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Amid pandemic, Marty Dread plays on to benefit whale foundation

Aloha Friday includes virtual, worldwide audience

Marty Dread plays a virtual “Aloha Friday” concert Nov. 6 aboard the Ocean Spirit as a fundraiser for the Pacific Whale Foundation. — JON WOODHOUSE photo

As the nation waited expectantly on the afternoon of Nov. 6 for the presidential election result, Marty Dread set sail on the Ocean Spirit out of Lahaina on a Pacific Whale Foundation virtual fundraising event.

“The whole country is on pins and needles, and I just want to say this is a politics-free zone,” he announced.

“We’re going to have fun with the whales and the dolphins in Hawaii,” he added before launching into Stephen Stills’ “Love the One You’re With.”

The Nov. 6 cruise was the third “Aloha Friday” benefit he had presented. Dread said the ocean sails were built on the popularity of his pre-pandemic “Island Rhythms Sunset Cocktail Cruises” with PacWhale Eco-Adventures, the for-profit organization that supports the work of the Pacific Whale Foundation.

“About three or four months into the pandemic, I realized it wasn’t going to be over soon,” he explained. “I had built an audience with the foundation over nine years, so I suggested we stay relevant by doing a virtual show. People could tune in and make requests and know the Pacific Whale Foundation is still alive. They loved the idea.”

Marty Dread used to play the “Island Rhythms Sunset Cocktail Cruises” with Pacific Whale Eco-Adventures in the pre-pandemic days. These days, he plays a virtual “Aloha Friday” concert, during a sail between Maui and Lanai, as a benefit for the Pacific Whale Foundation. — JON WOODHOUSE photo

“I’ve gathered a very loyal fan base,” he said. “I estimate 60 percent of people on the cruises are repeats, and though they can’t be in Hawaii, they still want to experience the energy of the cruises.”

A versatile entertainer, Dread is known for kicking up a lively dance party on his weekly sunset cruises. But those days are history as dancing is currently banned, and no one knows when restrictions might be lifted.

“My trip is very much a dance cruise and dancing is illegal in Maui County,” he noted.

With the whales arriving off Maui’s leeward coast, the PacWhale Eco-Adventures cruises have resumed with adjusted schedules and stringent safety protocols following state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines. Masks are required for both the public and crew. The number of people allowed onboard varies with each boat and trip type, with capacity limited to 50 percent occupancy and a minimum of 6 feet separation required between groups.

Sailing between Maui and Lanai, Dread’s sail consisted of the crew with no live audience. He fielded requests and gave shoutouts to folks tuning in from around the world as schools of dolphins swam into view, spinning and gliding alongside the Ocean Spirit.

Social distancing measures are employed aboard Pacific Whale Foundation vessels with whale watch tours resuming with boats limited to 50 percent capacity. — JON WOODHOUSE photo

Performing for one and a half hours, he covered a lot of musical ground from UB40 to Glen Campbell and Van Morrison to Bob Marley, along with his own originals like “Just Another Day in Paradise.”

Over the course of three fundraising “Aloha Friday” virtual shows, folks have tuned in from Brazil, Canada, South Africa, Australia, the U.K., Thailand and Argentina.

“It’s been great because I’ve been so dormant,” he said. “I get to keep these songs fresh in my mind. A lot of people want to support the mission of the whale foundation and I’m a bonus.”

Sailing closer to the west side shore, pieces of plastic trash bobbed in the ocean. During a music break, foundation Special Events and Development Coordinator Caitlin Miller addressed the virtual audience on the importance of environmental awareness.

When the pandemic hit earlier in the year, Miller reported the foundation laid off 97 percent of its staff.

“There was no money coming in, and we had to make a huge shift to figure out how do we continue to do research, education and conservation,” she said. “The first time we did a virtual concert back in June we could only have 10 people on the boat, that was crew and everybody.”

Operating boats at 50 percent occupancy translates as, “the Ocean Spirit’s normal capacity is about 48, so we can bring on 24,” she explained. “It’s a huge impact, but we’re adding more tours now, and we’re at an advantage because we have seven boats.”

Future “Aloha Friday” fundraisers are planned for December and January.

“We want to continue reaching people globally,” said Miller. “Continuing virtual events for the Pacific Whale Foundation is almost indefinite at this point.”

As the cruise came to a close, Dread said goodbye to his global audience with a tribute to Brother Iz, covering his memorable version of “Over the Rainbow.”

“I’ve played all over the world, but as far as the fun level and how it’s affected people’s lives, playing with the Pacific Whale Foundation is the most impactful,” Dread said. “When I was 17, I was a watercolor artist, and I used to paint humpback whales. Now being able to play for the whales is coming full circle.”

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