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Posts Tagged ‘Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival’

There are two tantalizing stories in the airline magazine on the plane to Maui that grab me: one about the newly emerging bluegrass scene, the other a write-up announcing the annual Hawaiian Steel Guitar Festival. Oh boy, what lucky timing. During my stay on the island, I can hear a celebration of music created on the Hawaiian steel guitar–featuring Henry Kaleialoha Allen, one of the kings of the genre–and some bluegrass jamming on the beach. It doesn’t get better than that.

The festival is being held at the Ka’anapali Beach Hotel, known as “Hawaii’s most Hawaiian hotel,” committed to maintaining a genuine Hawaiian cultural experience. The hotel made National Geographic‘s list of 150 truly authentic and sustainable resorts. I walk from the place I’m staying and find myself in a soft universe with one big pool–shaped like a whale–and acres of green lawn dotted with grass umbrellas and lawn chairs. People are making leis out of flowers and seed pods, local folks are tuning up instruments and drinking beer at the Tiki bar. Steel guitars, metal-bodied Resonators for playing rock and roll and the blues, even ukuleles are for sale. As well as some types of guitars I’ve never seen before.

It isn’t a big stretch from the lap slide steel, dobro and pedal steel guitars, associated with country music and bluegrass, to Hawaiian music and vice versa. Playing a guitar laid flat and using a bar to slide up and down the strings has been done on the islands for a very long time; the first musicians probably used whatever they could get their hands on to slide up and down the neck of the guitar–a hollow or solid metal bar, a metal tube, a knife edge–hence the name “steel” guitar. It makes the distinctive fluid tones that many love and drive others crazy.

The formal lineup for the festival starts late: the major is here, other dignitaries too, and they want to talk about all the things dignitaries like to yak about. But there is no stopping the jamming all around the edges. And to my surprise, when the musicians come on, they are more jazz than Don Ho, more Yoshi’s than Blue Hawaii. This is Hawaiian Fusion–a little Appalachia, a little Aloha. And the crowd is about as mellow and welcoming as you would expect on a warm, sweet night with the fragrance of plumeria, tuberose, and orchids in the air.

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