Those were the days, my friend
We thought they’d never end
We’d sing and dance, forever and a day . . .
— “Those Were the Days,” lyrics by Gene Raskin
That tune has been running almost continuously in the back of my mind ever since I was asked to emcee the Maui Choral Arts Association’s upcoming concert. “Those Were the Days,” April 28 at the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater, will feature a hundred harmonious voices singing songs of the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s.
On my near-daily treks through Wailuku, I find myself humming the old Mary Hopkin hit and envisioning the town as it was 50 years or so ago. It’s become a game for me, trying to remember the exact locations of the New York Dress Shop, Emura Jewelry, Tommy Kono’s Maui Health Center, Mabuhay Barber Shop, Lucy Goo’s Pastries, and others that float in and out of memory.
Just tonight I stood before the tavern
Nothing seemed the way it used to be . . .
The larger buildings — the anchor businesses of downtown Wailuku’s heyday — are easier to identify. The old National Dollar Store, now home to the Maui Academy of Performing Arts, still sports the dollar sign logo mosaic on its sidewalk entryway; similarly, Wailuku Business Plaza has retained much of the storefront decor of the old Kress Store. When I’m stopped at the traffic light at Main and High streets, I remember attending a freshman year event in the banquet hall of the Wailuku Hotel, shortly before it became the Maui Medical Group building. And Iao Theater, happily, is still Iao Theater, only now, the word “Historic” has been added to its name, and nightly films have given way to live performances of all genres, most of it produced by Maui OnStage.
Then the busy years went rushing by us
We lost our starry notions on the way . . .
Oh, my friend, we’re older but no wiser
For in our hearts the dreams are still the same.
The current controversy over the proposed Wailuku Civic Complex also weighs on my mind as I drive past the Market Street building that once housed my father’s dental office, turn up at Vineyard, and then roam up and down the municipal parking lot, searching for a space. For 20 years, people have lamented the lack of adequate parking, and now that plans have been finalized and funding secured for a new parking structure, I’m hearing comments like “leave Wailuku alone” and “they (not sure who ‘they’ are) want to ram this down our throats.” Although the county’s reWailuku project began soliciting public input five years ago, and the civic complex plans have been shared at numerous events including the First Friday town parties, some folks are protesting that the community never had a say.
Others have been observing, commenting and involving themselves in the revitalization efforts for the past couple of years. In November 2017, I wrote about the formation of the Wailuku Performing Arts Alliance, a consortium that includes the above-mentioned Maui Choral Arts, MAP, and MOS, along with the Maui Chamber Orchestra and Maui Pops Orchestra. In partnership with the Wailuku Community Association and Maui County, the WPAA aims to enrich the lives of all of us on Maui — residents and visitors alike.
Monday evening, the five WPAA member organizations presented a stirring showcase of music and dance at the Historic Iao Theater. Kristen Holmes, on behalf of the Alliance, thanked the standing-room-only crowd for attending and shared her hope for Wailuku’s future as a thriving arts and culture district. Each of the groups performed a short set and had us cheering, clapping, even singing along. Chicken-skin moments abounded; my favorite came near the end of the program, as Maui Choral Arts performed a medley of Neil Diamond songs.
“Sweet Caroline” was, of course, the climactic finale of the medley. Seated in the audience after their own performance, the teenage cast of MOS Youth’s “Once On This Island Jr.” spontaneously bellowed, right on cue, “Pum, pum, PAAHM!” The spirited outburst drew laughter from the crowd and even a few chuckles from the singers on stage. Choral director Gary Leavitt, eyes twinkling, jumped right onto the bandwagon and, for the rest of the song, turned around to lead the audience in pum-pumming each time the part came up.
Good times never seemed so good.
Doggone it, now I have a pair of firmly embedded earworms.
* Kathy Collins is a radio personality (The Buzz 107.5 FM), storyteller, actress, emcee and freelance writer whose “Sharing Mana’o” column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.