THE NIGHT STUFF
rRed Elephant aglow with music, art, big plans
By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
It was a Saturday night in mid-February, but the sidewalk fronting rRed Elephant Cafe could've fooled passers-by into thinking it was actually First Friday.
Dozens of teenagers and twentysomethings, crowded in the cold of Bethel Street, peered through the cafe's large glass windows toward the promise of warm lighting and an even warmer cup of coffee within.
In rRed Elephant's cafe/gallery, urban artist Angry Woebot was putting the finishing touches on a fresh work while other young artists worked on selling their own completed pieces. Near the front windows, on what typically serves as a stage for hastily scheduled musicians, a stylist was midway through sculpting a fresh head of somewhat frustrated hair.
Down a hallway in an adjoining performance space/recording studio called "LIVE" at the rRed Elephant, local alternative hip-hop crew NoMasterbacks dropped freestyle on stage to a mellow crowd still filling the room.
The occasion was a multipromoter, multi-artist underground showcase called Big Bang Theory. But for venue owners Joey Wolpert and Paul Kreiling, fine-tuning everything behind the scenes, the event was also the first big bang of sorts for their ambitious combination of music-production company and self-proclaimed "sight, sound and coffee experience."
rRed Elephant was finally a reality.
AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT
A month and a half — and a half-dozen or so showcases of bluegrass, rockabilly, traditional Hawaiian, flamenco guitar and classical music — later, Kreiling and Wolpert sat down in the venue's 2,400-square-foot "LIVE" space for some perspective.
Gutting of the Bethel Street venue's interior began in February 2005, a month after the duo signed a lease for vacant spaces once home to an antiques store and the Honolulu headquarters of the Church of Scientology.
Wolpert's career background included work as a recording engineer and session guitarist in Los Angeles. Kreiling had written and arranged music for television and film in L.A. before returning to Hawai'i in March 2004 to launch a record label.
Later that year, Kreiling called Wolpert — with whom he'd partnered in the mid-'80s to open an L.A. recording studio — about launching a music-production company. Brainstorming a creative business model that might generate money quicker than a start-up production company, yet ultimately serve its long-term goals, the pair began discussing a coffee cafe/performance space.
"We wanted a place that would draw artist and audience alike," said Kreiling. "The feeling was that if we had such a magnet for music and entertainment here, we could start looking for the diamonds in the rough.
"The goal is ultimately to find artists to sign. ... Music is the focus. That's our background."
rRed Elephant offers two performance spaces with very different goals. One is a cafe/art gallery with a small stage and a half-dozen tables. The other, more ambitious, "LIVE" space has a large stage with custom lighting and sound, seating for 130 and doubles as a state-of-the-art digital recording studio.
rRed Elephant Cafe opened in October. "LIVE" accommodated its first show in January. Kreiling and Wolpert hope to begin working with artists for their own Elepani Productions label once audio recording equipment at "LIVE" is up and running next month. Studio rental will also be available to commercial clients. The partners hope to have full video production facilities and television broadcast capabilities in place by year's end.
"Another focus is to try and get our (live shows) on television and ... eventually take it globally like (PBS's) 'Austin City Limits,' except based in Hawai'i and featuring the tremendous amount of talent that is here," Kreiling said.
The name of that brand? "'LIVE' at the Red Elephant," of course.
Kreiling and Wolpert declined to reveal how much money they have invested in rRed Elephant, except to say it was "considerable." The description certainly seemed apt, judging from the sheer amount of recording and audio equipment awaiting installation, and gear already on display in "LIVE's" studio — all of it smelling deliciously new.
Given their substantial financial investment in the venue, it's also no surprise the owners have high expectations of artists interested in playing both sides of the Elephant.
"Not just in the quality of their music. But in terms of how they approach their careers," said Wolpert. "We're not a bar hiring bands for the purpose of driving drink sales here. ... This is about quality music presented in an intimate environment where people can literally reach out and touch the artists.
"We also want to help develop talent and see it evolve and grow to the point where it does get on (the 'LIVE') stage. That's what the small stage and open-mike nights are for."
On an actual First Friday last week, a trio of musicians from electro-jam band Swampa ZZ dug into a Metallica cover in the cafe, while the Hawaii International Jazz Festival folks presented Nathan Aweau, Bruddah Smitty, Brittni Paiva and Owana Salazar next door in "LIVE."
Cost to see Swampa: free. Cost to see the "LIVE" performers: $30, as set by jazz fest organizers.
rRed Elephant's cafe was already standing-room-only with First Friday patrons arriving for music, coffee and a couple of walls of jazz-themed paintings by local artist John Nichols, when patron Russell Dorsey generously offered me an empty seat at his table.
"That dude is (expletive) amazing!" said the Oregon native, marveling at Swampa xylophonist Abe Lagrimas, who was pounding out a wildly inventive solo. "Do these guys have a CD out?"
Not yet, Mr. Dorsey. But if you're planning a return visit, Kreiling told me he's hoping to sign the full Swampa ZZ lineup for "LIVE" in May.
Reach Derek Paiva at firstname.lastname@example.org.