Slack Key Guitar Goes West

And so did the crowds.

The Ewa side (west side) folks got to host their first-ever slack key guitar festival. And in going with the theme of “Celebrating Ohana Together,” they had a jam sesh right in their own backyards.

(Left) Manuheali’i aloha shirts are everywhere! (Right) Slack key guitarist from Japan, Agnes Kimura, jams on stage. (Bottom) Brother Noland and friends having a good time.

In the middle of the newly-created Ewa park, the stage and shaded tents were practically cheek to cheek with surrounding backyards. I attended the festival when it was at its 30-year standing location at Kapiolani Park, where large trees shaded the entire area.

The Ewa park, however, is still far too new to offer that amenity and actually was too new to even show up on my phone’s GPS. But the park developers want this park “on the map,” so to speak. They have been working for over a year to bring this event here and committed to hosting a yearly festival. The commitment is complete to the extent that all venders must also be from the west side of the island, giving some variety to the retail offerings that I usually see around Waikiki.

I became a lover of Hawaiian music very quickly after moving here. However, it was the slack key sound that caught my attention because of its richness and catchy rhythm. When I attend these events, I loved that I already knew most of the songs, as had everyone else, judging by the applause and everyone singing to the familiar tunes.

Musicians graced the stage while attendees listened and shopped. Check out the ukuleles!

Although it’s a bi-annual event, it is never the same exact show. For this particular event, 15 gifted groups came together, each with a special interpretation of music. This was also the first time I heard a woman play slack key guitar. Agnes Kimura is a very well-known Japanese player, who traveled here to participate in the concert. She played a softer style and sang beautifully in Hawaiian.

Hawaii performer Brother Noland called on several other performers to join him on stage. They talked about the heritage of their art, which is a fairly recent one. The elders in this craft are first and second generation and have taken on the responsibility of teaching the younger musicians, passing on the styles and variations of each island lineage.

It seemed to me that the performers were enjoying this get-together as much as the audience, as it was a time of coming together and putting their music in sync with one another.

Posted by: Bruce Fisher