40 years of top-notch tunes

The Kauai Concert Association recently announced its lineup for the 2013/14 concert season. This week, The Garden Island chats with Jason Blake, KCA’s new president, about KCA’s history, the upcoming season and his personal tastes in music.

For more information about the upcoming season, visit www.kauai-concert.org, or call 245-SING.

First, please tell our readers about the history of the Kauai Concert Association, which is preparing to celebrate its 40th anniversary in 2014.

Blake: KCA started in 1974, hosting only 2-3 concerts per year. This is really when no outside music came to the island. KCA started with supporters of classical music who wanted to cultivate it here and eventually branched out to include other disciplines like jazz, dance and even pop. The organization has ridden many highs and lows over the years. There was a period of stability for many years and then the economic meltdown, starting in 2008, nearly flattened the audience. By this time, there was also a huge amount of competition for audience and some type of fundraiser or music event featured on the island nearly every night of the year. So, the challenge became, “Do we gracefully dismantle the organization or do we reinvigorate the organization in a more vibrant way?” After discussion, we realized there would be a hole in the fabric of the arts on the island, as no other organization had consistently hosted such world-class talent. So, we put our big boy (and girl) pants on and decided to make KCA a bigger success than it had ever been before.

How would you, both as KCA’s president and a music enthusiast, describe the upcoming 2013/14 concert season?

Blake: I think the concert season coming up is the highest-quality and most approachable season we’ve had in years. It’s easy to say, “There’s something for everyone,” even when there really isn’t something for everyone. This time, there is something for everyone, with the potential exception of country music and hip hop aficionados, and I would dare those people to come to our season and not enjoy it. This season we have:

• Sept. 15 — Classical piano with Soyeon Lee and Ran Dank. But it is not boring classical piano. It is the 1st and 2nd place winners of the Naumburg piano competition playing a four-hand concert, and now they are engaged. Does it get cooler than that?

• Oct. 13 — Charmaine Clamor, a rising Filipina jazz star, who will sing Filipino folk songs and her special blend called “Jazzipino.” This is a joint fundraiser with the Filipino Cultural Center on Kauai.

• Oct. 27 — Nneena Freelon, a world-renowned jazz vocalist and composer who has been Grammy-nominated six times. And she’s gorgeous!

• Jan. 5 — The Berklee College of Music concert that always kicks off a crowd-pleasing New Year, and it creates music scholarships for Kauai students.

• Feb. 8 and 9 — The Nylons for two nights. This is a joint fundraiser with the Kauai Humane Society. The Nylons will sing their amazing four-part a cappella harmonies and hits, along with many baby-boomer pleasers like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” We expect these shows to sell out.

• March 9 — Brasil Guitar Duo, who will please our guitar lovers and players on the island, and there are many. They will play both classical and Latin guitar.

• April 13 — We’ll end our season with Hawaii’s own world-famous Galliard String Quartet and friends. They will present a six-string concert. It’s been years since we could book — or afford — them! (That’s how well they do and big they are). They are beloved on the Mainland and on Oahu. Why shouldn’t Kauai enjoy this, too?

We’re also discounting our season tickets more than ever. If one averages it out, the shows come out to $25 per show. All of these performers, if booked through a private promoter, would cost $40 to $100 per ticket anywhere else, usually in much lesser venues. It’s a killer season.

Does this lineup stand out in your mind compared to past years?

Blake: This lineup is more well-rounded in its scope and more approachable in its material than the last few years. And to put it bluntly, this year, we’ll have no weak links. Last year we had a great lineup but the scheduling was off — too many shows too fast. It taxed our board, our audience and our volunteers. This year, the lineup is perfectly-spaced — about a concert a month during our season, with no bottlenecks of time — something to look forward to every month!

Which performance’s are you personally looking forward to?

Blake: I’m looking forward to all, and that’s not a political statement. I’ve found the last couple of years that I’ve really enjoyed most of the concerts that were beyond the scope of what I thought I’d enjoy, so it has really helped with my personal appreciation of different styles.

How did you first get involved with KCA, and how long have you served as president?

Blake: Jim Bray recruited me two years ago. It feels overwhelming to be the new president. There’s a lot of good but it’s overwhelming today.

How does the KCA board go about choosing bands and organizing a schedule each year?

Blake: We partner with Performing Arts Presenters of Hawaii to try and get “deals” on multi-island tours of artists we couldn’t afford on our own. We partner with private promoters, like Tom Moffatt on Hawaii. We reach out to who we are interested in and brainstorm our own ideas. We hash it out for a few months and somehow a season “gels.”

What have been some of your favorite performances to date?

Blake: Chanticleer, The Doric String Quartet, Haochen Zhang and El Mundo.

What do you love most about music?

Blake: I love that music is so uniquely human. I heard a psychic channel say once — and who knows if it’s true or not — that there were aliens who were much more highly intelligent than humans, but that were jealous of our musicality because they didn’t have that as part of their makeup. True or not, it stuck with me. As humans, music is in our soul. It can move us all over the emotional spectrum and connect and elevate us at the same time.

Do you have a favorite group or genre?

Blake: I’m a pop geek and KCA is exposing me to more musicianship and artistry. I love all things showtunes, George Michael, Eminem and Beethoven. Go figure!

I noticed that there are only seven concerts this year, compared to eight last year. Is there any specific reason for that?

Blake: We crammed too many concerts together too fast for us last year. It was too much too fast for us and our audience, and at least one show was not up to the standards we want to put forward. Let’s say we became more discerning.

What changes or improvements, if any, would you like to see at KCA?

Blake: I’d have a larger, working board of directors, who is not afraid to put in man hours and do the busy work. And I’d have the people with deep pockets recognize how valuable and costly what we do is and write bigger checks to support this mission on Kauai so we can keep moving the ball down the field.

What is one thing most people don’t know about KCA that you think they should?

Blake: I think people don’t know that we are 100 percent volunteer-run and we do a huge amount of educational services in Hawaii schools free of charge in an era where music education in the schools is dying on many levels.

When not putting together a solid musical lineup for Kauai residents and visitors, how do you like to spend your time?

Blake: Time? What is time? I’m in a committed relationship, and we have two wonderful, needy dogs. I work full time as an insurance agent.

I am producing Miss Saigon. I produce three Kauai Sings for Malama Pono every year and I’m the new president of KCA. Oh, yes … and I take two online college courses per semester. I don’t have time, really. I read a little as I fall asleep and love novels. I enjoy liberal talk radio when driving on the road. I moved to Kauai to check out and live the eternal vacation lifestyle. That didn’t really work. Instead, Kauai put me to work.

And I love life more than I have in a long time, though it is different than I imagined. I’m grateful just to live here with my family.

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