Maui Connections

Some of us still remember a Maui where you couldn’t go anywhere without running into someone you knew.

More like everyone you knew.

Last Saturday the Maui Arts & Cultural Center felt like that place.

It was Maui Calls, the MACC’s annual gala fundraiser, featuring scrumptious cuisine, delectable wines and assorted treasures up for bid, like the table full of autographed guitars, including the one from last March’s Concert for Our Lives signed by Steven Tyler, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson, among others.

This year’s theme, “In Celebration of Hula,” offered spellbinding performances by kumu hula Napua Greig and Halau Na Lei Kaumaka O Uka, and kumu hula Kamaka Kukona and Halau o Ka Hanu Lehua. Hula Honeys Robyn Kneubuhl and Ginger Johnson kicked off the evening by painting romantic pictures of the islands’ lure with their lilting vocal harmonies.

For all the benefits at the MACC each year for worthy groups and causes, Maui Calls is the one for the mother ship of island culture. MACC President and CEO Art Vento told the happy crowd that the MACC had been the site of 1,700 presentations last year serving 250,000 people. Many of the events were free.

There to cover the event, I gravitated to other friends who were working that night — a handsome, talented group including photographer Tony Novak-Clifford, emcee Deidre Tegarden, auctioneer Tony Takitani and bandleader Jim McLemore, whose daughter Elaine was singing next to him when Jimmy Mac, Joel Katz and the rest of the Kool Kats closed the show, as they do each Maui Calls, this time with echoes of Aretha Franklin.

I kept running into pals I usually see elsewhere, from one end of the island to the other. Here was Clifford Nae’ole, cultural adviser and beating heart of The Ritz-Carlton, Kapalua’s Celebration of the Arts . . . and Wailea Resort Association Marketing Director Kathleen Costello, an ally in the star-powered creative frenzy otherwise known as the Maui Film Festival each June.

Amy Hanaiali’i was looking all goddess-like at — where else? — the Hanaiali’i wine booth. And Wendy Takemoto, owner of Hue Interior Design, who had created the evening’s decor, was enjoying the event with her husband, Rae Reardan, and parents JoAnn and Bruce Harris.

It was great to catch up with Sarala Dandekar, and lots of swimming buddies there with their wives: Wally Vorfelt and Ellen Loucks; Paul and Rosalyn Meyer and Eddie and Eileen Takayesu.

No worries putting on calories on this balmy evening — we’d see each other soon enough at the pool, happily working them off.

It’s been nearly a quarter-century since the first Maui Calls, long enough for the palm trees on the grounds to gain massive proportions, but to still sway like hula dancers themselves. Those trees have stood silent sentry to more amazing performances — from world-class artists to your friends and neighbors — than an island of our size with our population could ever dream of.

It would be impossible to repay all the gifts the MACC has provided in our lives . . . but giving back, even in a small way, always feels good.


Some of the same themes — food, music, dancing, people enjoying themselves — were playing out the night before, only on a slightly different scale. It was the island’s Third Friday block party, mixing paniolo culture, art gallery ambience and exotic food truck aromas from around the world wafting over beautiful downtown Makawao.

Maui’s Friday Night block parties have turned out to be a great idea, each unique from the others. Makawao’s is down-home funky, with colorful ranch and rodeo lore superimposed on a lifestyle full of fishing and surfing, in a tiny village where the Catholic Church is just up the street from the Buddhist temple.

Volunteer coordinator Kathy Nelson was welcoming guests to the closet-size Makawao History Museum, where artist Darrell Orwig sat, all decked out in his big hat and cowboy shirt, looking like a work of art himself, his eyes glowing as he told me about his new horse.

Bryan Debris looked like a cowboy painting, too, as he played solo on a covered sidewalk under the Tiger Eye salon sign. He had to compete with the “Listen to the Music” sounds of Luna Overdrive — Joette Burke, John Gerry, Steve Somers and Josh Greenbaum — that turned the street into a dance floor until the fire dancers took over.

Across the street, Timothy Wenk didn’t speak a word as he astounded children and their parents by pulling colored handkerchiefs out of midair.

He calls what he does “street magic,” a term that pretty well summed up the evening.

* Rick Chatenever, award-winning columnist and former entertainment and features editor of The Maui News, is a freelance journalist, instructor at UH-Maui College and documentary scriptwriter/producer. Contact him at