Yes. You. Can. The odds of finding Hawaiian music in New Jersey are pretty small. But last April, the Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival came to New Jersey (Virginia and New York.) Defying even greater odds, New Jersey came to the 33rd annual Waikiki Style Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival held at the Kapiʻolani Park Bandstand in Honolulu. I was lucky to be a part of both events.

Making the official bill, the Harmony Show Choir, a group of 52 high school age performers from the Southern New Jersey area, performed with Keale. It was an amazing collaboration. Check out the video. They followed that with a song, very appropriately, from the Broadway hit musical Jersey Boys. I was so glad to have been there to see the choir perform at the festival. They were great! Definitely made the Garden State proud.

For my part, I was not on the official bill. As a long-time fan of the festivals, I was content to be that kid in the front row who studies the fretting hand of every performer on stage. My friend and slack key guitarist Donald Kauliʻa, who I hadn’t seen in a dozen years, invited me to join him on stage for his set. Wow. A flurry of thoughts raced through my mind. “Seriously!? Me?” I considered graciously declining the offer in honor of Don’s very short stage time (each festival performer is allotted just 15 minutes.) After Don assured me that his invitation was genuine, I remembered a Tina Fey interview where the writer-comedian said, “The fun is always on the other side of a yes.”

Thank you, Don, for your generosity and encouragement! It was a true privilege to stand on the stage previously graced by so many of my Hawaiian music idols. A dream come true.

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