Hawaiian Music on Big Island
It's easy to forget that Hawaii has its own music until you step off a plane onto the Islands—and then there's no escaping it. It's a unique blend of the strings and percussion favored by the early settlers and the chants and rituals of the ancient Hawaiians. Hawaiian music today includes Island-devised variations on acoustic guitar—slack key and steel guitar—along with the ukulele (a small, four-string guitar about the size of a violin), and vocals that have evolved from ritual chants to more melodic compositions.
This is one of the few folk music traditions in the United States that is fully embraced by the younger generation, with no prodding from their parents or grandparents. More than half the radio stations on the Big Island play solely Hawaiian music, and concerts performed by Island favorites like Makana are filled with fans of all ages.
The best way to get an introduction to the music is to attend one of the annual festivals: The free Annual Hawaii Slack Key Guitar Festival (July) features a handful of greats performing throughout the day at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay; the Annual Ukulele and Slack Key Guitar Institute (November) at the Kahilu Theatre in Waimea takes it one step further, providing both a variety of concerts and workshops for those interested in learning to play the instruments; and the Annual Big Island Hawaiian Music Festival (July) at the UH Hilo Performing Arts Center is a weekend full of slack key, steel guitar, and ukulele madness.
Or, you can catch live performances most nights at one of a handful of local bars and clubs, including Mixx Bar and Bistro, Huggo's on the Rocks, or the Kona Brewing Company in Kailua-Kona, and Cronie's Bar and Grill in Hilo.