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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, April 2, 2006

Crater fest rocks fans back in time

 •  Diamond Head smiles on crater celebrators

By Chad Pata
Special to The Advertiser

Yvonne Elliman was among the opening performers at yesterday's Diamond Head Crater Celebration. The show, the first in the crater since 1978, took place under dry skies, a first for Honolulu in a while.

JOAQUIN SIOPACK | The Honolulu Advertiser

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They say you can't go back, but several thousand baby boomers sure gave it a try at yesterday's Diamond Head Crater Celebration.

For a few short hours, everyone forgot about their IRAs and arthritis.

Things appeared ominous at first as the opening pule (Hawaiian prayer) was greeted with the now familiar specter of black clouds, but aside from a few scattered drops and the ubiquitous mud, there was little sign of the previous six weeks' terrible weather.

The opening acts of Na Leo and Yvonne Elliman performed admirably with the Honolulu Symphony, but to a sparse crowd, as most of the attendees were either enjoying the beer garden and food booths or had yet to be bused in.

But all that changed when WAR, the band that had closed the previous crater festival in 1978, took the stage. Their Latin beats and saxophone drew the fans to the stage as frontman Lonnie Jordan repeatedly sang, "Here we are, back in the crater again!"

No one much noticed that Jordan is the only member left from the band's previous engagement in the Islands, because even with a change of cast, Jordan's energy is enough to enliven any band.

Tearing through their biggest hits like "Frisco Kid" and "Low Rider," Jordan did anything but play it straight, changing each song at his whim, while the band just followed gleefully along. He improvised a whole new song to their first big hit "Spill the Wine," changing it into a psychedelic trip he took in Diamond Head Crater.

Fans pushed toward the stage and walked away smiling like kids after they finished up with "I Wanna Take You Higher."

While WAR reminded them of how young they once were, Linda Ronstadt showed them all how old they now are. Taking the stage in a simple black silk pantsuit, she cut a regal presence, but unfortunately it was to mud-covered rock fans.

The first half of her set consisted of jazz standards and originals, her voice as haunting as ever, but it fell on deaf ears. The conversations of bored fans almost threatened to drown out her performance. The awkwardness of her miscasting became even more evident as the lighting guys lit her in green, red and yellow spots for her moving rendition of "Blue Bayou."

The audience came to life only once, during her hit "Just One Look," but by then, most had moved on to other things.

You can always count on Steve Miller to bring them back, though. Performing the first ever show after dark in the crater, the lights came up on the stage and the fans responded. Grass seating became almost deserted as mudcaked maniacs roared to the front.

Guitar work like his has not been seen here since BB King's shows at the Blaisdell, and his harmonica player Norton Buffalo would be a treat to watch just by himself. During "Livin' in the USA" Buffalo was so animated that it appeared he was wrestling with his harmonica as he careened around the stage and the scales.

For "Wild Mountain Honey" Miller busted out his 19-string, synthetic purple alligator guitar to create the space-aged notes familiar to his followers. He noted that he bought the guitar before his first trip to Hawai'i in 1969 and that someone had approached in his hotel earlier and offered him $360,000 for the instrument. After wowing the crowd with an extended version of the tune, he smiled slyly at the throng and said, "I think I'll keep it."

And that is how the fans felt filing onto the buses to take them back to their civilized lives; you can't put a price on the past.