The Kauai Folk Festival has just announced a full lineup of over 30 performers, bringing together Hawaiian and North American traditions like never before!
Headlining the festival, Americana legends Taj Mahal and Peter Rowan will both perform with full bands to focus on their love of Hawaiian music. Along with other roots and country artists like Jonny Fritz, Tim O’Brien, Blaine Sprouse, and Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, the Kauai Folk Festival will feature Hawaiian traditions, some of which are very rarely heard outside the islands. Wally Rita y Los Kauianos play a Latin/Hawaian dance music dubbed ‘kachi kachi’ - developed over 200 years of Puerto Rican culture on the Hawaiian islands. The star of Disney’s Moana, Auli'i Cravalho, grew up singing this rare genre of Hawaiian music!!
Hawaiian reggae star Sashamon will be backing up Molokai singer Uncle Isaac Kamaile Jr. on old-school Hawaiian country songs. Renowned ukulele player and singer Puka Asing grew up with cousin Israel Kamakawiwo’ole (Bruddah Iz) in one of the legendary families of Hawaiian music. Hawaiian slack key and steel guitar will be handsomely represented by Na’ Opihi with Pancho Graham and Kirby Keough and Norman De Costa and Meles of Molokai. Situated on the beautifully preserved Grove Farm Museum, a perfectly-preserved Hawaiian plantation, The Kauai Folk Festival aims to show the influence of Hawaiian music on North American roots music by bringing together master musicians from both worlds in an unprecedented two-day celebration of music, dance, workshops, food, drink, and crafts.
The goal of the Kauai Folk Festival,” festival director Matt Morelock says, “is to introduce Hawaiian artists and Hawaiian music fans to a broad diversity of North American roots music, and also to introduce these ‘mainland’ musicians to their Hawaiian counterparts. There’s never been an event of this scale with this mission in Hawaii. We hope to encourage further fusion and influence at this beautiful site with some of the greatest musicians alive today.”
It’s known that Hawaiian artists popularized the steel and slide guitar in the early 1900s, changing blues and country music forever, but Morelock points to other influences these roving Hawaiian bands had in the days of vaudeville. “We’re finding that certain styles of harmony singing, certain chord progressions, and certain rhythms that existed in early Hawaiian music quite possibly did not exist in a lot of American music before people were exposed to traveling Hawaiian musicians. The festival wants to show through examples and stories how Hawaiian music has been so influential.” Inspired by the 19th century royal Hawaiian courts which encouraged musical collaborations across cultures and genres, the Kauai Folk Festival will showcase the heavy influence Hawaiian music has had on nearly every genre of popular American music.
This is a lesson that festival headliners Taj Mahal and Peter Rowan both know well. Taj Mahal has redefined American music as one of the world’s greatest blues singers, but for over 20 years he lived on the island of Kaua’i, where he formed the Hula Blues Band. He’s recorded a number of albums of Hawaiian music since then and will be appearing as Taj Mahal’s Hula Blues Band at the festival to celebrate his love for the music.
Peter Rowan is widely known as one of the heroes of bluegrass music, as one of Bill Monroe’s Bluegrass Boys, as a member of countless legendary stringband ensembles, and as a captivating solo performer. He was a longtime bandmate of The Grateful Dead’s Jerry Garcia. His 2017 album My Aloha! demonstrated how Hawaiian steel guitar and ukulele (and the styles in which they were played) were an influence on foundational bluegrass, folk, and country artists like Bill Monroe and many others. Rowan will be bringing his My Aloha Bluegrass Band to the Kauai Folk Festival.
With five stages running continuously, Morelock sees the Kauai Folk Festival as a kind of “Island Opry,” inspired by his work programming variety shows for broadcast. He’s packed the festival with his own discoveries, like Tennessee stringband Uncle Shuffelo and His Haint Hollow Hootenanny, E. Texas Creole fiddler Ed Poullard, whose music predates Cajun Zydeco, Mike Bub, who Morelock sees as the best living bluegrass bassist, and historic Hawaii music researcher and local hero Kilin Reese.
“Kauai Folk” Workshops are a key addition to the festival format. Performers will share in workshops on guitar, fiddle, banjo, ukulele and mandolin. Dance instructors will teach hula, square dance, swing, and two-step. Voice instructors will teach harmony singing, ballads and Hawaiian song. Jam stations and loaner instruments will be available. Attendees are encouraged to bring instruments. The artists will teach throughout the weekend, and there will be ample space for jamming and picking parties, a favorite activity for both Hawaiian and “mainland” musicians. On Sunday, the festival will kick off with an Old-Time/Hawaiian Gospel Singing sacred set with songs selected from the Rural American and old Hawaiian hymnals, featuring festival performers and several local congregations.
Photo Credits: (1) Kauai Folk Festival / Taj Mahal, (2) 'Aloha from Hawaii', (3) Tim O’Brien, (4) Caleb Klauder & Reeb Willms, (5) Peter Rowan (unknown/website).