Brothers Caz to celebrate 25th Lei Day concert
By Wayne Harada
Advertiser Entertainment Editor
"It's always potluck so there's plenty of food," said Arallano, the chef at First Hawaiian Bank's dining room, who has been to all 24 previous concerts. "The ti leaf lei are made and in the 'fridge, too."
Arallano typifies the Lei Day diehards who never skip the concert because it's a way to connect with buddies. It's a combination of good grinds, good times and good music, he said.
"I like seeing old friends I never get to see anymore," said Arallano. "We gather at 2 o'clock with our coolers and food, play cards, and wait (for the gates to open) to stake our spot in the middle on the right side (the Diamond Head end) of the lawn area. Only the grass; we don't want to sit anywhere else. And everyone knows where we'll be.
"We walk all over, sample a little pupu here, a little pupu there. And smell all the fragrance of the flowers, too. All the prima donnas are walking around with nice lei. But my favorite still is the plumeria."
Emelia Kaililo of Kahalu'u, who has been to nearly all Lei Day concerts ("I think I missed one"), enjoys the annual outing with family and friends. "We get our tickets early poolside," she said of her up-front perch. "Auntie Honey," as she is known among the performers, spearheads a flower-gathering, lei-sewing task before May Day, picking pua keni keni,
'ilima, crown flower, and seasonal blooms such as pakalana and ginger from her yard, and strings as many as 20 lei to give to the Cazimeros and their performers.
"It's our way of sharing," she said. "It's part of the good fun."
As the big day approaches, Robert and Roland Cazimero the focus of Lei Day and the attendant hoopla often think "this year will be the last one."
Happily, they're still carrying on the tradition.
Why? Because somebody has to. Because people like Arallano and Kaililo would revolt if the tradition were to stop.
"If it wasn't for Lei Day at Fern School (the Kalihi elementary school Robert and Roland attended), we wouldn't have May Day today," said Robert, crediting his small-kid-time joy and memories that ultimately fueled the duo's energies 25 years ago to mount what since has evolved into a mammoth, anticipated community endeavor.
"Make a lei, wear a lei, give a lei" has been their motto since year one. It's a spin-off of the late poet-artist Don Blanding's vision. Blanding, often credited as the Father of Lei Day, had the idea in 1928 of celebrating May 1, bonded by floral garlands, to express the spirit of aloha.
The anthem, "May Day Is Lei Day in Hawai'i," is a song composed by Red Hawke to commemorate the Blanding "holiday," which easily has become one of the state's most revered, bringing out a rainbow of lei worn with aloha shirts and mu'umu'u.
The custom of the Lei Day concert now ranked as a must-do, can't miss attraction emerged only after The Cazimeros kicked off the citywide first concert in 1977, inspired by their grade-school pageants.
"I think it's all about friends. And friendships," said Robert, 53, about the yearly ritual of donning a lei, packing a bento, and heading for the Waikiki Shell, usually with kinfolk or office 'ohana. "Lei Day brings together everyone for a good time."
Said Roland, 51: "For me, it's memories. I think people want to capture that moment they'll remember down the line."
And Robert: "I think May Day is holding on to a part of your past an unforgettable moment. I think Don Blanding would be very, very pleased."
From Roland: "Yeah, he'd get his tickets early."
Jon de Mello, manager of The Caz and CEO of the producing Mountain Apple Company organization, said: "I think Don would be proud of the whole concept that has evolved."
The format hasn't changed since the first outing. The Caz haul out their halau (Robert's Na Kamalei and Leina'ala Kalama Heine's Na Pualei O Likolehua) and present surprise guest stars. Robert stands next to his trusty double-bass; Roland sits atop a cube, playing one of several guitars.
There are changes this year, however.
Robert's trademark white bass was damaged in transit last year, so his "skinny" (his description) electric bass makes its Lei Day debut. A replacement double bass, which made its debut at last Christmas' concert, now is undergoing a paint job.
"Over the years, we've damaged and lost four basses, which is pretty good," said Robert. "Jon and Dean (Hoofnagle, a techie with the Mountain Apple Company), have been magicians, putting back together the bass or guitar whenever there were problems. If you come close and see the instruments, you'd wonder how we perform."
Since introducing "At Home in the Islands" (a Henry Kapono composition) several years ago, The Caz now include that tune in every Lei Day concert. The 25th will include a suite of "Pele" songs, composed by Roland and recorded two decades ago and staged for the first time in a Hawai'i Theatre concert last month.
"I have always been against putting 'Pele' into a concert," said Robert. "But Roland went over my head ... and now we're doing it again, slightly different than the Hawa'i Theatre. What comes to mind is what my kumu hula, Auntie Maiki (Aiu Lake) told me years ago: 'Write it down now, because 20 years later, it will be kahiko."
The Caz have invited a host of guest acts for the concert "but we haven't heard back, so whoever shows up for rehearsals will be in the show," said Robert.
The deaths this year of Dennis Pavao and Moe Keale peers with whom they grew up in local show biz have made an impact on their outlook.
"We were saddened about Moe, since he was so much a part of us," said Robert. "He was with Mountain Apple, too, and we'll miss our apple in the tree. But he is a guest artist this year; you have to just listen real close.
