Big Island Groove’s Blue Dragon debut

  • Josh Timmons plays trumpet Sunday at Blue Dragon Tavern in Kawaihae. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Jesse Snyder plays saxophone at Blue Dragon Tavern in Kawaihae.

  • Big Island Groove poses for a photo June 12 at Blue Dragon Tavern in Kawaihae. (Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

  • Big Island Groove’s Amanda Avila, left, sings as Josh Timmons, right, plays trumpet June 12 at Blue Dragon Tavern in Kawaihae. (Photos by Steve Roby/Special to West Hawaii Today)

For the past few weeks, music has been making a slow but steady comeback at the Blue Dragon Tavern. The popular Kawaihae Harbor venue has been closed since 2020 and is re-establishing itself as an entertainment location, removing “restaurant” from its blue-painted exterior and offering cocktails. However, you can still get meals from a rotating list of island chefs who prepare in a food truck in the parking lot.

On Sunday, Gertrude’s Jazz Bar owners Marlena and Greg Shirley were on hand to ensure everything ran smoothly – from putting wedges underneath wobbly tables to having friendly staff greeting customers when they opened at 6 p.m.

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The occasion also marked the premiere performance of the Big Island Groove Band. Typically, they’re a seven-piece ensemble, but their keyboardist Dave Miller had to cancel due to testing positive for COVID. Still, they soldiered on and had the crowd dancing and cheering them on early in the show.

The visual magic the group creates is highlighted by the band’s three lead singers, Amanda Avila, Jesse Snyder, and Josh Timmons. Snyder and Timmons have known each other since their days of performing in the Hawaiian swing band Kahulanui.

“We missed hanging out with each other, and we had such a camaraderie that forming this band seemed like a perfect fit,” recalled Snyder. “I’ve mostly played jazz and not much pop music, so this group helps me grow as a musician.” In Big Island Groove, the Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner not only sings lead on a few songs but gets a chance to cut loose with a solo on his baritone sax.

Originally from Los Angeles, Avila takes the band to another level with her vocal talents. She was a top contender on American Idol, has performed as an actress, and appeared in various shows in Las Vegas.

“We have some heavy hitters in this group, and we bring out our best when we get together,” Avila said. “I think once we’re established, it’s going to be hard to keep up with us.”

Josh Timmons is both a talented trumpeter and lead singer and will be the musical director for “Bridge at the Palace,” a multi-artist fundraiser event for the Hilo Palace Theater happening later this month.

“With this new group, we’re trying to cater to conventions and weddings here,” noted Timmons. “Many mainland bands are flying in and taking gigs that local bands could play. So, we aim to offer a better product that competes with these groups coming in.”

The band’s rhythm load is superbly carried by guitarist Jonah Villanueva, bassist Yumbel Marassi, and drummer Zach Var. Before Big Island Groove, Villanova played with the Honokaa High Jazz Band. Marassi recently played at the Best of Kona Fest with the jazz fusion band Blue Jade. Var has performed in numerous Big Island bands and was a DJ on The Wave 92-FM.

For now, Big Island Groove’s setlist is filled with crowd favorites like Bobby Caldwell’s “What You Won’t Do for Love” and Van Morrison’s “Moondance.” “Eventually, we’ll start venturing out and include a few of our originals,” said Snyder. “It’ll get a little funkier too.”

You can catch Big Island Groove’s next appearance set for July 8 at Gertrude’s Jazz Bar in Kona.