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Marty Dread plays for worthy cause as St. John’s Kula Festival returns

Popular Upcountry event took a two-year break due to the pandemic

St. John’s Kula Festival is returning to Upcountry on Saturday with crafts, produce, food and other items for sale, as well as all-day entertainment and activities for kids. This year marks 40 years since the first festival in 1982, though it’s the 38th event after cancellations the last two years due to the pandemic. Photo courtesy of St. John’s Episcopal Church

Since it was first presented in 1982, the annual St. John’s Kula Festival has grown into a major Upcountry event typically attracting more than 2,000 folks. With proceeds supporting St. John’s Ministries and other charities, this year’s beneficiaries are Maui Cancer Resources and the Malama Family Recovery Center.

Highlights of the 38th annual festival on Saturday will include an Upcountry farmer’s market, crafters and vendors, a quilt show, a silent auction, local food, kids’ games and a full day of entertainment.

“St. John’s in general has such a great vibe,” said festival Chairperson Lin ter Horst. “The location with the view, it’s very unique and calming. This little event we’ve had for all these years has really grown. All the folks who volunteer and make the food have been here for decades, and the love for the community is so strong. It’s palpable when you come to the festival.”

Marty Dread will headline the entertainment with a lineup of performers including Soul Kitchen Maui with its upbeat Zydeco/soul style; the Afro-Caribbean sound of Mas’ Calypso; rocking blues guitarist/vocalist Jimmy Dillon with multi-instrumentalist Dayan Kai; Beat Tropique; school bands from King Kekaulike High School, Seabury Hall and St. Anthony School; and Halau Hula Wehena O Ke Ao, under the direction of Kumu Hula Maka’ala Palmore.

Known as Hawaii’s “reggae ambassador,” Dread has performed on Maui for 28 years. Among his career highlights, he toured and recorded with Willie Nelson, and appeared on stage with the country icon at Nelson’s annual Farm Aid concerts. A Na Hoku Hanohano-nominated artist, he has also recorded with Kris Kristofferson and Jamaican reggae legends Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare.

Wailuku-born national beatboxing champion Pono Akiono (left) and longtime reggae artist Marty Dread will pair up for the first time to perform at the St. John’s Kula Festival on Saturday. NALU AKIONA photo

“I’m excited to play the St. John’s Festival because some dear friends of mine attend the church,” said Dread. “It’s their big fundraiser, so everyone volunteers their time.”

For the Keokea show he will premiere a new duo with Wailuku-born beatbox virtuoso Pono Akiono, a two-time national champion in tag-team beatboxing. Akiono was declared the 2022 American Beatbox Champion in the solo category at the annual national competition at Atlantic City on Sept. 5.

“He’s a phenomenal talent and makes beats with his mouth,” Dread enthused. “I will be playing guitar and singing and he will be beatboxing. It’s a really unique combination. He’s so good. He will blow people’s minds. His dad and I went to high school and were in art class together. I saw him at a Backlit Buddha Studios show for Mana’o Radio and I was blown away. This will be our first concert together. I don’t think he’s ever done it with a singer before.”

For the Keokea show, Dread will focus on more contemporary, upbeat material.

“I will have more dance-orientated songs and he will hold a beat behind me playing drums with his mouth,” he explained.

Often helping out worthy causes, Dread played Aloha Friday livestreamed virtual concerts benefiting the Pacific Whale Foundation during the pandemic. And he was among the Maui musicians, including Josh Tatofi and Eric Gilliom, singing on the inspirational CD “All in This Together,” by Cindy Paulos and Friends, with proceeds benefiting MusiCares.

Dread will also perform at 7 p.m. Saturday at Dollies North Shore in Paia with Gretchen Rhodes and the House Shakers, and on Oct. 8 he will play in concert with beatboxer Akiono at the Ritz-Carlton Maui, Kapalua.

“Things are starting to creep back,” he said. “Back to the old Marty Dread playing everywhere.”

When Dread takes the stage on Saturday, it will mark nearly 40 years since the first St. John’s Festival, which was held on Oct. 23, 1982 and was inspired by the church participating in a yearly fundraiser held at the War Memorial Gym in Wailuku. Quilts made by church members and Willie Fong’s Chinese handicrafts were the highlight of the first festival. Over the years, entertainers who have performed at the festival include Amy Hanaili’i and Uluwehi Guerrero.

The pandemic forced the closure of a number of major island events and the Keokea festival was cancelled in 2020 and 2021.

“We haven’t had the festival for two years,” noted ter Horst, owner of Maui Fruit Jewels. “There hasn’t been much going on on Maui. Events you could count on like the County Fair are not happening, so we really hope that people come out and support us.”

The 38th annual St. John’s Kula Festival in Keokea is presented from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. Admission is $1 and free for children 12 and under. Free parking is available at Keokea Park, or festival attendees can take the Kula Islander Bus No. 39. The festival is a zero-waste event, so people are asked to bring their own reusable shopping bags and water bottles and consider carpooling. Major sponsors are Mana’o Radio, Local Maui Farms and Maui Printing. More information is available at www.stjohnsmaui.org/kula festival.

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