"When friends like Moe and Dennis go, I think it makes you live for today. You worry about your own mortality. There is ever more a commitment to live your life to the fullest, to play your best songs, for as long as you can. Our mom used to wake up every morning and say, 'Thank you, God, for another day.' We used to laugh at her, and guess who's doing it now?"
With Christmas part of their annual foray into Island music, and a couple of other benchmark events during the year (such as the Hana Hou series at Hawai'i Theatre), Lei Day is a gargantuan task.
"We start planning the next one practically right after the last one," said Robert.
"Ticket requests start coming in right after the (Christmas and New Year's) holiday season," said de Mello.
It's a formulaic show, to be sure. Guest artists add diversity. Hula halau sometimes a guest company perform both kahiko and 'auana hula. Everybody sings "May Day Is Lei Day in Hawai'i" during some point in the evening, and there's a heady blend of aromas pua keni keni and pikake, competing with Hawaiian plates and Zippy's chili bento.
Lei sellers offer their ware, if you haven't had time to make or buy a lei, and yes, the bathroom lines are long because the crowds are thick, many drinking beer with happy-hour gusto. (Reminder: You can't haul in your stash of wine or beer, but vendors sell them on site).
"We'll have three generations of dancers on stage this year," said Robert, not naming names, obviously keeping some facts under wrap. "And I think we have eight or nine who will have danced with us all 25 years."
It is a tribute to Robert and Roland that their crews support the tradition year after year. "It's a testament to the talent that we all are," he said of the show. "We're a group who can take it from the garage situation to Carnegie Hall (they've played both) and it's all a matter of doing things you never dreamed were possible."
"In June, we play Costco," said Roland, about a forthcoming gig to launch the new big box discounter when it opens up in Iwilei.
"If Jon told us 20 years ago that we'd play Costco, I would have said, 'Eat my shorts.' But we've come a long way from the Royal Hawaiian Hotel and other showrooms. We miss the clubs sometimes, but we're doing something special at Chai's (Island Bistro). If you have a big ego, that can get at you, but we've all adapted to the times, cut back on luxuries, getting down to basics."
Sure, the day will come when The Caz will have to pass the torch to someone else to carry forth the Lei Day custom. "The governing factor will depend on how easily, how comfortably we can ease out," said Robert.
"There aren't that many (entertainers) who've paid their dues who can do the show," said Roland.
"We'd like to help in the torch-passing," said Robert.
Reach Wayne Harada at firstname.lastname@example.org, 525-8067 or fax 525-8055.
- Featuring the Brothers Cazimero and guests
- 7:30 p.m. Wednesday (gates open 5:30 p.m. for picnicking)
- Waikiki Shell
- Reserved seats sold out; $15 grass seating still available
Also, on Maui:
- 7:30 p.m. Thursday
- Castle Theater, Maui Arts & Cultural Center
- $10-$28; half price for kids 12 and younger
- (808) 242-SHOW
Other major Lei Day events
- First Annual Lei Day Lu'au, presented by the Hawaiian Island Chefs
- 6-9 p.m. Wednesday
- Mauna Kea Ballroom, Hawai'i Prince Hotel
- $75, including food stations
- 956-1111, Ext. 4022
- Entertainment by Na Leo Pilimehana and Jake Shimabukuro
- Food station participants: D.K. Kodama of Sansei Seafood Restaurant and Sushi Bar, James McDonald of Pacific 'O and I'o, Hiroshi Fukui of L'Uraku, Goran Streng of the Prince Restaurant, Steven Ariel and Lance Kosaka of Alan Wong's Pineapple Room, Chai Chaowasaree of Chai's Island Bistro, George Gomes of Sarento's in Kihei, Russell Siu of 3660 on the Rise, Doug Lum of Mariposa, Teresa Gannon Shurilla of Hali'imaile General Store, Jackie Lau of Roy's, Corey Waite of the Hapuna Prince Hotel, and Mark Okamura of Alan Wong's
City lei contest
- 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Wednesday (entries due 7:30-9 a.m.; winning lei on view till 6 p.m.)
- Kapi'olani Park bandstand
- First Lei Day: 1977
- Attendance: 9,300
- Tickets: $6.50 ($5.50 advance)
- Guests: Hokule'a
10th Lei Day, 1987
- Attendance: 9,000
- Tickets: $12.50 reserved, $10 grass
- Guests: Palani Vaughan, Halau Hula O Maiki
20th Lei Day, 1997
- Attendance: 7,800
- Tickets: $22.50 reserved, $16 grass
- Guests: Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K
- Hawaiian souvenir: Maynard "Gramps" Ho'apili, considered The Cazimeros' good-luck charm, emceed the Lei Day concerts till his death in 1994.
- First tune performed in first concert: "Teve Teve"
- Biggest lei on stage: The 1978 concert featured a gargantuan lei of paper flowers, conceived by Jon de Mello and fashioned by lei maker Barbara Meheula, and "draped" over the Shell as if the Jolly Green Giant put it there.
- Look who's dancing: Roland Cazimero left his trademark sit-down guitar position to make his hula kahiko debut with the Gentlemen of Na Kamalei in 1987.