It’s official! The Kahilu Theatre made its comeback last Saturday with two concerts by Hawaiian music legend Robert Cazimero. Concertgoers who held onto their tickets from last year’s canceled Cazimero show were the first allowed to re-enter the popular Waimea venue. Some told me that they drove from as far away as Hilo and Kona just to be part of this historic event.
Following Hawaii County health guidelines, the theater could offer two make-up concerts with an audience limited to 100 per show, socially distanced seating, masked, and temperature tested as they entered. Between shows, the seats were sanitized for the next performance.
Since December, the Kahilu has been substituting the live concert experience with a pay-per-view subscription service called Kahilu TV. While it successfully reached an audience confined to their couches, it was no substitute for having an exceptional entertainer perform in front of you, or the joyful sound of applause and laughter filling an auditorium. Livestreaming seems so… well, 2020.
Of Cazimero’s two shows, his 7 p.m. performance was by far his best. The award-winning singer was more relaxed, playful, and often varied from the structured setlist he’d prepared on his iPad.
“I had a hard time with the first show,” Cazimero admitted. “It was my first show back since, well, forever. And since that one was livestreamed, it had to be done at a certain time — not this one! After a glass of wine, we’re going to have a good show!” The crowd cheered in approval.
Throughout his 70-minute set, Cazimero kept a Waimea theme running. There were stories about a close friend who corrected him when he once called Waimea, Kamuela – “That’s the wrong thing to say. It’s Waimea. It’s always Waimea!” He then segued into an upbeat number called “Beautiful Night in Downtown Waimea.” With lyrics like, “There’s a show at the Kahilu Theatre that everyone’s wanting to see,” the venue should jump on the opportunity to use that in a marketing campaign.
Cazimero and his Steinway piano were surrounded by vibrant floral displays, but they were not as elaborate as Waimea floral artist Buzzy Histo’s extravaganza for the 2019 show with ferns and flowers suspended from the rafters, and a large fragrant gardenia lei, the size of an inflated life vest that the singer wore during the show.
Cazimero also scaled down the number of dancers from four to two – Kumu Lahela Spencer and Alaka’i Lastimado. Both took turns dancing the length of the stage when not resting on a couch in a makeshift version of Cazimero’s living room. At one point, Cazimero had Lastimado laughing so hard during one of his routines that he couldn’t keep a straight face and dropped to one knee.
The levity continued with a children’s medley that the singer said he got as a text request from a close friend with kids. It featured, “Itsy Bitsy Spider/I’m a Little Teapot/Someone’s in the Kitchen with Dinah/Bibbidi-Bobbidi-Boo.” Surprisingly, most of the audience joined in and made it a sing-along.
One of the most touching moments in the show came when he played The Brothers Cazimero’s big hit “Home in the Islands” and worked in Leon Russell’s “Back to the Island.” The combination of Cazimero’s elegant voice and that lovely Steinway’s tone were jaw-dropping.
The show ended with Hole Waimea (Spearmakers of Waimea) – a traditional chant, as Cazimero thanked the crowd for coming. Oddly, there were no shouts for a hana hou or a standing ovation, as the audience was told to stay seated for closing remarks from the theatre’s executive director and to receive proper exit instructions.
The Kahilu is cautiously taking small steps to build back to a full house and a regular entertainment schedule. The focus this month is on local talent like Bad Papa, Lucky Tongue, and the Waimea Community Chorus’ tribute to Elton John. There will even be a pre-recorded talent show for Kahilu TV that celebrates Honoka‘a’s Western Week.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author and originally from San Francisco. He’s been featured in The NY Times, Rolling Stone and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the editor of Big Island Music Magazine.