“It’s so great to be around human beings again!” quipped guitarist Bryan Kessler at the beginning of Hawaiian Style Band’s 90-minute performance at the Mauna Kea Beach Hotel last Saturday. “It’s so cool, I forgot what’s it’s like!”
Hawaiian Style Band’s (HSB) concert was another glimpse of live publicly attended performances returning to the island. Their sunset show was at the perfect location too — a short distance from the shoreline, tropical trades kept it comfortable, and a nearby bar was welcomed too.
The private event, for about 100 Kahilu Theatre donors, was also livestreamed for a local/global audience on Kahilu TV. The last time HSB performed at the Kahilu was Jan. 17, 2020, and like so many other bands on the planet, the group had bold plans for touring and recording, but the pandemic brought it all to an abrupt stop. The Waimea venue was the first Big Island theater to bring them back for a public appearance this year.
Since 2020, there have been a few member and instrument changes in the band. Shawn Pimental has switched to playing bass and Garin Poliahu (from the Big Island) is now playing drums. Michael Grande remains on keyboards and was in the original HSB line-up 25 years ago.
During the show, original members Wade Cambern and Bryan Kessler reminisced about their pre-HSB days as an ambitious musical duo who kicked things off with a radio jingle for a surfwear company. It was Sistah Robi Kahakalau’s persistent request calls for the station to play what she thought was a new single that prompted the Cambern-Kessler duo to rework and retitle it as “Live a Little.” Eventually, Sistah Robi was added to the group and appears on their first three albums. HSB’s signature three-way harmonies and distinct brand of contemporary Hawaiian music resulted in multiple Na Hoku Hanohano Awards.
For “Wahine ‘Ilikea” and “Love and Honesty” Sistah Robi invited hula dancer Malia Mahi to join the six-piece band on stage. When Mahi is not performing with HSB, she’s a flight attendant for Hawaiian Airlines.
Toward the end of the show, Kessler, Cambern, and Sistah Robi joined together for the Crosby, Stills, &Nash classic “Helplessly Hoping.” The pared-down version, with just Kessler on acoustic guitar, was one of many chicken-skin moments of the night. “The three of us really connected with that song, and found our harmony center,” noted Cambern.
HSB closed with “Heiau” as its hana hou. The band dedicated the song to all the people who have passed in the last year, and to Sistah Robi’s mother. “My mom passed away three years ago, but I know she’s here with us tonight in spirit and loving this,” noted the singer in a reflective moment.
Nalei Napaepae-Kunewa, a local kumu hula, was so moved by the song that she began dancing in front of the stage. A passionate audience of old and new fans, stood and swayed to the final notes.
Missed the show? Don’t despair. You still can catch the pre-show interview and concert on Kahilu.TV.
Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.