get to travel one day and see who those people are. The music was so pleasing. To me, Gabby Pahinui was similar to Charlie Patton or Son House, someone from that deep in the culture. There's nothing that sounds like him."
Opening his own store at the Waiehu Beach Center with a CD release party, Willie K unleashed "Warehouse Blues." Exploring many shades of blues from the Z.Z. Top grind of "Howling at the Moon" to the searing Peter Green/Mac influenced "Heart Aching Blues," the multitalented artist explained: "It's not a traditional blues album, because it's got flavors of every other genre I've enjoyed. I'm glad I did it because I will have some more Hawaiian CDs out, but I'm just rocking out 'til I check out."
Renowned flutist Paul Horn performed at the premiere of the documentary "When the Mountain Calls Nepal Tibet Bhutan" in November. He recalled a time early in his career hanging out with jazz legend Miles Davis. "We'd go and hear groups in town and after a set or so we'd leave and I'd say, 'What do you think?' And he'd say, 'Too many notes.' That's all he'd say. Miles' whole thing was the right note at the right place at the right time. It changed my whole way of looking at everything."
Chris Isaak brought his "Beyond The Sun" tour to the MACC in December. "These were the songs I sing all the time at home, the ones I love," he said of his new tribute to early Sun Records' recordings. "As soon as I'm done with a tour, I go home and I'm either writing something new or playing something old by Elvis or Johnny Cash or Jerry Lee Lewis."
And finally in December, two Maui musicians received Grammy Award nominations - pianist Peter Kater for his New Age album "Wind, Rock, Sea & Flame," and George Kahumoku Jr. for his slack key guitar album "Wao Akua: The Forest of the Gods."
"It was such a surprise," Kahumoku said about his nomination in the new Regional Roots category. "Now that we're in this new category I didn't think I had a chance. It's really a blessing that we're still remembered."