Island Music Other places on Oahu to catch island music
• Photo gallery: Island music
By Catherine E. Toth
Special to The Advertiser
There's something about listening to live Hawaiian music on a Sunday afternoon on the beach in Waikíkí.
It's magical, in a way, how the laid-back, slack-key rhythms mingling with the beckoning smell of ocean and sunscreen can make you feel like you're a tourist in your own backyard.
That's exactly how I felt last weekend when I spent the afternoon sipping black tea and eating to-die-for scones on the veranda of the Moana Surfrider, listening to the relaxing sounds of the Ha'a Trio, one of several Island bands that play regularly at the hotel.
Like the Moana Surfrider, many hotels and restaurants around the island have long showcased traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music, partly to create an island-style ambiance and partly to supply the demand for those familiar melodies.
"One of the best things about living in Hawai'i is discovering all the great places to listen to live local music," said Nathan Kawakami, the "N" in Manoa DNA, which plays weekly at Lulu's Waikiki and the Kani Ka Pila Grille. "Because of our mix plate of cultural backgrounds, you can listen to all types of music and find something that you like."
Here are some venues to get your live Hawaiian music fix, whether it be traditional, contemporary or Island reggae:
Never has Darjeeling tea and tomato-basil soup tasted so good.
For as long as The Veranda at the Moana Surfrider in Waikíkí has served afternoon tea ($32.50 per person), there has been live Hawaiian music under the hotel's iconic banyan tree.
In fact, the First Lady of Waikíkí is long known for its live music, dating back more than 40 years when the "Hawaii Calls" radio show was broadcast live from the hotel's courtyard. This program, which ran from 1935 to 1975, featured live Hawaiian music and made many of them, including Alfred Apaka, Haunani Kahalewai and Boyce Rodrigues, household names.
Today, musicians such as the Kelly Boy DeLima Ohana, Nohelani Cypriano, the Ka'ala Boys, Johnny Kamai and the Sam Kapu III Trio perform regularly at the Moana.
The musical lineup is part of the Starwood Hotel & Resort's campaign that celebrates entertainers and sounds of the island. There's live music every evening at the hotel, and in the afternoons on Saturdays and Sundays.
Moana Surfrider, a Westin Resort & Spa, 2365 Kalakaua Ave., 922-3111, www.moana-surfrider.com
KANI KA PILA GRILLE, OUTRIGGER REEF ON THE BEACH
Open since March 2009, Kani Ka Pila Grille, located next to the pool in the recently upgraded Outrigger Reef on the Beach, brings back memories of backyard jams at your cousin's baby lu'au.
Well, except that you're sitting under umbrellas listening to the sounds of such notable artists as Grammy Award-winning slack-key master Cyril Pahinui, Brother Noland, Sean Na'auao and Manoa DNA.
"The concept behind the Kani Ka Pila Grille was not just to provide a venue with great music, but to give real Hawaiian music a place it could call home," said Luana Maitland, the restaurant's host and overall ambassador of aloha. "In our homes and at our family parties, it's not unusual for someone to pick up an 'ukulele or guitar and begin playing, and maybe someone else will get up and start dancing a hula. That's the spirit people find here."
Kani Ka Pila Grille, 2169 Kalia Road, 924-4990, www.outriggerreef.com
MAI TAI BAR,ALA MOANA CENTER
If you've had a rough day at work — missed deadlines, repeated paper jams in the copier — then you can join the hundreds of people who make the Mai Tai Bar at Ala Moana Center their pau hana haven.
Its open-air lanai atmosphere is perfect for relaxing with a beer and, of course, listening to live music, played twice a day.
While most of the artists who play at the Mai Tai Bar are pegged as local contemporary — think Hot Rain instead of Kapena — there are a few Hawaiian and Hawaiian-style bands that usher in the sunset here, according to cocktail manager Merielle Tomas.
Mai Tai features an award-winning happy hour — called Hang Ten — from 4 to 7 p.m. daily, with drink specials and discounts on pupu favorites like the chicken chinois (crispy chicken tenders with a zesty huli huli sauce) and the house special calamari (fried calamari rings with pepperoncinis and roasted red peppers). Drink specials continue to 11 p.m.
Mai Tai Bar, 1450 Ala Moana Blvd., third floor, 947-2900, www.maitaibar.com
HOUSE WITHOUT A KEY, HALEKULANI HOTEL
Imagine unwinding with a fruity martini and a plate of coconut shrimp at the posh Halekulani Hotel.
The only way that gets better is with live Hawaiian music. And you get all three at House Without a Key, the hotel's popular gathering spot fronting the ocean.
Live entertainment by Pa'ahana, Po'okelo and the Sunset Serenaders takes place nightly under the century-old kiawe tree. And two former Miss Hawaiis — Kanoe Miller and Debbie Nakanelua — complement the music with their hula.
And so does the menu, which features small and large plates for dinner. Popular picks include the lobster salad roll ($14), 'ahi poke sliders ($18) and Maui onion soup ($9). Don't forgo dessert: The hotel boasts a signature coconut cake, kabocha cheesecake and a matcha tea and vanilla panna cotta, each for $8.
"Halekulani is more than a hotel; it is an icon of hospitality committed to preserving a living legacy of history, culture and the arts, one of which is the tradition of Hawaiian song and dance at House Without a Key," said Erika Kauffman, hotel spokesperson. "It's a time-honored tradition of hula and mele celebrated in what is considered the gathering place on the beach of Waikíkí."
