LIHUE — The Hawaiian Slack-Key Guitar Festival is returning to Kauai this weekend.
Beginning at noon today at the Kauai Marriott Resort &Beach Club, slack-key guitarists from Kauai and Oahu will perform “for six straight hours,” according to concert organizer Milton Lau, who said this year’s festival will be dedicated to slack-key guitar master Cyril Pahinui, who died last Saturday at age 68.
Pahinui helped start the festival 36 years ago on Oahu as a tribute to his father, legendary slack-key guitarist Gabby “Pops” Pahinui.
What began as a one-time concert has grown in popularity and is now performed annually on islands across the state. Lau said today’s concert is the last leg of a year-long concert tour that included stops on the mainland.
Tickets are available at the door for $10 and freebies will be given away throughout the day, including artists’ CDs, T-shirts and a guitar.
Proceeds benefit the Ki Ho‘alu Foundation, a nonprofit whose mission is to promote, preserve, and perpetuate the 188-year-old indigenous guitar art form.
Some of Kauai’s foremost artists in the genre will perform, including three-time Grammy-nominee Paul Togioka, Cindy Combs, Pancho Graham, Malani Bilyeu, Bill Keale, Michael Keale and Kimo West.
“We’re celebrating 26 years on the Garden Island,” Lau said. “It’s awesome.”
But this year’s event will carry a sad note, coming just over a week after Pahinui’s death, who Lau described matter-of-factly as “a legend.”
Pahuini began playing music “from the time I could hold an ukulele,” and learned his techniques simply by listening and watching his father and other musicians, according to an autobiography he wrote for his website.
“That was the style in the old days,” Pahuini wrote. “If you really wanted to learn, you had to listen. Once I began to learn, I would get up at 4 in the morning and make my dad breakfast so that he would spend time with me before leaving for his job — just me, one-on-one with my dad.
“When he had shared something new, he would expect me to practice, and the next time I played, I could tell he was listening to see if I had mastered it. Then he would share something else.”
Pahuini learned to play slack key at age 7, performed on stage for the first time when he was just 12, and recorded his first album in 1968 at age 18.
After a stint in the military, which included a tour in Vietnam, Pahuini returned to Oahu to continue playing with his father and other Hawaiian artists, eventually forming groups of his own and developing into a prolific musician.
Lau said Pahuini had been hospitalized for the last three years, suffering from respiratory health problems caused by Agent Orange exposure from his time spent serving in the Vietnam War.
“This festival is dedicated to him,” Lau said.
Caleb Loehrer, staff writer, can be reached at 245-0441 or firstname.lastname@example.org.