Many 'Masters' define album
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By Derek Paiva
Advertiser Entertainment Writer
By Derek Paiva
Pretty much every Wednesday evening, you'll find writer Paul Konwiser and ki ho'alu master George Kahumoku Jr. at a "Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar" concert at The Ritz-Carlton Kapalua.
Kahumoku is the one jovially hosting, welcoming his many ki ho'alu buddies on stage and occasionally sitting in. Konwiser is the one standing alone sidestage, quietly soaking it all in with a smile.
"Our mission was to provide a gig for these wonderful artists that paid them the kind of money that they would only get on the Mainland," said Konwiser, who helped co-found the series in September 2003.
Producers Konwiser, Daniel Ho and Wayne Wong will take home Grammys if "Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar, Vol. 1," a compilation of live concert series recordings, wins as best Hawaiian music album on Wednesday. But the golden gramophones will really belong to even more.
Musicians who perform on the album include Kahumoku and son Keoki Kahumoku, Ho, Ozzie Kotani, Cyril Pahinui and Ledward Ka'apana (who is also nominated for a solo disc this year).
Ki ho'alu fans Konwiser and Wong financed the series' launch. Kahumoku agreed to return home to Maui to host and play the series, after two years playing lucrative Mainland slack-key gigs. Ho listened to hundreds of live "Masters" recordings to find the CD's 12 tracks and joined the trio in putting up the cash to press it.
Konwiser first thought of putting on "Masters" concerts while accompanying Kahumoku on a 1998 tour and compiling a book of the guitarist's life stories. In the interim, though, Konwiser joined Kahumoku as manager for several slack-key tours sponsored by new-age pianist George Winston's boutique record label Dancing Cat.
"We'd do these coast-to-coast tours, playing in theatres in front of 2,000 people who came just to hear Hawaiian music," Konwiser said. "And when I would see (Kahumoku) at home on Maui, he'd be playing the Westin's seafood buffet, sitting in a corner, while people walked back and forth with their crab legs."
Konwiser vowed to change things.
"He couldn't understand why we couldn't do what we did on the Mainland here on Maui, and tried to start this thing way back in 2001," said Kahumoku, who moved to Santa Cruz, Calif., for a time. "I told him that I would come home if he started it. He really pounded the pavement and was persistent. He tried all the hotels."
Several turned him down, but Konwiser struck gold with the Ritz-Carlton Kapalua, which had an intimate, barely-used 120-seat theater on its grounds. Among the artists recruited for the concert series: Ka'apana, Kotani, Pahinui and Dennis Kamakahi, who had been part of the Dancing Cat tours.
The gamble paid off. Two years later, the series attracts enough of an audience each week — primarily visitors Konwiser affectionately calls "slackheads" — to fill two Wednesday-night shows January through March, and a single show the rest of the year.
The CD was born out of audience demand for a souvenir of the show. Post-show sales of the "Masters" CD have been through the roof since its release last summer.
"It's unbelievable. Sometimes we'll get 100 people at the show and sell 100 CDs," said Kahumoku. "The CD sales have been the thing that's been keeping the show afloat, as well."
Producers, musicians and songwriters all get a share of its profits.
"Now everybody wants to be on the next one," said Kahumoku, laughing. "And since the Grammy nomination, it's like, 'Where do we sign?' "
Reach Derek Paiva at email@example.com.