The Barefoot Natives, also known as Willie K and Eric Gilliom of Maui, were in stark contrast to the children of Ke Kula Ni‘ihau O Kekaha, although they shared the same Kaua‘i Community College Performing Arts Center stage for the same cause.
The cause was a fund-raiser for the Garden Island Arts Council’s E Kanikapila Kakou Hawaiian-music education and entertainment series.
But while The Barefoot Natives were a rowdy bunch on stage, the Native Hawaiian children from the Westside were much more subdued, spectators said.
The children of Ke Kula Ni’ihau ‘O Kekaha opened the concert. Hula sister Leilani Kaleiohi greeted kumu Lopaka Bukoski with a welcome oli and lei.
Chattering with nervousness, the students shared their oli and kahiko hula numbers with the appreciative audience and their supportive ‘ohana, who had turned out in full force, according to Carol Kouchi Yotsuda, executive director of the Garden Island Arts Council.
Needless to say, Willie K and Eric Gilliom began their program with high energy, and swept the audience off their feet with their fast-paced, upward-escalating program of Hawaiian, contemporary, comedy, improvisation, and playing off the audience.
“I can recall a heady swirl of Hawaiian favorites, karaoke with Patsy Cline, Japanese, tear-jerking Irish ‘Oh Danny Boy,’ a love song from Eric to his wife, funny stories, and guitar strumming that had everyone on their feet,” Yotsuda said.
“It’s hard to believe it was just two musicians with their acoustic guitars, because it felt like we took a journey around the world and back in time.”
Willie K lauded Gilliom’s exceptional musical talent and his extensive theatrical background, and prodded “the drama queen” to show off his Shakespearean repertoire.
Not one to turn his back on a challenge, however unexpected, Gilliom launched into an emotion-charged passage from “Romeo and Juliet.”
Willie’s response to that was, “All that talking just to ask for a date?” and contrasted it to the local-style approach of “Eh, tita, like go out?”
“Not knowing that they were geared to one long set in a performance, I called for an intermission when it was time for ‘hana hou,’ and they gracefully agreed to come back to a second short set, so we ended up with a concert plus bonus,” Yotsuda said.
Willie K talked about his plans for future recordings, and sang examples of gospel, opera and blues, as the audience hung on to each note.
The audience was persistent to not leave without a “hana hou,” and stood clapping long and hard until Gilliom and Willie K finally came out and launched into a crowd-pleasing “Kachi-Kachi Music Makawao.”
“I could see the entire line of Ni‘ihau kids dancing away in the top row,” Yotsuda said.
Monday night at E Kanikapila Kakou at Island School, supposedly a quiet little sing-along, turned into yet another standing-room-only concert with Willie K. and Gilliom.
Folks were there two hours early to save their seats with their sweaters, and the crowd kept growing and growing all evening long, she said.
For the first hour, Gilliom shared his expertise, sitting out on the grass with the guitarists, while Willie K took on the lion’s share of ‘ukulele aficionados inside the main hall.
In less than an hour, Willie K had the entire ‘ukulele gang playing in parts, and even included the early birds with no instruments to do their part with clapping.
“And like a maestro with a baton, he had everyone come in together, and it was like a little instant orchestra,” Yotsuda continued.
Once all the visitors, including a whole contingent from British Columbia, Canada and others from snow country, and other loyal “snowbirds,” were properly leid by Fran Nestel and other volunteer greeters, the music began.
Willie K said his aunty requested opera, so he launched into an aria, to much “shock and awe” on everyone’s faces, Yotsuda said.
It was yet another evening of a fast-paced, kaleidoscope of amazing guitar-playing, singing every kind of song, while the audience bounced, swayed, and sang along, she recalled.
One audience request for a Marley song in honor of Bob Marley’s birthday elicited some unrepeatable remarks from Willie K and Gilliom, but, surprisingly, Willie K launched into a Marley favorite in its entirety.
After intermission, they invited composer and singer Madeleine Brandli, who they met at the Kauai Music Festival last year, to come up and share her song.
She thrilled the audience with her wonderful “Anahola Koa,” while accompanying herself on her baritone ‘ukulele for which the song was named.
Willie invited his beloved caretaker, Arde Yamashita, who he had last sung with about 35 years ago when he was a youthful 11 year old, to come up and sing a song.
Although she had not sung for years and years, her full, rich voice singing “Sanoe” brought back wonderful small-kid memories to Willie K.
“He was very definitely moved by her sharing. It was a chicken-skin experience for all,” she said.
Willie K shared the kind of music fare at the lu‘au for visitors, and then launched into the kind of music his family members sang when they brought new friends home to their backyard.
When he sang “Hula Makee,” Karuna Thal had to jump on the stage, sweep away the wires, and launch into a crowd-pleasing hula.
Too soon, the “up close and personal” evening ended, with everyone on their feet singing, clapping and boogying to “Kachi Kachi Music Makawao.”
Tomorrow, members of the Kinimaka ‘ohana take the Island School stage, beginning as usual with instruction at 6 p.m.
Kapu Kinimaka-Alquiza and some members of her double-family of 13 siblings, and friends, will be on hand to share their music and their mana‘o.
Yotsuda concluded by sending mahalo to leaders of the Hawaii Tourism Authority and the County of Kaua‘i for helping officials with the Garden Island Arts Council “bring arts to the people and people to the arts,” and to leaders at Island School for providing the space.