Sponsored by:

Comment, blog & share photos

Log in | Become a member
The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 9, 2004

Fans still flock to island-music fests

By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer

Paul James Villamero, 22, left, and Paul James Kea, 21, both of Wai'anae, are among the regulars at events such as the Jammin' Hawaiians concert. They say they've been to every island-music fest at the Shell since ninth grade.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Showtime was still an hour away, but the Koko'o family had already found the second-best spot to spread their blankets on the Waikiki Shell back lawn for the Jammin' Hawaiians concert: slightly right of center, as close to the stage as the lawn reaches.

"We come with the kids, try to keep them out of trouble," said Robert Koko'o, 43, laughing and eyeing his brood through indigo shades. "Sometimes they gotta watch me, 'cause I'll be heading for beer area."

Waiting for the bands to take the stage, daughter Nikita Koko'o, 17, showed her younger brothers and sisters the finer points of the "Pacific skank," a solo step-dance inspired by Bob Marley's on-stage moves. She tugged at her tight blue halter after finishing, mindful of keeping her appearance in check.

"I just like the music. I just like dancing," confessed Nikita, explaining why she has joined her family at more than 20 concerts like Jammin' Hawaiians in the past five years. "The music frees my mind."

Local-band showcases like last night's Jammin' Hawaiians, Island 98.5 FM's Bomb-Bucha and KCCN FM 100's Birthday Bash drop at the Shell every few months. But far from growing stale with audiences, the shows — some of which have been around since the early '90s — have grown in number and almost always sell out. Blending Hawaiian, reggae and hip-hop sounds, they also attract a truly diverse mix of Honolulu music fans.

The outdoor setting is comfortable. The music is uplifting and infused with Island pride. Whole families turn out, toting coolers, strollers and blankets to lawn seats. Dressed-up teenagers dropped off at the gates by mom and dad spend more time early on walking the scene and checking each other out before eventually settling down to catch their favorite acts. Hand-holding twentysomething couples cuddle over dinner bentos and sing along to their favorite songs.

The Koko'os and their friends — more than 15 of them — will all get up to dance one time or another during the night. Papa Robert was rumored to be pretty good.

As warm sun fought cool mountain breezes for dominance, and folks in all manner of dress angled for scarce shady spots on the roomy lawn, the Koko'os agreed things were looking good for another great night at one of Honolulu's handful of annual "island-music" fests.

One of the secrets to success for these concerts: price. Jammin' Hawaiians offers a whole evening's worth of entertainment — about six hours' worth — for as little as $10.

"You can't beat the amount of acts you get for the price," said Pohai Keli'i, 22. She was chilling with Zip-Pacs, a cooler full of passion-fruit juice and her boyfriend, Zach, on a shady patch of lawn. "You can bring your own grinds, drinks and just kick back. Sometimes you see friends from high school time. Sometimes you meet new people. It's all good."

Catherine Tan, 15, and her boyfriend Jordan Bradley, 17, both of Honolulu, hang out before the Jammin' Hawaiians concert yesterday at the Waikiki Shell.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

Musicians — established headliners, and up-and-coming acts just happy to win a performance slot — are drawn to the fests, too.

Weekend "island-music" shows at nightclubs like Don Ho's Island Grill and The Beach House regularly attract packed houses of twenty- and thirtysomethings. But festivals like Jammin' Hawaiians — all generally held at the 8,400 capacity Waikiki Shell — offer musicians a bigger audience.

"A lot of times, the majority of the crowd isn't old enough to see us at the club gigs," said Jared Keo, of vocal duo Ho'onua. "So it's a good opportunity for the fans to see us live. ... Plus, when you're looking out at a sea of thousands of people, it's a rush every time."

On summer breaks home from the University of San Diego, Keo and his Ho'onua partner Christian Yrizzary used to sit in the audience at Jammin' Hawaiians and other concerts, dreaming of playing the big stage. At last night's show, Ho'onua was a headlining act.

Keo, now 27, cracked up recalling his teenage adventures at the concerts.

"I had to jump over the fence a couple of times to get in," said Keo, laughing. "Back in those days, if you didn't get a ticket — Oh my goodness! — there was no way to get in. There weren't as many shows in those days, so it was harder.

"So nowadays, every time we're backstage and we see some guys jumping over the fence, there's a part of me that roots for those guys to make it past the security guards."

For Keo and his friends, the shows were about more than just the music.

"Oh, yeah ... for sure! You always wanted to see who's out, who looks good and all that kind of stuff," said Keo.

Agreed Nikita Koko'o, her eyes brightening: "The guys are hot! They come from all over the place, and they just come up to you and talk story."

Two such guys, Paul James Villamero, 22, and Paul James Kea, 21, said they had been to every island-music fest at the Shell since ninth grade.

"Some people get their tickets two days before the shows, but we go early," said Kea, nursing a plastic cup of beer while skanking to the Opihi Pickers playing live on stage. "Two weeks before this thing happens, we're already planning."

Friends beckoned them to return to their blankets nearby, but Kea just wanted to keep on skanking while chiding a friend via cell phone for showing up late. Villamero was left to explain why the entire group always shows.

"The music is cherry, and we support the local artists," said Villamero. "You'll see us here next time and the time after that."

Reach Derek Paiva at dpaiva@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8005.