Live, from beautiful downtown Dairy Road, the Akaku Center parking lot was rockin' Saturday night.
Akaku: Maui Community Television was adding three new sets of hand- and footprints to its "Maui Walk of Heroes" at its second annual celebration and fundraiser. Kumu Keli'i Tau'a, Uncle Richard Ho'opi'i and Amy Hanaiali'i were the honorees leaving their marks in wet cement, as emcee Andy Bumatai provided hilarious color commentary.
Jay April, Akaku's irrepressible CEO and president, was all over the place with the energy of a happy parent at his kid's birthday party. The world of Akaku encompasses not only governmental and local TV programming, but KAKU's happy blend of Hawaiian, paniolo and country music-with a horse whinny as its signature-at 88.5 FM.
Attendees at this block-party-style telecast ranged from political candidates to motorcycle club members providing security. Bumatai was at his best working the crowd; when an inebriated patron of a nearby drinking establishment kept responding to his calls for volunteers, Bumatai scanned the audience for a would-be interpreter.
"Does anyone here speak alcohol?" he asked.
With a silent auction and a free outdoor screening of Catherine Bauknight's documentary, "Hawai'i: A Voice for Sovereignty," the Akaku party felt like a Saturday night social in a village created by television.
Community-access broadcasting was born when cable TV was still in its infancy. Now, like the rest of us, it's trying to navigate an uncharted media landscape seemingly intent on destroying real community and replacing it with something more virtual you can hold in your hand.
Akaku is a vital reminder that media can still actually bring people together, instead of pushing us apart, merely by providing a place to talk, and listen.
The Akaku party was still going strong when I headed for the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Na Hoku Hou concert. Its lineup featured six winners from this year's Na Hokuhanohano Awards-the most cherished tributes in island music.
The five-hour show featured group winner Waipuna; jazz vocalist Starr Kalahiki, also voted most promising artist; Hawaiian language honoree Robert Cazimero; female vocalist of the year, Natalie Ai Kamauu; Ki Ho'alu Foundation winner Makana; and rock album winner, the Willie K Blues Band.
The MACC's Yokouchi Pavilion provided night-club chic, balmy night air and silhouetted palms dancing in the breeze. The setting is intimate, adding an up-close-and-personal dimension between the award-winning performances.
The evening also marked the opening of the pavilion's upstairs facilities, which include balcony seating and a lounge where the stars mingled and posed for photos with fans at a VIP reception.
While the balcony boasts fine sight lines and acoustics, it's also fun when viewed from below. The silhouettes on the railing along with the lighting bathing the pavilion interior with color, make the setting part of the show.
MACC CEO Art Vento and company keep finding new potentials in this exciting, indoor-outdoor venue. The Na Hoku Hou format had elements of the MACC's successful Solo Sessions series, eliciting candor, humor and a personal touch from the artists in between songs. The pavilion adds fresh air.
Kalahiki dazzled the audience with her big voice and glamorous showroom demeanor. Robert Cazimero, an iconic figure who played a huge role in shaping the musical world the others performed in, is a disarming solo act, trading in his bass and his brother to sit at the piano, making music and reminiscing.
Slack-key virtuoso Makana also showed a more theatrical side of himself when he sat down to do a couple of originals at the piano.
And then Willie K and company, especially Avi Ronin on guitar, brought the house down with a set stretching from zydeco blues to opera rock. Seriously. In a Western top hat purchased on a recent Wyoming trip, Willie was also a candid commenter on his own storied career, which, it was pointed out, includes awards in almost every Na Hoku category. Best female vocalist was the one that bemused the awesomely talented artist the most.
A willingness to "stretch" in new directions was a theme running through the performances. True they are Hawaiian artists, attentive to their language and culture, creating the Hawaiian music of today.
But as Willie K observed, it doesn't need that Hawaiian label as a prop.
What these artists are doing is interesting and exciting in the language of music, period. We're just lucky to be able to claim it as our own.
* Contact Rick Chatenever at email@example.com.