House Without a Key, 2199 Kalia Road, 923-2311, www.halekulani.com
KONA BREWING CO., KOKO MARINA SHOPPING CENTER
When Kona Brewing Co. decided to open its second brewpub in Hawai'i Kai in 2003, it made sure to include live music.
The 7,000-square-foot restaurant doesn't dedicate a huge space to its live music — just a small area in the bar — but the Hawaiian music lineup, including Kolohe and slack-key guitarist Ledward Ka'apana, draws regulars every week. Sometimes it's standing room only.
The draw, though, will always be the craft beer. And like its counterpart in Kailua, Kona, this brewpub boasts a dozen handcrafted beers on tap at any time, ranging from the very light Duke's Blonde Ale to the super-dark Pipeline Porter made with 100 percent Kona coffee.
"Our brewpubs give guests a chance to try all of our beers, fresh from the tap," said Kona Brewing Co. spokesperson Wendy Tucciarone. "We are fundamentally a brewery that serves great food, not a restaurant that serves great beer."
Kona Brewing Co., 7192 Kalaniana'ole Highway, 394-5662, www.konabrewingco.com
THE ROYAL GROVE, ROYAL HAWAIIAN CENTER
One Friday night not long ago, a crowd gathered around the grove at the recently renovated Royal Hawaiian Center, their backs facing the bustling Kalakaua Avenue and their attention acutely focused on a group of musicians clad in bright aloha wear.
Self-taught musician and Na Hoku Hanohano winner Ku'uipo Kumukahi lit up the already bright shopping complex with her sweet voice and feel-good songs such as "Ku'u Sweetie" and "Waikiki Hula." And everyone in the crowd at The Royal Grove that night, from kids in strollers to couples en route to dinner, was captivated.
Best of all, the live music here is free. Completely. You don't have to pay a cover charge or buy an overpriced piece of pie.
"We have a nice array of entertainment here," said marketing director Helene "Sam" Shenkus. "We have a beautiful venue (in the Royal Grove) with the coconut trees and the statue of Princess Pauahi. It's really designed to be a gathering place for Waikíkí. It's so much more inviting and welcoming."
The shopping center completed a $115 million facelift in June 2008, creating a more garden-style open space — such as The Royal Grove. The Hawaiian-inspired designs and a new culture-infused schedule of activities and music at the shopping center — crafted by cultural director and kumu hula Manu Boyd — was specifically created to give visitors a more authentic cultural experience and (hopefully) lure residents back to Waikíkí.
The Royal Grove, 2201 Kalakaua Ave., 922-2299, www.royalhawaiiancenter.com
TIKI'S GRILL & BAR, ASTON WAIKIKI BEACH HOTEL
Just walking down Kalakaua Avenue at night, you'll hear Hawaiian music.
And there's a good chance that music is coming from Tiki's Grill & Bar, located in the lanai area on the second floor of the Aston Waikiki Beach Hotel. (Just look for the lit torches.)
Local favorites such as Vaihi, the Ka'ala Boys and Kunoa play regularly in this kitschy restaurant, perfect for taking your college roommate who's visiting Hawai'i for the first time. (There's music every night.)
While you're there, try Tiki's famous coconut shrimp ($13), a plate of jumbo shrimp rolled in crisped coconut and served with a sweet chili sauce and Asian slaw; the Kona lobster firecracker roll ($15), with a spice Thai mixture rolled into a sushi roll with cucumber and avocado; or the guava-glazed baby back ribs ($26) served with crispy french fries. These pair well with the live music.
Tiki's Grill & Bar, 2570 Kalakaua Ave., 923-TIKI, www.tikisgrill.com
DUKE'S WAIKIKI, OUTRIGGER WAIKIKI ON THE BEACH
Even though Duke's Waikiki only features live Hawaiian music on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays, its lineup is worth venturing into Waikíkí on the weekend.
But it's not easy finding an open table on, say, a Sunday afternoon, when the legendary Henry Kapono is performing against the backdrop of Waikíkí Beach. Even Friday during pau hana, when Maunalua takes the stage, Duke's is packed with patrons chowing on Baja fish tacos ($9.95) or sipping a "Dig Me" daiquiri ($7.50), made with liliko'i juice, strawberries, lemon and lime juices with rum.
And if the live music wasn't enough of a draw, Kimo's Original Hula Pie ($6.95) should be.
Billed as "what the sailors swam to shore for in Lahaina," this dessert is easily one of the most popular items on Duke's menu. It's made with macadamia nut ice cream piled high on a chocolate cookie crust and topped with chocolate fudge, whipped cream and more macadamia nuts.
Duke's Waikiki, 2335 Kalakaua Ave., 922-2268, www.dukeswaikiki.com
ALOHA TOWER MARKETPLACE
Gordon Biersch and Don Ho's Island Grill both offer great waterfront views and outdoor seating, where you can listen to live music and watch cruise ships come in.
Long known as a great pau hana venue with its microbrews and garlic fries, Gordon Biersch features a range of live Island music. Kapena often performs on Fridays, while Guy Cruz plays Thursdays. Other island artists, including Imua, take the stage on Saturdays.
Don Ho's, meanwhile, features Alika Souza on Saturdays, and Na Hoku winner Mihana Souza sings contemporary and traditional Hawaiian music on Friday nights.