Maui Connections

As we rediscover what winter feels like on the Mainland, with temperatures sinking into the 20s overnight and snow putting white doilies on mountain peaks around our temporary home in Tucson, Ariz., friends keep emailing about the fun I’m missing as Maui enters the new year.

Joel Katz sent a late gift for the holidays — his new CD collaboration with Greg DiPiazza, “From the Island of Maui.” Joel’s lap steel guitar doesn’t provide accompaniment so much as it seems to duet with Greg’s vocals and wry lyrics, producing a hip, Hawaiian variation of country music. Marcus Johnson plays acoustic bass on several selections. You can hear them play live Thursdays at Pioneer Inn in Lahaina.

Joel is one of those guys who can do anything musically, from being Jimmy Mac’s right-hand guitar-playing man in popular party band the Kool Kats, and a valuable asset whenever he sits in with other local bands, to being a guiding force in the award-winning music department at the University of Hawaii Maui College.

There’s a dreamy quality to his lap steel guitar playing, whether he’s doing Hawaiian standards or backing DiPiazza’s musical Westerns like “Cowboy’s Dream” or “Rodeo Girl.”

Besides stretching the role of the instrument “in rhythm, melody and textures” on the new CD, Joel says he’s also proud of the clarity and definition of the sound, which has made his last two CDs finalists in the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards engineering category.

“From the Island of Maui” is available on CD Baby and will soon be on other popular download sites like iTunes and Amazon, says Joel. He also sells a $5 download and physical CDs from his website,

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Award-winning Maui filmmaker and festival producer Ken Martinez Burgmaier emails to say “Kaho’olawe, An Island Healing” will be screening in rotation in Maui Ocean Center’s Kahoolawe exhibit in the center’s new theater.

Ken directed, shot and produced the film that has screened at several festivals. He describes it as “a journey with our Hawaiian Canoe Club keiki paddling over in canoes and spending several days camping, hiking to ancient sites, restoring, planting trees and vegetation.”

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I also hear from Cynthia Conrad and Jerry Labb that the Maui Arts & Cultural Center “was lit up and smokin’ (not literally) New Year’s Eve eve, as Bill Maher brought his comedy and political satire to Maui’s appreciative audiences. He chastised Trump and the Republicans during his first set, then introduced his longtime gal-pal Carol Leifer, whom he has known for more than 40 years. Not only a stand-up, Carol has written for ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm,’ ‘Seinfeld’ and ‘Saturday Night Live.’ After her lively set, Bill read his traditional story, ‘Twas the Night Before 420,’ featuring characters such as Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson and Woody Harrelson, who popped out from backstage surprising Bill and the rest of us.

“Next up was Natasha Leggero, creator and star of ‘Another Period,’ and a regular on the ‘Comedy Central Roasts.’ Her hilarious stories about being a new mother and wife had the audience in stitches. Bill returned to talk about the Women’s Me Too Movement, and how the Democrats should stand up for their beliefs and not be so politically correct.

“To close the show, Bill then invited all the guests onstage to sing ‘Smile,’ a song written by Charlie Chaplin 100 years ago. To the delight of the audience, he also brought onstage Paul Simon, who sang ‘Smile’ along with the rest of us. A fitting end to a tumultuous 2018.

“Enjoying the singalong were Rich and Lynn Rasmussen, Ralph Henderson and Jamie David, Rich and Inger Tully, Gwen Morris, Rebecca Schilacci and Bev Gannon.”

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Cynthia and Jerry also report, “It was all hoots and hollers at Casanova Restaurant on New Year’s Eve as Giovanni Steven Cappelli presented a dinner show featuring Soul Kitchen with their final performance of the year. Founding members Tempa Singer-Nave and Naor Nave are off to the Mainland and won’t be returning to join their bandmates until April. Ringing and rocking in the new year were Lance Holter, Peter and Janet Naramore, Zach Frank and Kristin Duwe, Alana Cini, Jay April, Nick Nikhilananda, Susan Bradford and Peter Kafka.

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After publishing my Best Movies of ’18 list last week, I got down to some serious viewing, adding “The Favourite,” “Vice,” “Bohemian Rhapsody,” “Mary Poppins Returns” and “Can You Ever Forgive Me?” to the list, just in time for the Golden Globes, the upcoming Oscar nominations and the — ta da! — Hawaii Film Critics Society nominations. Thanks to HFCS’ fearless leader Barry Wurst for keeping things reel in the islands.

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