One Musical Note. Two Monk Seals. And Me.

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One Musical Note. Two Monk Seals. And Me.

Posted by: Kim Steutermann Rogers
Destination: Oahu
Jun 14, 2013

One note. That’s all it took for singer-songwriter John Cruz to yank me from my seemingly pressing need to “Instagram” the photograph I’d just snapped of him. One note. That’s all it took for John Cruz to nullify the possible negative repercussions of the rain sprinkling over the crowd on the lawn at the Waikiki Aquarium yesterday evening during the opening night of the summer concert series known as Ke Kani O Ke Kai. One note. That’s all it took for John Cruz to cleave my soul and root me in the present moment. One note. And if I wasn’t careful, I’d miss my plane, the last flight of the day from Honolulu to Lihue, Kauai.

“Seriously, Kim?” you ask.

“Seriously,” I say.

“Aren’t you exaggerating?”


Two of the City Girls were with me. To my right, L whispered, “So soulful.” And on my left, T swayed, eyes closed, having a moment of her own. 

John Cruz has that effect on people, which explains why his first album won two Na Hoku Hanohano Awards and his second captured Contemporary Album of the Year by the Hawaii Academy of Recording Artists. Why he was named Best Singer Songwriter by Hawaii magazine. Why he was included in the list of “Top 25 Greatest Hawaii Albums of the New Century” by Honolulu magazine. Why musicians far and wide have reached out to John to lend their support, including Jackson Browne, Eddie Vedder, Jimmy Buffett and Bonnie Raitt. Why his version of “Hi`ilawe,” a traditional Hawaiian song, was included on the Hawaii Five-0 soundtrack. Why a documentary film was made of his life.

No, I’m not exaggerating.

Speaking of his life, here’s my take on John’s sound. He says he grew up with a Hawaiian grandmother who sang in a church choir, a mother who loved Motown and a father who played country music. Then, he left Hawaii for an east coast college and studied drama. If you tease any kind of meaning from that history, what I think you end up with is a blend of easy-going sound and intense storytelling. Layer that with a bit of a crusty, weathered voice, and you have a singer-songwriter with a kind of depth that penetrates your bones—even when singing his signature laid-back, beach song, “Island Style.”

As the cop who sidled up to me to take a picture on his smartphone (a new Galaxy, I think) said, “He’s a Hawaiian James Taylor.” I get that.

Meanwhile, steps away from the sands of Waikiki and the waters of the Pacific Ocean, infants mere weeks old and 90-some-year-old kupuna sat on grass mats on the ground and in beach chairs. A few dozen yards away, Ho`ailona and Maka, two Hawaiian monk seals, snoozed. Behind the stage, Kani Ka Pila Grille served up dishes of kalua pork quesadillas and fried veggie noodles--their signature desserts of apple banana lumpia and bread pudding, as well, and Kona Brewing Co. passed out cold beer.

John Cruz wasn’t the only performer last night. He’s just the one I hadn’t seen live before.

Nathan Aweau took the stage first, as the setting sun tinged the western sky orange, and like any good Hawaiian musician entertained with his stories between songs, sharing how he met his wife at age 15. “Like one date?” a tongue-tied Nathan asked her. Sharing also how one “mature” woman, a.k.a. stalker, followed him from concert to concert on the west coast, asking, “Do you know any Don Ho songs?” Nathan played bass for Don Ho for 16 years.

It had been two years since I attended a concert at the Waikiki Aquarium, but I can tell you this: I won’t wait another two years. In fact, I may only wait two weeks. Check out this line-up:

• Thursday, June 13, 2013 – John Cruz and Nathan Aweau (food by Kani Ka Pila Grille)
• Thursday, June 27, 2013 – KUmZ and Manu Boyd (food by Hog Island BBQ)
• Thursday, July 11, 2013 – Mark Yamanaka and Darren Benitez (food by The Grove)
• Thursday, July 25, 2013 – Amy Hanaiali‘i and Hi‘ikua (food by Coco’z Catering & Takeout)
• Thursday, August 8, 2013 – Makaha Sons (food by The Counter)

What about you? Do you have a favorite Hawaiian musician and a particularly standout story to share about the first time you heard him/her perform live? 

Outrigger Hotels and Resorts is a presenting sponsor of Ke Kani O Ke Kai and big supporter of Hawaiian music, recently announcing its fifth annual talent search for musicians to perform at Kani Ka Pila Grille at Outrigger Reef on the Beach.


Judy | Aug 02, 2013 07:09 AM

I know this dates me, but you asked! I fell in love with Don Ho when I saw him for the first time (along with thousands, maybe millions of others) when I was 20 and he was maybe 30. He was at Dukes then in the Intl Mkt Square. I still have all his albums and play the Christmas one every year. Rats, I don't have a record player to play them on anymore!!!

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