Casual Hawaiian music is making a comeback . . . in Waikiki! Well, it never really disappeared out of Waikiki. But with hotel food & beverage decision makers going in different directions, and contractors reducing what bands can make on a steady gig, and locals using the “too-expensive-and-where-do-we-park?” rationale to avoid Waikiki, well, there was a perfect storm waiting to carry Hawaiian music in Waikiki out beyond the reef.
Old mainstays to find live “traditional-kine” Hawaiian music have long been the Moana Terrace at Waikiki Marriott, poolside happy hour at the Sheraton Princess Kaʻiulani, Banyon Courtyard at Moana Surfrider, Dukeʻs at Outrigger Waikiki, Mai Tai Bar at Royal Hawaiian, Halekulani‘s fabled House Without a Key, and Hilton Hawaiian Village‘s Tapa Bar.
But the tides are turning, and exciting new venues have come online:
Kuhio Beach Hula Mound
FREE nightly torchlighting hula show, 6:00pm. Operated by the City & County of Honolulu, a different hula hālau is featured every night. This has been going on for several years, so “new” is relative. But this venue is a newbie compared to the fabled venues like House Without A Key. Parking–youʻre on your own. Many locals park at Honolulu Zoo right off Kapahulu Ave. and walk the few blocks over. Food & drink: strictly BYO. But this is Waikiki–there are lots of options.
These photos from 2010 feature Hālau Kawaianuhealehua, directed by Kumu Hula Ina Kanei, in the center. Note that the musicians have the best view!!
Royal Hawaiian Center
The 2008 completion of extensive renovations at the Center heralded a renewed commitment to presenting Hawaiian cultural experiences with integrity. Cultural Director Manu Boyd–renowned kumu hula and musician–curates a FREE nightly 6:00pm sunset-hour showcase for local performers, at Helumoa, the royal coconut grove at the heart of the complex. Saturday evenings are devoted to the ancient hula kahiko, with prominent hula troupes on the invitation list.
While you are at Royal Hawaiian Center, you must also visit the Kaulani Heritage Room, adjacent to Helumoa and across from the Lei ‘Olu Guest Services desk. Multiple brief videos share various aspects of history of the site and its owners, in an air-conditioned oasis sheltered from the bustle outside. The Center‘s parking validation program is designed to entice locals, and food & drink options abound.
Kani Ka Pila Grille
At Outrigger Reef Hotel on Kalia Road (next to Halekulani). Completion of the hotelʻs extensive renovation in 2009 heralded the opening of this gold-standard venue–an open-air poolside bar and grill establishment with headline recording artists such as Cyril Pahinui, Kawika Kahiapo, Weldon Kekauoha, Manoa DNA, and Kaukahi. Relaxed informality and a delightful menu, presided over by “Ambassador of Aloha” Luana Maitland. Iʻve been down there maybe eight times over this past year.
and . . . <<<drumroll>>> the most recent addition —
‘Ilikai Bar & Grill
The original venue of the ‘Ilikai Hotel‘s venerable Canoe Club–a hub of Hawaiian music in the 1960s and 1970s–is becoming once again a Waikiki destination for live Hawaiian music. And what a lineup!! Welo, Holunape, Kaukahi, Hoku Zuttermeister . . . Casual open seating, with tables in the line of speakers and also away from speakers, if conversing with oneʻs companions is important. A wonderful menu of pupus, salads, and burgers; and check out the macadamia nut creme pie, too. What locals know: There is free parking opposite the Ala Wai Yacht Harbor on the back street, but make sure your car moves before the tow trucks arrive promptly at 10pm.
and now, the editorializing . . .
The launch of Kani Ka Pila Grille and the Ilikai Bar & Grill as venues for live Hawaiian music entertainment mark notable gestures to reach out to local folks as well as visitors, and to support Hawaiian music groups and artists who enjoy great community following and aloha. Hawaiian music fans who care about musicians having venues to perform in, and entertainment to enjoy, must get out there and support our friends. Show your aloha, and patronize these establishments so that they will continue to invest in having live music.
Be there. Aloha.