In the flood of tributes to former U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Akaka upon his passing last Friday, from the Washington Post to The Maui News, throughout mainstream media and social networks, one word prevailed. Colleagues and constituents, friends and fans found it impossible to describe the beloved icon without using the word “aloha.”
On Capitol Hill, Sen. Akaka, the first Native Hawaiian to serve in that body, was known as the “Ambassador of Aloha.” Indeed, as many have stated over the past few days, he embodied the word and the concept.
As a broadcast news reporter and event emcee, I’d met the senator numerous times over the past several decades, but only for a brief exchange of greetings. Finally, a few years ago, I had the pleasure of spending more than a few minutes with him and his wife, Millie, during the 2014 Maui Steel Guitar Festival at Ka’anapali Beach Hotel.
The Akakas were given the royal treatment, and while they graciously accepted the attention and accolades, they did their best to deflect the admiration toward their son Alan, who produces the annual festival, and the featured steel guitarists and hula dancers.
Nearly 90 at the time, the senator surprised many of us when he showed up for the late night kanikapila, just to hang out and enjoy the jam session. I sat with him for a while, off to the side, and was touched by the obvious pride and joy in his smile as he watched his son amid more than a dozen fellow musicians. “This is so beautiful,” he sighed, before returning to his room around midnight.
This weekend, Sen. Akaka’s spirit will surely be present at the 10th annual Maui Steel Guitar Festival. Presented by the Arts Education for Children Group and Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, and produced by Alan’s Hawaii Institute for Music Enrichment and Learning Experiences (HIMELE), the three-day festival will feature workshops, a display of vintage instruments, and lots of steel guitar played in a variety of styles.
Open stage sessions on Friday and Saturday will begin at 10 a.m. and include different groups every half-hour until 3:30 p.m. or so. The ho’olaule’a pageants on Friday and Saturday nights (5:30 to 8:30) will feature steel guitar masters from Hawaii, the Mainland and Japan. Kanikapila sessions will follow the main stage entertainment on both nights, starting at about 9:30. All performances are free and open to the public, and the kanikapila is open to anyone who would like to join in (bring your own instrument, amplifier and music stand, if needed) or, like the senator and me, simply enjoy listening.
On Sunday, the festival moves to Queen Ka’ahumanu Center, where Geri Valdriz’s vintage steel guitar exhibit will be installed at the History of Hawaii Museum, and center stage entertainment will include nine different steel guitar presentations from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.
I’m honored and excited to emcee all three days of entertainment, and am especially looking forward to spending the weekend at “Maui’s most Hawaiian hotel.” KBH was where we began shooting “Kuleana” nearly two years ago. The movie is set in 1971 Maui, and the hotel grounds and atmosphere perfectly evoke the feel of that sweeter, simpler time. General Manager (and Maui County Council Chair) Mike White remarked with a smile, “We have a retro hotel.”
Speaking of “Kuleana,” I’ve just received the good news that the film is being held over in theaters statewide for yet another week, including the Maui Megaplex and The Wharf Cinema Center. And on Friday, Kuleana will open on Lanai, which seems like an ideal place to watch it. I’m seriously thinking about catching the ferry over, maybe Monday.
Immersing myself in nostalgic aura and aloha spirit; I can’t think of a better way to spend the next few days. To paraphrase a sentiment popularized in the 1970s, “Lucky we come — and stay — Hawaii!”
* Kathy Collins is a storyteller, actress and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is email@example.com.