Some fans wore aloha shirts under their parkas and heavy jackets. A couple of women in the front row came with flowers in their hair. For the occasion I chose a sleeveless Hawaiian print dress layered with a sweater and wool coat, and around my neck the rainbow-colored ribbon lei my friend Pat made for me when I visited her in Honolulu a couple of years ago.
I eavesdropped to pass the time while we waited for the concert to begin and overheard folks talking about their personal experiences of Hawaii. A woman sitting behind us lived there as a child; a couple across the aisle gushed about their recent — and first — trip there. Others recalled how many times they’ve been, and inevitably had to choose what island they liked the best. Everyone had their favorite and their own reason why.
I get a little sentimental when I hear Hawaiian music. I landed in Honolulu the first time on a January evening exactly 39 years ago. I didn’t know a soul there, but had made arrangements to move in with some University of Hawaii students who needed a roommate. My mother, in her infinite wisdom, insisted I make reservations at a Waikiki hotel for my first night, worried that I might arrive late and not find my new digs in the dark.
Eighteen months after I graduated from USF with a degree in English, I decided to start graduate school. I chose Hawaii because I was interested in learning more about Japanese culture and language in hopes of eventually teaching English in Japan. And, to be honest, after five years in San Francisco, I wanted a change of climate.
My modest motel on the west end of Waikiki was next door to a busy restaurant and bar called Pieces of Eight. They had live music and all-you-can-eat fish ’n’ chips for $2.99. I had my first meal in Hawaii there and my first taste of local music.
When you say Hawaiian music some people think Don Ho — a stereotype who drew standing-room-only crowds to his nightclub show every night. But it didn’t take long for me to figure out the difference between Don Ho’s music and what was being performed in hundreds of venues across the islands — from bars to restaurants to bandstands in the park. These were not commercial “Elvis goes Hawaiian” songs, but tributes to the heritage, history and nature of Hawaii. Since Hawaiians have no written history, music and dance is what keeps the ancestral stories alive.
Keola Beamer, who came from a long line of Hawaiian musicians, began his recording career in 1972 and performed with his brother Kapono in the early ’70s when I first saw him. His hair is white now, but he has the same twinkle in his eye and open, loving heart that comes across when he walks on the stage.
There are so many reasons why I like living here. And last Friday, a cold January night, in our remote region bordered by turbulent ocean, giant trees and cavernous canyons, I was overcome with gratitude. We are so fortunate to have organizations like DNACA and the good folks who support them — the generous donors who make it possible to bring legends like Keola and Moanalani Beamer to us.
To be given the gift of an evening with the Beamers right here in Crescent City was more than I ever expected from Del Norte. From where I sat, I could feel gentle trade winds blowing and the glow of a tropical moonlight shining down on me and the rest of the Del Norte ohana (family) there. Mahalo to everyone who made the magic possible.