First of all, the radio stations on Maui suck. Thanks to laptops and iPods, we no longer bring a stack of CDs with us on vacation. So, while driving around, my son and I were stuck trying to find something on the car radio that we can both stand. Fortunately he loves classic rock but could we find any? Nope. Oldies? Top 40 pop but no rock and roll. There was plenty of (c)rap but who wants to listen to that stuff? Even the Hawaiian music stations left something to be desired. I mean, is Iz the only Hawaiian musician? Plus reception was lousy. (That's like the old joke: "The food here is lousy." "Yes, and such small portions.")
Interesting side note: As we were leaving Aloha Mixed Plate in Lahaina after lunch on the day of our departure, we heard coming from the speakers at the bar the familiar (for us) guitar solo from the song "Rock Bottom" by the 70s band UFO. Unfortunately the bartender wasn't available to ask what the source was -- radio or CD -- but my son and I broke out the air guitars. My wife, of course, thinks we're nuts.
On the other hand, Bounty Music in Kahului is a great music store. We were able to rent a guitar and small amp for my son so he could keep up his chops for only 90 bucks for 2 weeks. I finally bought a ukulele and was able to find a nice mid-priced spruce top from their very wide selection. Nice folks, although the clerk that helped us had a little trouble negotiating the computer register. "Uhhhhh, I'm a drummer, man, so I only help out on the weekends." He made up for it by insisting we take two free pens. Thanks, dude!
Which brings us to the third annual Kokua Festival. The festival in general coincides with Earth Day and has a definite "Save The Planet" attitude. Hotter than hot Hawaii native Jack Johnson heads up the festival, this year being joined by Willie Nelson and Ben Harper. I'm not a much of a Jack Johnson fan as he's a little too mellow for my taste, so I probably wouldn't have even considered going to this except that my wife is a HUGE Willie Nelson fan. So we went. Ah, "the things we do for love," to quote another 70s band, 10cc.
Getting there turned out to be an experience. We allowed the usual 45 minutes for the drive to Kahului from West Maui. The only problem is that at "pau hana" (quitting time), the trip takes AN HOUR and 45 minutes. Parking also turned out to be a challenge as there was only one entrance to the dusty field that was being used. And was there a sign to direct you? Nooooooooo. So we missed the opening Hawaiian music acts and arrived just in time for Ben Harper. I found it a bit distressing that my mainland mania attitude was starting to return. To add to the frustration, the festival concessions used scrip instead of cash. So you had to stand in a slow moving line to get the scrip you needed to stand in another slow moving line to purchase over-priced food and drink. GEORGE IS GETTING UPSET!!!
And then there were the "restrooms": a row of 24 porta-potties -- 20 for the ladies and only 4 for the men. What gives? It was then that I saw the sign for the "Men's urinals." On the other side of a barricade were two troughs with plywood "privacy partitions". What was especially interesting was the height of these partitions -- they were easily a foot higher than normal but the same size as you'd expect. While this may have discouraged peeking at the guy next to you, it made for an interesting scene as you entered the area -- you couldn't see anyone from the waist up, but you could sure see everything from the waist down, if you get my drift. And the troughs made the ones at Fenway Park look fancy by comparison.
Back to the concert. It was a beautiful evening and as the skies darkened, Ben Harper took the stage for an extremely mellow set. Which is more than I can say for the people around us. While the smell of marijuana was in the air, the chemical of choice in our section was alcohol and lots of it. In keeping with the Kokua spirit, the beer cups were made from biodegradable corn starch. A lot of corn died that night, my friend. As did a lot of brain cells and I daresay that some of the people in our row did not have a lot to lose in the first place.
Willie Nelson was up next and he pretty much phoned it in but that's OK. He did all the hits and while his voice still has that distinctive sound, he basically spoke the words instead of singing. But he's still cool for an old guy and my wife enjoyed him.
Jack Johnson could do no wrong. He could have sung "Bingo was his name-o" and the crowd would have loved it. Marijuana, beer, a beautiful star-lit tropical night, and mellow tunes -- it was enjoyable but it would've been fun to see the crowd reaction if he'd thrown in a rocker. I did hear someone yell for "Freebird." Not tonight, brah.
Ben Harper joined Jack for a few tunes and their rendition of a Bob Marley song (sorry, I don't know the name) was superb. Of course, Willie joined them for the encore.
After the show we were a little concerned about several thousand inebriates getting behind the wheel. With only one exit from the parking lot, we expected a Hawaiian demolition derby to take place and we figured our rental car would be a favorite target of the locals in their pickup trucks, but in typical Hawaiian fashion our exit went smoothly, albeit slowly.
My favorite moment as we were exiting was the woman shouting into her cell phone: "Meet you where? I don't know which freaking palm tree you're talking about!" (Except she didn't say "freaking.")