Supporters urge council to retain funding for band
• Photo gallery: Royal Hawaiian Band shines in Waikiki
By Gordon Y.K. Pang
Advertiser Staff Writer
Supporters of the Royal Hawaiian Band are gearing up for a fight to save what's believed to be the second oldest marching band in the United States.
The Royal Hawaiian Band Music Society and Friends of the Royal Hawaiian Band, two nonprofits dedicated to supporting the band, have begun petitions urging City Council members to preserve the $1.9 million needed to run it next year.
Meanwhile, a Save the Royal Hawaiian Band Facebook page started by one band member has gained 2,400-plus followers in only five days of existence. The page asks supporters to print out and collect names for one of the petitions, and to call City Council members to support the band formed by King Kamehameha III in 1836.
The band averages 320 concerts a year and played at two events yesterday. It is one of the programs being considered for elimination by the City Council Budget Committee as it grapples with the likely loss of $20 million to $25 million in hotel room tax revenues by state lawmakers this legislative session.
Band supporters are also being urged to testify before the Budget Committee at its meeting on Monday, when various budget cuts are to be discussed.
Toni Lee, president of the Friends of the Royal Hawaiian Band, said it makes no sense to eliminate the band. "Nobody else represents the city like them," Lee said.
Lee said many people forget that the "royal" in the band's name has significance, and that the organization has a long and fabled history.
Getting rid of the band would be tantamount to tearing down 'Iolani Palace for a parking lot, she said.
"It's part of our host culture," she said. "This is a link to history."
The Facebook page boasts an array of local musicians showing support for the band, among them Jake Shimabukuro, Jeff Rasmussen, Danny Couch, Angela Morales, Jimmy Borges and Weldon Kekauoha.
"I'll do what I can to support you all," Kekauoha said.
But it wasn't just famous people signing on. Visitors to Hawai'i spoke of their affection for the band, while a number of Hawai'i residents cited the many school activities the band and its members take part in.
"The Royal Hawaiian Band fills a musical void in the public schools that do not have a music specialist," said Honolulu resident Elizabeth Kaneshiro. "This (the Band) is the only music that many will hear — I certainly hope that the city recognizes this, realizes that the band is a music ambassador to countless people ..."
Royal Hawaiian Band clarinet player Steven Agasa, who started the Facebook page, said 549 people signed up as fans within the first 24 hours, 1,221 within 48 hours.
"I'm just ecstatic about how many people are joining," Agasa said. "And the comments on the site have been very supportive. We, all the people, need to protect (the band). It's a living, historic organization."
Also impressed by the show of support was Councilman Nestor Garcia, the council's budget chairman who first raised the idea of eliminating the band next year.
Garcia said he checked out the Facebook page to see what support the band has.
Garcia said given the seriousness of the budget situations being faced by both the city and the state, he's not sure the mounting support for the band will be enough to save its funding.
"You have to respect the efforts that these people are mounting to save the band," Garcia said, noting that he's also received more than a dozen e-mails from supporters urging the council not to cut funding. "I guess we do have a return on investment on the Royal Hawaiian Band, even if it's emotional."