As we sit here in the terrific traffic jams that Tokyo is cursed with every week day, I get out my laptop and I now turn my thoughts back to Hawaii.
Ah…Hawaii, the place on Earth I preface with the phrase, ‘People go there and they never return.’ I always love going to Hawaii. This time I got a real chance to experience the different climate conditions on this small little island chain out in the Pacific. Most of our gigs on this run was on Hawaii itself, commonly referred to as ‘The Big Island’. This island also continues to grow due to the continued lava flow emitting from the volcano there. We didn’t get to that part of the island because the route we chose to traverse from the east to west side, Hilo to Kona, was by the coastal roads that parallel the north shore of Hawaii. Flying into Hilo we were greeted with rain. Then a little bit of blue skies then more rain and more rain. Hilo is on the east side and with this tour also coinciding with the current hurricane season, the rain was out in all its gray and wet glory casting a gloomy appearance to the small town. With our hotel looking out on the Hilo bay we would relish the short lived moments of blue skies and temporary halts to the precipitation but those moments were short and few. We were told that Hilo gets more rain than Seattle per year and that’s a claim I’m willing to believe after a week-long stay here. Still you can’t help but marvel at the fecundity and explosion of growth that the rain forest exhibits. Our hotel was on a street named Banyan Drive and yes there were magnificent Banyan trees to look at lining the street. Some of these trees stood in majestic height and with their mad tangle of branches going this way and that in conjunction with a root system that seemed to sprout downwardly from each branch thus making their way into the ground gave each tree a ‘Roger Dean illustration-look’ to them. Roger Dean did all the Yes album cover artwork and these trees are spot on in their other worldly looks and were sights to behold.
One of my peculiarities on the road is that I like to take the stairs when I stay in hotels. Most of the time I never have to climb more that 4 or 5 stories but the occasional 10+ floors does come along. This time I was on the 5th floor a couple of days then after a gig in Oahu, Honolulu, I was on the 8th floor, which I diligently climbed at least 8 to 10 times a day. Easy way to get exercise and yes, during check in and check out, I carry my bags with me too. Just part of the deal. Hawaii also has a frog problem; namely the Coqui Frog. At night time when the Coquis start to croak or call, they emit a high pitched short whistle-like burst. Yoshi thought they were birds at first but when I heard it I knew it was something different. People are paid to laboriously and meticulously look for them and catch them to help eradicate the sonorous pests especially near the family friendly tourist hotels because people paying these rather robust Hawaii hotel rates want to get a good night sleep after spending the day running around the island taking in the sights. I was on the 5th and 8th floors of my hotel respectively and still you couldn’t avoid the constant calling and cacophony of the ‘frog song’ below. I had to crank up my a/c and use my ‘fan app’ on my phone to mask the auditory annoyance outside.
Our first gig turned out to be at our hotel there in Hilo at the Polynesian Room. Our hotel was going through a period of renovations and no doubt it will be simply smashing and glorious once they’re complete because the land in which it sits upon is of prime location. So yes, we had the Coqui frogs to deal with at night then we had the start of construction sounds that usually began promptly at 8 am. Fortunately I am an early riser now and the ‘workers symphony’ was of no bother to me. I did wonder about the other more sleep oriented people in the hotel though. Welcome to Paradise, Right? Anyway the Polynesian room used to be the spot to have shows at but now it’s been a bit shuttered and trying to make a comeback. It’s still a fine venue inside with an ample stage and a good enough PA company contracted to bring in sound for us. I’m so easy to work with anyway, give me some power and I’ll make it work. Our opening band for this tour on the Big Island was Tomi Isobe. He’s from Japan but he’s spent many years living in the states. Even though you can hear his Japanese accent when he talks, when he sings he sounds like an English speaker. I know this because after listening to many Japanese blues bands over the years coming to Japan, there are certain words and cadences that Japanese presents a bit of linguistic jumps and leaps the singer must do, and even if they’re deft at it, there’s no mistaking the difficulty with a few of the consonants in the words. Tomi doesn’t have that problem at all; he’s quite deft in navigating this nuanced area. Everybody also calls him ‘Tommy Eye-sobee’ which he acquiesces to by even announcing his name like that to the audience but I would call him by his correct name ‘Toe-me Ee-so-bay’. He was grateful for my gesture and we had a good time every night. Plus they lent us their backline for our use and for that we shall be forever in their debt. Arigatou Tomi – san.
