More than once in the history of performances hosted by the Bitterroot Performing Arts Council, Executive Director Laurie Ruffner has wished there was room for a dance floor.
Next week will be no different when the “Hawaiian Kings of Swing” will arrive in Hamilton and perform on Friday night at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center.
This time, however, Ruffner may also wish for tropical breezes blowing through the auditorium and the scent of blooming plumeria.
“But I’ll settle for everyone donning their favorite Hawaiian attire,” she said with a laugh.
Kahulanui is a nine-piece swing band from the Big Island of Hawaii that pays homage to the past when traditional Hawaiian instrumentation merged with World War II-era American jazz dance music to create a new genre.
“Hawaiian Swing is definitely our niche,” said band manager Scarlet Eskildsen. “We’re the only Hawaiian Swing band in the world that is actually from Hawaii, so it’s pretty special when we get to play for new audience members. You truly have to see it live to appreciate the beauty of it.”
The band’s name is adopted from the founder’s grandfather who was a leader in the legendary Royal Hawaiian band.
“Lolena Naipo grew up with a father in the music business,” Eskildsen said. “ They traveled and performed with Hawaiian Airlines. It was his grandfather who was in the Royal Hawaiian Band and what we do honors all those wonderful musicians and the music niche they created. Kahulanui is his grandfather’s middle name.”
The nine members of Kahulanui perpetuate the beauty of the musical marriage of traditional Hawaiian music with American Jazz with regular performances in open air venues on the coast of Hilo, but they love trips to the mainland as well.
Having been on tour for the last six years promoting their award-winning albums, Eskildsen said they are very excited to return to Montana.
“The band played in Butte for the national folk festival a few years back and it was one of the best tours they’ve had in recent years,” she said.” They love Montana a lot and are looking forward to this trip.”
The band is still riding high on the accolades of its most recent album, “Mele Ho’oilina,” which received Na Hoku Hanohano’s Jazz album of the year. They also received Grammy nominations in 2014 for “Hula Kui.”
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The four core members of Kahulanui are Patrick Eskildsen on electric bass, lead guitar and background vocals; Duke Tatom on ukulele and background vocals; Tim Taylor on drums/percussion and founder Lolena Naipo on lead vocals and guitar. The band’s horn section includes Jesse Snyder on tenor sax, clarinet and flute; Bill Noble on alto saxophone and flute; Vincenzo D'Angelo on trombone; Joshua Timmons, Eldred Ahlo and Mike Lewis on trumpet in the Hawaiian islands and Dave Clausnitzer on trumpet when on tour on the mainland. Bringing the old sound of the Hawaiian steel guitar is Dwight Tokumoto.
Four members of the band, including Tokumoto, will be teaching an outreach program at Marcus Daly Memorial Hospital on the night before the performance.
“We are grateful for the hospital’s continued support of our series and outreach programs that promote overall wellness and the healing power of music,” Ruffner said.
The wellness class will be Thursday, Sept. 19 at 5:30 p.m., in the Blodgett Conference Room near the main entrance of the hospital.
Scarlett Eskildsen said band members are very happy to meet the community in a more intimate atmosphere.
“One of our band members is also a music teacher, so he very good at sharing interesting information about the instruments, the history of music and inspiring people to learn the steel guitar and ukulele, both of which are becoming a lost art,” she said. “It’s part of our mission to promote those beautiful instruments.”
She went on to say, “Music can be such a healing factor for so many. Any musician is going to tell you that music is the best therapy; the best healer. But we’re looking forward to teaching that same principle with our unique brand of music.”
Scarlett said the outreach will help introduce the genre, ”You may not know exactly what to expect since we’re a unique niche, but you can expect a very upbeat show that gets people dancing in their chairs,” she said. “They are amazing musicians and you will love it.”
Just a little over 100 tickets remain for the Sept. 20 performance and are available at the BPAC Box office or online at bitterrootperformingarts.org.
“With the brass, strings, ukulele, fabulous Hawaiian voices, you will be swept up and enchanted with this special performance,” Ruffner said.
For more information, call the BPAC Box Office at 406-363-7946 or stop by between 11 a.m. and 5 p.m., Tuesdays through Thursdays, at 127 W. Main St., suite 103, in Hamilton. The performance will be at the Hamilton Performing Arts Center in Hamilton High School at 327 Fairgrounds Road.