There are moments that stay with you, that make you feel fortunate and blessed to have witnessed something special.
The day I saw Palani Vaughan perform at Prince Kuhio Park was one of those moments. At the time, it was beautiful to watch. A year and half later, when I think about it, it is a moment to cherish.
Vaughan, a Hoku Award-winning singer whose musical career is legendary, died Dec. 8 at age 72. A celebration of his life was held Friday at Kaumakapili Church.
He was a man known for his love and devotion to his children and his grandchildren, and that passion for life and love shined through when Vaughan was the guest performer before the Royal Hawaiian Band on June 20, 2015. I had heard of him, then, but this was the first time my wife and I had seen him on stage. “Mesmerizing” is a word that came to mind as we watched and listened. All eyes were drawn to this guy with the sideburns that really never ended. Each song was magic. And when he took time to talk story between songs, there was no audience chatter. People hung on this man’s words.
But here is what stays with me to this day, from that concert.
At one point, during a song Palani wrote titled “Ka Mamakakaua,” a man unexpectedly walked quickly toward the stage and put on a crowd-pleasing hula. He was outstanding. A big smile on his face, his arms and legs and hips all moved in unison with Palani’s music. I watched, entranced. I had no idea who this hula man was.
When the song ended, the man finished his hula, turned and exchanged a strong hug with Palani. Ah. Then, I knew. This must be his son, Kilipaki, a Kauai firefighter who was recently promoted to deputy chief. A proud Palani had earlier pointed out his son standing in the back to the audience, but I couldn’t see who he pointed to.
It was an emotional moment between father and son that was simply beautiful. It was, I wrote in an article published the next day for TGI, “an impromptu performance that delighted the audience.”
“He picked up that I wanted him to come up,” Palani told me later in an interview. “He’s a good kid.”
There was more magic to come.
Next, Piko Vaughan, Kilipaki’s son, stood next to his grandfather as they sang “Hi‘ilawe,” while Mehana Vaughan, Kilipaki’s wife, danced. The crowd cheered and clapped and at one point, Palani wiped away tears. When the song ended, Palani and Piko hugged, too.
Later, Palani was filled with pride as he talked about his grandson. It was another impromptu performance to a song 6-year-old Piko had learned on his own.
“I didn’t know if he would get onstage in front of so many people, and he did it,” Palani said, grinning.
Kilipaki later said watching his son and father sing together was wonderful, and especially poignant on the day before Father’s Day.
“I was most proud of my son singing with him. As a father, that’s a huge moment,” he said. “That was a proud moment for me.”
Kilipaki told me that taking the stage on short notice comes with the territory when you’re the son of an entertainer. He wanted to be there for his dad, so didn’t hesitate when the elder Vaughan indicated he wanted his son to join him.
“Support each other,” Kilipaki said. “That’s what you do.”
Ironically, Palani was supposed to be the warmup act before the Royal Hawaiian Band took the stage. I thought he stole the show. What stuck with me from that moment was the love between father and son, between a grandfather and a grandson. Ohana at its very finest. This is what family is about.
Palani lived in Honolulu at the time. He and Kilipaki didn’t get to see each other that often. Palani later told me his performance was about music, but it was also very much a chance to be with those he loves.
“I haven’t seen him in a long time,” Palani after the concert. “We get really short moments together.”
Sometimes, like that day, those moments are unforgettable.
Bill Buley is editor of The Garden Island. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org