How sweet it was when Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom came home to The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua on Thursday night.
The resort's Anuenue Room had provided her first steady-paying job singing in its elegant, wood-paneled surroundings. That was around 20 years, 16 albums, five Grammy nominations and a couple dozen Na Hoku Hanohano Awards ago, noted emcee Clifford Nae'ole as he brought her to the stage.
The concert, billed as a homecoming, turned into one of those rare enchanted evenings. Most of the awards and recognition have been for Amy's Hawaiian music - calling her the female voice of Hawaii wouldn't be a stretch. But back in the room whose stage still bears dents from the 4-inch heels she wore at the beginning of her career, her song list and patter were reminders that the artist who grew up doing musical theater is equally at home with jazz and the great American songbook.
Her voice is rich and soulful. She turns song lyrics into stories that have you hanging on every word. She's a captivating entertainer who knows how to work a room - sexy, funny, as self-deprecating as she is powerful. She exudes a sense of being comfortable with the woman she has become, a quality almost as awesome as all that talent.
With Sal Godinez providing just-right backing on piano, she artfully traveled through lyrics from "Someone to Watch Over Me" to "At Last," bringing everyone to their feet at show's end.
The concert kicked off Jazz Maui 2014, presented by the nonprofit Arts Education for Children Group. It's one more way producer Bryant Neal is enriching the Maui community, this time sowing seeds of creativity - like those Amy had growing up - to grow the next generation of artists.
Illustrating the point, Amy's young daughter, Madeline, danced hula to one of her mom's songs.
A benefit art auction coordinated by Village Gallery's Lynn Shue added to the sense that the evening was a mini Celebration of the Arts, like the one cultural adviser Nae'ole brings back to the resort each spring. George and Janet Allan made the drive down from Kula to be part of it, as did other Upcountry folks like Katie McMillan, Pete Papa, Jim Langford and Ka'anapali Beach Association Executive Director Shelley Kekuna, who didn't have to drive as far to get there.
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Speaking of traveling, brilliant photographer and ace drone pilot Randy Jay Braun isn't leading one of his usual photo adventures to Italy this summer. Instead, he took his 16-year-old son and 80-year-old father for some serious mountain climbing in the Dolomites, and some serious sights and tastes in Venice.
His 2,500 Facebook followers got to come along, too, for at least one mountain climbing adventure.
There are folks all over the world who know what Maui looks like, thanks to Randy's unique way of framing visions and seeing things in new ways, touched with just a bit of magic.
It's just as magical when he shows Maui folks what the rest of the world looks like.
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Traveling to a closer shore, Val Monson and DeGray Vanderbilt are bringing the photo exhibit "A Reflection of Kalaupapa: Past, Present and Future" home.
Featuring superb contemporary photos by Wayne Levin along with historical photos and six new photos by Val herself, the exhibit will soon be on view in Kalaupapa for a month before heading for "topside" Molokai, where it will be displayed for a year.
You may remember the exhibit from its run in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Schaefer International Gallery a few years ago, where it touched everyone who entered the gallery with heartbreaking echoes of the past, and the resilient spirit of the present in the remote, achingly beautiful settlement where Father Damien wasn't the only saint.
Val's new photos were added because the exhibit itself is making new connections between past and present Kalaupapa residents and long-lost relatives.
"We're helping families reconnect," says Val.
To learn more, visit Ka 'Ohana O Kalaupapa online.
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For all the local history and traditions the MACC has celebrated and helped preserve en route to its 20th anniversary this year, it has started some of its own. Maui Calls, its premier fundraiser, returns Friday, with great things to eat, drink and bid on. The 2015 Schaefer Portrait Challenge has set Sept. 20 as the submission date for Maui artists. And the ninth annual Ku Mai Ka Hula Competition - Maui's own mini Merrie Monarch - returns Sept. 12 and 13.
When you're an art center, the only thing better than presenting other people's art is making some of your own. For details, visit mauiarts.org.
* Rick Chatenever, former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and Emmy-nominated scriptwriter. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 344-9535.