Our first gig was fun then we had to go to the west side of the Island into Kona. Here’s where you saw the climate difference and the geographical difference of the island. Hilo being wet and rain forest, Kona being dry and mainly grasslands and pastures. Pretty striking. Plus you’re just not going to zip around the island like we would on the mainland. Speed limits are more reduced due to the twisting and winding ways through some of the valleys and rivers and streams that have to be traversed and as the rains fall in copious amounts this time of year one has to be wary of the possibility of mudslides and rocks and or boulders that lose their purchase on the hills and give way to the gravitational pulls thereby ending up in the road creating the occasional hazard. Such is the price at times for living in Paradise.
The Kona gig was a cool little turnout and we had a lot of fun. There was even someone who lived in Austin back in the days I was coming up and after the gig we sat there and reminisced about how Austin used to be. A sure sign that I’m getting old. On our drive back at night to the other side of the island I took over the driving duties and we had to go by one of the old volcanoes that is dormant at present and this road we took pretty much went straight down the middle of the island. It just seemed like one long acclivity then the summit and then the proceeding declivity, (one-way up then one-way down), until we started to get into the jungle side where the road took to gentle curves and various little bumps and twists as though we were on a slow and varied spaced ‘level mogul skiing’ course. All in a bible black backdrop for there are not lights out there in the rain forest. An interesting drive to say the least.
The next event was at this Charter High School in Pahoa, HI and here I was in my element. Oft times I get a bit reticent to talk to the audience at some gigs maybe due to me being frustrated with my playing or I’m have sonic issues or other variables. This was where we would just play a couple of songs and do a Q n’ A afterwards. I try to make myself as accessible and easy to communicate to as possible while in return trying to be articulate and thorough with my responses without sounding to pedantic or ambiguous. I was having fun here. We had the most basic of accoutrement by which to apply and demonstrate our craft, a single all-in-one 6 channel PA that we plugged right into and John playing one of the school’s Djembes, you know – a hippy drum. We made it work with our attitude and charm and afterwards the staff and student body was entirely entertained.
I need to back up and give a review of our Honolulu show though. This was a stark and dramatic change of pace for us because Honolulu is pretty much like going to a regular big city, with express Interstates and traffic whizzing by and loads of tourists and tour groups crowding up the rows and rows of hotels that line the famous Waikiki Beach in Honolulu. Plus the sun was out in all her blazing glory. Our show was staged at Hawaiian Brian’s and we had two opening acts. The first was the young local and upcoming Jamm with his band Blue Jeans, they rocked, and then Grammy-winning slack key and Island native Jeff Peterson with his virtuosic talents on the guitar. Wow, it was quite the offering but I would have expected no-less of talent offerings from the big city of Honolulu. The room had a nice attendance, basically a SRO crowd, and we jumped right in. Fun was had by all and we have to give credit to my good friend Dr. John Hart for arranging this event. I’ve known John for close to 20 years and we’ve been trying to pull a Hawaiian date off for the past 15 years and we finally did it.
So our last gig was at the Honokaa Theater in Honokaa Hawaii, and it’s this really old theater back from the 30’s. It pretty much looks the same inside and it’s a great place. We didn’t have that many people come out to the show but when has that ever stopped me from going out on stage and playing as hard as I could. In fact as I oft opine; Some of my greatest shows have been played to tables and chairs. I dress to the nines with my Mariachi pants and my Lady of Guadalupe shirt and we entered the fray. Now that I’ve got a few gigs under my fingers on this tour we had a blast.
You know… this year I’ve had to overcome a lot of things to keep myself focused and on the path with my music. Emotional encumbrances, vehicular break downs, exorbitant financial ebbing and just the drum, drum, drumming on the mind that can veer even the strongest of wills and mindsets into the ditch and make a return to a harmonious equilibrium a challenge too hard to endure for some. I am still here and I am so grateful for the things I get to do and the places I get to see in the world. I am equally grateful for the friends and people in my life that give me substance and fortitude with equanimity and reflection. When I take that all into account…my life ain’t so bad after all.
Aloha and Mahalo.