Weldon Kekauoha’s dreamy concert under the stars

  • Sonny Lim, Weldon Kekauoha, and Nathan Grace played for around 60 people last weekend at the Ke’olu Clubhouse.

  • Dancers take center on an outdoor stage during a concert featuring Weldon Kekauoha, slack key guitar master Sonny Lim and local bassist Nathan Grace. (Steve Roby/Courtesy photos)

It’s getting easier to find live music these days. Last weekend, over 40 shows happened across the Big Island, including a great outdoor concert featuring award-winning Hawaiian musician Weldon Kekauoha.

It was a private event for around 60 people at the Ke’olu Clubhouse, part of the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai. The Kahilu Theatre presented the show to reach an audience who have been unfamiliar with the Waimea venue, its livestream service, or their numerous arts and education programs.

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Kekauoha was joined by slack key guitar master Sonny Lim and local bassist Nathan Grace. For several songs, hula dancers Kahikina Na’ili’ili and Yuko Kekauoha were invited on the outdoor stage to perform against a backdrop of a spectacular sunset, a full moon, and a sky filled with stars. There was even a rainbow that appeared just before the evening got underway.

Starting with the ukulele at age 4, and then the Honolulu Boys Choir, Kekauoha joined a reconstructed version of Mana‘o Company in 1993. Since then, he’s built an impressive catalog of island favorites over the last 30 years. He now enjoys a rewarding solo career with multiple Na Hoku Hanohano awards and a Grammy nomination as part of his remarkable accomplishments.

For the past 15 years, Japanese audiences who have embraced Hawaiian culture eagerly welcomed the popular entertainer’s performances. Originally from Oahu, Kekauoha moved to the Big Island a year ago with his wife, Yuko.

Kekauoha’s 80-minute set opened with two Waipi’o Valley-themed meles – “Ke Aloha No Waipi’o,” a tune composed by Kainani Kahaunaele, and “Hi’Ilawe,” a song which honors two waterfalls in the same area. Both Lim and Grace added complementary harmonies and Lim, the exquisite guitar solos.

Throughout the evening, Kahikina Na’ili’ili and Yuko performed together and individually. Na’ili’ili is Yuko’s Kumu (instructor) from Oahu. Their presentations were flawless and captivating.

About halfway through his set, Kekauoha played “Piukeona,” and explained its origins dating back to 1897. “Hawaiian newspapers used to have these poetry competitions,” recalled Kekauoha, “and folks would work out their differences through poetry. Many of these poems were later set to music like this mele here.” The song appears on Kekauoha’s first solo CD, Hawaiian Man.

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Kekauoha closed the show with “Queen’s Jubilee,” a song he learned when he performed with the Honolulu Boys Choir. Wanting more, the crowd cried out for a hana hou, and the trio delivered their version of “Lepe Ula’ula,” a mele made famous by Na Palapalai.

Steve Roby is a music journalist, bestselling author, and editor of Big Island Music Magazine.

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