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Island musicians look for creative ways to survive

Virtual concerts, expanding their music while waiting out the coronavirus

Amy Hanaiali‘i, shown with Marcus Johnson (left) and Sal Godinez, hasn’t performed since July 31 on Oahu. Online she’s been presenting weekly Pau Hana Friday shows at 6 p.m. on Facebook. — Photo courtesy of Amy Hanaiali‘i

With live gigs dried up due to COVID-19 pandemic restrictions, island musicians are finding creative ways to adapt to the challenging times. Some have headed online for virtual concerts, while others have used the downtime to practice and expand their repertoires.

Amy Hanaiali’i performed her last live show at Oahu’s Blue Note Hawaii on July 31.

“It was my first live gig in three months and my last for probably a while,” she said. “It was nerve-wracking because us outer-island people we don’t want to go to Oahu, but it was before it started peaking. So they had a huge Plexiglas screen in front of the stage, and the two shows did really well. With the COVID situation all their waiters and waitresses were full mask, and they spaced people out through the whole club. We were so happy to play.”

Online she’s been presenting weekly Pau Hana Friday shows at 6 p.m. on Facebook. “People have no money right now and just to bring them an hour of sunshine and love has been really fun,” she explained. “Because so many businesses are hurting, I do a lot of shoutouts to companies on the shows. People make requests, and we have a tip jar. We have a blast.”

On Aug. 11, she joined fellow Maui musicians Napua Greig and Anuhea celebrating the one year anniversary of the Mauna Kea telescope protest, with the broadcast of the global “Jam4Maunakea,” the world’s first virtual kanikapila. Either live or on video, hundreds of participants from Ukraine, China, Russia, Taiwan, Japan, Brazil, England, Australia and New Zealand, as well as across the Mainland, teamed with folks in Hawaii to collectively sing “Ku Ha’aheo” and “Hawai’i Loa.” “It was amazing,” said Hanaiali’i. “What an honor to be a part of this video that connected so many kia’i from around the world.”

Hanaiali’i has also been involved with staging the annual Na Hoku Hanohano Awards show set for Oct. 10, which will feature a combination of pre-taped, virtual and live performances.

“We’re busy getting all that together,” she said.

In conjunction with the award show the County of Maui is sponsoring a “E Kupa’a Kakou” virtual music series on Sept. 4, 11, 18, and 24 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center, featuring Hoku nominees and Maui hula halau who were unable to attend this year’s Merrie Monach Festival.

Hanaiali’i’s brother, Eric Gilliom, has been producing her Pau Hana Friday shows utilizing state-of-the-art equipment. Like many musicians, Gilliom has had to adjust to a new world and the potential loss of future projects. His weekly engagement at the Four Season Resort Maui at Wailea ended March 9.

“The hardest part for me was my one man show ‘White Hawaiian’ was scheduled to go into a permanent fixture at a (Maui) hotel,” he reported. “I was going to run that show a couple of nights a week. So that was a huge disappointment. I put a ton of work into it, and I was prepared to take it on tour, and it all evaporated.”

It’s a challenging time for many musicians, he said.

“Everybody’s struggling, very few are working right now,” he said. “Everybody went into the livestreaming thing, but musicians aren’t making any money at that because people are broke.

“Musicians are waiting for the gates to open so they can go back to gigging, but I don’t see that happening for a very long time.”

During the downtime, Vince Esquire, who usually performs with Kanekoa and his own band, has been spending time renovating his recording studio.

“I miss playing live, but I’m still keeping myself busy. I’d go crazy otherwise,” he said. “I miss the energy exchange with people more than anything.”

When the pandemic first hit, he tried a few virtual performances, “but I haven’t done anything for any monetary value,” he adds. “We’re working on something for Kanekoa hopefully in the next couple of weeks.”

In February, he had teamed with Texas blues musician Chris Duarte for some shows on Maui. “We were working on a new blues album, and it got stopped right in the middle of it,” he said.

The bassist with the Mick Fleetwood Blues Band, Lenny Castellanos, lost his regular gigs at Fleetwood’s on Front St., where he would perform with the House Shakers, the duo Thunder & Lightning, and with Fleetwood on special occasions.

“It was hard at first, but I’ve adjusted,” he said. “Being off, I feel like I’m tuning up. I’ve been working on House Shakers’ tunes with Kenny Gieser, and brushing up on blues stuff we do with our duo Thunder & Lightning.”

He’s also been collaborating with Upcountry drummer Paul Marchetti. “We’ve been exchanging audio files and coming up with some cool grooves.”

Maui-born slack key guitarist Jeff Peterson had been busy playing six nights a week at Oahu restaurants. That’s all gone. Heading online, he’s been presenting weekly shows through Stageit.com, but these virtual concerts, “have not made up for the regular nights of gigs a week I had and all the touring I had planned,” he said.

Stageit provides a forum for musicians to stream exclusive concerts to fans as a revenue generator. Jimmy Buffett, Bonnie Raitt and Jason Mraz have all used the service.

Peterson’s Stageit concert on Aug. 12 paid tribute to his late father, who was a manager at Haleakala Ranch. It included songs by the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, James Taylor and Johnny Cash.

Keyboardist/vocalist Sal Godinez normally plays with Hanaiali’i and John Cruz. “All our live gigs are gone, so now I’m doing a lot of rehearsing, with John (Cruz) and his band, and with my sister Estaire and our band, and with Steve Sargenti doing original music,” he said.

Enjoying connecting with people through online performances he explained: “With Amy on her fan page people are constantly texting us making comments and requesting songs, and it gets very personal in that way.

“On her first show, we had 60,000 views.”

The keyboardist with Jimmy Mac and the Kool Kats, Joel Katz, can no longer rely on lucrative convention work at Maui’s resorts.

“I’ve been kind of down,” he said. “I had a little project with Tarvin Makia playing pedal steel, and that motivated me.”

A music teacher at UH-Maui College, he will likely resume some classes.

“I’m doing OK with it all,” he said. “I’m not struggling, and I finally got unemployment after three months.”

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