PAIA - With cars parked along Hana Highway from Paia town almost to Baldwin Beach Park and a few hundred people grabbing shady spots on an oceanfront lawn, the show went on Saturday afternoon for the first Paia Ukulele Festival.
Organizers had worried that months of planning for the festival would be wasted after receiving letters last week from the Maui County Planning Department saying that the event didn't comply with county code requirements.
But volunteers worked on last-minute adjustments, including building a new stage with a base of picnic tables Saturday morning and painting an orange line in the grass separating residential and commercial portions of the property.
The Paia Ukulele Festival's audience settles in to listen to Paula Fuga.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
After an opening pule, performers including Paula Fuga, the Kalama School Ukulele Band and Wilson Kanaka'ole were performing for the crowd.
"We haven't had any complaints yet," organizer Kenneth Martinez Burgmaier said at midafternoon Saturday. "Everyone's happy. The aloha is definitely flowing everywhere."
After posters had been distributed and entertainers booked for the festival, Martinez Burgmaier said he received two letters from the county at about 3 p.m. Wednesday saying proceeding with the event could result in "civil and possible criminal enforcement action."
While admission to the festival was free, the county said permits would be required for commercial activities, including vendors selling food, crafts and other products, if the activity was on the residential portion of the property.
The county also sought an assessment from organizers so that it could be determined whether the ukulele festival would be in compliance with special management area requirements for the oceanfront property.
Maui County Planning Director Will Spence said Friday that the county wouldn't take enforcement action at the ukulele festival but might check to see whether the organizers were complying with state and county law.
The letter Martinez Burgmaier received said a violation could result in an initial fine of $1,000 and a fine of $1,000 a day for as long as the violation exists.
More than an hour into the festival, Martinez Burgmaier took the stage, generating applause when he asked, "You think we should do this again?
"The county tried to put up some flags stopping us, but why?" he said. "We keep going. We're just trying to do everything pono. Looks like there's not going to be any handcuffs or anything. We're going to keep ukulele flowing here."
Some in the crowd were unaware of the controversy.
Fuga, who flew from Oahu to perform, said that she hadn't heard about the controversy but was glad that the new stage was in the shade and that there also was shade for people to sit in.
Organizers abandoned plans to use an oceanfront viewing platform as the stage because it was on residentially zoned land and instead put together a stage on commercial property closer to Hana Highway.
"It's not often that I get to play at a free show with the people of Maui," Fuga said. "My love for music and Maui is what made me want to come here and support this. Hopefully, I'll be able to come back again for future ukulele festivals."
Benny Uyetake, in his second year as ukulele instructor at Kalama Intermediate School in Makawao, said the group of six 6th- to 8th-graders were excited to perform Saturday.
He said the students performed "to perpetuate the Hawaiian culture and music and support a venue where visitors and kamaaina have a chance to just enjoy the spirit of aloha."
Hinano Kaleleiki, who worked to landscape and clear the land where festivalgoers sat Saturday, said the event was "more than what I thought it would be."
"How you like that?" he said Saturday afternoon. "A lot of people did show up. Some were a little afraid, they didn't want to get caught in the net.
"We'll see what the repercussions will be at the end of the day."
* Lila Fujimoto can be reached at email@example.com.