HILO — A beautiful Easter Sunday in Hilo marked an auspicious start to the 56th Annual Merrie Monarch Festival.
The festival’s free Ho‘olaule‘a, the kickoff of a full week of Hawaiian dance, music and culture, featured eight halau (schools).
Certainly the overall vibe at Afook-Chinen Civic Auditorium was laid back compared to the atmosphere that will surround the three nights of hula competition Thursday, Friday and Saturday at the neighboring Edith Kanaka‘ole Multipurpose Stadium.
Halau Ka Lei Mokihana O Leina‘ala led by Kumu Hula Leina‘ala Pavao Jardin is presenting Kauai.
While kumu hula Johnny Lum Ho and his halau band were setting up to perform, the event’s emcee, Darde Gamayo, known as “Tita Nui” on KAPA-FM, announced a silver GM sport-utility vehicle was blocking another car whose driver wanted to leave.
In an only-in-Hilo moment, Gamayo quipped, “If you don’t move your car, I’ll have it towed to my garage, because I can really use it.”
That prompted a response from one of Lum Ho’s band, who retorted Gamayo wants the SUV because she lives in Waipio Valley, which is accessible only by 4-wheel drive, horse, mule or by foot.
In another humorous moment, Agpoon mispronounced “tourists” so it sounded something like “torrists.” Quick on the uptake, he ad-libbed, “The tourists. Not the torrists. Not the Torres. The tourists. The ones that used to go to Hilo Hattie’s.” That elicited a good deal of laughter from the audience.
“He’s fun. He brings energy and humor,” Yamanaka said of Agpoon, who became the halau emcee after the passing two years ago of the legendary Kawelo Kong Kee.
The Ho‘olaule‘a music stage, like the stageside pit at the Merrie Monarch hula competition, is pretty much a plug in-and-play operation with minimal, if any, sound checks for the musicians, reminiscent of the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
During the halau’s finale, “I Call Him Lord” — a nod to Easter Sunday — there was a noticeable electronic popping in the sound system. But the band played on, the dancers danced on, and the popping — which Agpoon referred to as “just the Merrie Monarch vibe” — cleared up by the end of the song.
”The show goes on,” Yamanaka said. “You’ve got to do your best and pretty much just have fun.”
Festival Events Schedule
6 p.m, Wednesday, Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium. An exhibition night of hula and folk dance from around the Pacific. Free.
Miss Aloha Hula
6 p.m., Thursday, Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium Individual competition for the title of Miss Aloha Hula with contestants performing hula kahiko, hula ʻauana and oli (chant).
Group Hula Kahiko
6 p.m., Friday, Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium. Halau hula perform ancient style dances.
Group Hula ʻAuana & Awards
6 p.m., Saturday, Edith Kanakaʻole Stadium. Halau hula perform modern style dances, followed by an awards presentation for all group winners.
Merrie Monarch Royal Parade
10:30 am, Saturday, through downtown Hilo