KAPAA — Invented and popularized in Hawaii in the late-19th century, lap steel guitar continues to strike a note in the hearts of islanders.
The third annual Kauai Steel Guitar Festival is Friday and Saturday at the Courtyard Kauai at Coconut Beach, with a pre-festival jam session at Keoki’s Paradise in Poipu Thursday evening.
“There’s something about the sound of Hawaiian steel guitar that makes people think about Hawaii. Maybe it’s the crescendos, the slides, or even the vibrato, the melodies,” said Alan Akaka, performer and producer.
“The steel guitar has the heart and soul of Hawaii,” Akaka added.
The free public festival is presented by Hawaii Institute for Music Enrichment and Learning Experiences in association with the Ke Kula Mele Hawaii School of Hawaiian Music through grants and support from the Hawaii Tourism Authority’s Community Enrichment Program.
The program is also supported in part by the State Foundation on Culture and the Arts through appropriations from the Legislature of the State of Hawaii and by the National Endowment for the Arts.
“The steel guitar is an important part of Hawaiian music because of the role it played throughout Hawaiian music history in the 20th century,” said Akaka, chairman of the nonprofit HIMELE.
“The steel guitar was invented here in the islands back in the 1880s by a young boy about 11 years old,” said Akaka. “That steel guitar from Hawaii went around the world when young Joseph Kekuku relocated to the Mainland. At that time Hawaiian music started to explode.”
With aims to educate, promote and perpetuate the music, culture and spirit of Hawaii, the festival will include steel guitar workshops, jam sessions where guests can play along with performers, and open stage sessions for amateur and professional steel guitarists to present their music.
On Friday beginning at 6 p.m., Hawaii steel guitarists and ensembles will perform open stage sessions, while evening workshops will discuss topics and techniques with a questions-and-answers forum.
Saturday evening’s Ho’olaule’a pageant will feature Hawaiian steel guitar masters in a program of traditional and contemporary Hawaiian music and dance, with Lady Ipo Kahaunaele-Ferreira as emcee.
A steel guitar exhibit will be on display both days, showing various vintage models.
“Every year we do a kanikapila, where people can bring their instruments,” Akaka said. “Everyone’s welcome; it doesn’t matter if you’re a professional or not. We just jam.”
Following the evening programs, musicians are invited to bring their instruments and join a jam session with the masters. Festival performers include Hawaii steel guitar masters Bobby Ingano, Illinois’ Dave “DK” Kolars, Maui’s Geri Valdriz, Kauai’s Ed Punua, Kilipaki Vaughan, Greg Sardinha and Alexis Tolentino, in addition to Next Generation musicians, Tai Misailidis on U-bass, Joey Misailidis on steel guitar, and Malie Lyman on steel guitar.
“The iconic nahenahe (melodious) sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar is alive and well today,” said Vaughan of Kauai. “We honor those that have ‘glissed’ before us.” (Glissando is a glide from one pitch to another.)
“We look forward to those lovers of the steel that will share their melody with generations to come,” he added.
This festival will precede the annual Aloha Music Camp, as an extension of the Hawaiian Steel Guitar experience offered at the week-long immersion into music, dance and culture of Hawaii.
“Music is an important part for learning, but it’s also an important part of our culture in Hawaii,” Akaka said. “That’s woven into our fabric here in the islands. It’s so very important.”
In a departure from prior programs, the event will be held indoors to avoid any potential weather-related issues. Open stage sessions will be held on Friday; and Saturday’s Ho’olaule’a will held from noon to 6 p.m.
The pre-festival KIKA PILA jam session will be held at Keoki’s Paradise in Poipu Beach Thursday from 6 to 9 p.m.