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Hawaii on the Mainland

Shopping Vintage on Oahu

Here at Holoholo Wale, we’re suckers for vintage Hawaiiana, be it kitschy or classy. And while we prefer to be part of the Aloha Wear and Hawaii Postcard Liberation Front (not a real organization) on the mainland, we still like to go treasure hunting in Hawaii. Oahu has a few great places to do just that — here are three very different picks for vintage finds.

Bailey’s Antiques and Aloha Wear: Bailey’s is a fabulous mess full of racks bursting with aloha wear, from new reproductions of vintage patterns to the outrageously expensive and super rare. It’s expensive by mainland standards — a vintage 70s neon colored number can set you back 70 dollars — that’s some cash for a 30 year old shirt. But it’s right outside Waikiki — ambitious visitors can walk — and it’s FUN. The really expensive stuff is hanging up high.  Wondering what a 3500 dollar aloha shirt looks like? This is the place to find out.

Tin Can Mailman: The boxes of Hawaii ephemera — maps, brochures,movie posters, so much more — are a gold mine of questionable clothing choices, snappy ad copy, and the golden age of Hawaii tourism packaged to sell just about everything. There’s more, though, tiki mugs and hula lamps and maybe, if it’s not sold, a spectacularly inlaid guitar. This tiny shop in Chinatown is jam-packed with tropically inspired antique wonders and the guy behind the counter? He knows about all of it. Take a cab or the bus.

Muumuu Heaven: Everything old is new again and it’s damned cute, and in some cases, slinky and sexy. Recycled aloha print and tropical fabrics are used to embellish skirts, sundresses, tops, and when we visited, there was an amazing selection of vintage dresses from the 40s to the 70s. There’s also a very pretty display of housewares, original artwork, jewelry… lots of one of a kind things. In Kailua. You’ll want a rental car to get there.

Willie K. at The Triple Door in Seattle

There is no doubt in my mind that Hawaiian music is best served live. Sure, there are some swell CDs out there, and no, I really can’t name any of them (except for that one Iz CD; do NOT get the orchestra remix, it is not good) even though I have a passing beginner’s vocabulary with the pantheon of slack key and ukulele greats. Here is the thing about seeing Hawaiian music live: it is about so much more than the music.

Willie K. is kind of an amazing guitarist and he plays a mean ukulele too. And while at one point, I stood on the rail of my bar stool just so I could be sure it was still one guy up there, and at another, I closed my eyes so I could just kind of wrap all that sound around me, it was the funny story telling and the history and hey, there are about 97 different musicians inside that big Hawaiian guy up there!

I loved hearing Willie K talk about the history of ukulele music, how the uke came from the Portuguese and the Hawaiians couldn’t wait for them to leave so they could steal that sound. And how Hawaiian music is so much more than the uke, it’s the church choir and the sound of hapa haole music written in New York and oh, those Spanish rhythms and so much more. And I loved how he passed along his gratitude for Bruddah Iz’s world famous version of Over the Rainbow because now, he doesn’t have to play Tiny Bubbles anymore. I loved hearing Willie K talk about country music and the first time he met Willie Nelson and I laughed through his version of Crazy as done by Patsy Cline and Willie Nelson at karaoke.

There was a lot more, of course, a song called Molokai Woman, and a version of Dennis Kamakahi’s Pua Hone, and a lot of tunes I can’t name because I know maybe three Hawaiian songs by name, and maybe a dozen by melody and then, there are just hundreds upon hundreds that I don’t know, of course. But I love the sound of a Hawaiian guitar and my affection for the uke runs deep. And I liked the sort of craziness Willie K brings to the stage, a staggering array of style and voice. It’s almost a kind of mania — wait, is that Led Zeppelin, I know that riff! — but it’s wildly entertaining, a complicated I can do anything approach to Hawaiian music that makes your ears wonder what just happened and wow, what else is in there?

I can’t imagine getting this kind of vibe from a CD, and while not all the Hawaiian shows I’ve seen are busting with this kind of energy, they are all full of that great story telling and humor. I think that’s a huge part of what’s entertaining about Hawaiian music, it’s the back story, the time my uncle and once I was in Israel and hey, this is totally showoffy but check in out, all the local girls… it’s the space between the tracks and that stuff isn’t on the CD, you have to go see the shows live.

There are a series of Hawaiian shows coming up at The Triple Door. The calendar page includes an option to search for Hawaiian music shows. Go check one out. And Willie K’s website, which includes some videos that do no justice to his live show, is here.

Kalama Heritage Festival

Kalama, Washington, is a little strip of a town along a river that bears the same name. John Kalama, a native Hawaiian, shipped out from the islands to work the fur trade in the Pacific Northwest. His travels took him to the land of the Nisqually tribe on the banks of the river where he found a new home and a wife, Mary Martin, the Nisqually chief’s daughter. For the past few years,  the town of Kalama has hosted a powwow/luau that celebrates the bond of these two people — the native Hawaiians and the Nisqually tribe.

A few years back, I went to photograph the festival. I met ukulele master Bill Tapia, I believe he’d just turned 96. He was teaching workshops and giving a concert. I ran into Mr. Tapia in the lobby after his workshop, he was unwinding and bossing his handlers around. He looked me straight in the eye. “You were in my workshop,” he said, “but WHERE IS YOUR UKULELE!?”

The Kalama Heritage Festival takes place this weekend, August 28-30th. There are more details on the festival site, here.