Ka'anapali Nights: A New Concert Series on Maui has Roots that Run Deep

[This article appears courtesy of Hawaiian Style Magazine]

Ka'anapali Nights: A New Concert Series on Maui has Roots that Run Deep

The Royal Lahaina Resort's ocean-front concert series that began this past summer is not just about a picture-perfect evening spent absorbing the sounds of crashing waves and slack key guitar. In fact, the Saturday night mele isn’t solely the culmination of two performer’s careers. For one, it is the return to the isle that captured his spirit 28 years ago; for the other, it’s an opportunity to spread his wings on his home turf, reinvented and reinvigorated.

The band is the dynamic duo of Barr y Flanagan and Eric Gilliom. Flanagan, a New Jersey born guitarist, singer and songwriter, refers to himself as “the white guy who fell in love with Polynesian music.” In reality, he’s a transplant who landed in Lahaina in 1980 for what was supposed to be a year—and turned into 12. While bussing tables at the Pioneer Inn in Lahaina, Flanagan took Hawaiian poetry and slack key guitar lessons—immersing himself in all things Hawaiian. Over that time, he started the now legendary band called Hapa, which, under Barry’s tutelage, inked dozens of Hawai‘i’s most popular songs.

“At that time on Maui, a lot of the hotel managers didn’t want Hawaiian music at the resorts,” said Flanagan. “Wailea was totally culturally devoid—
you might as well have been in Carmel. But it really affected me. It charged me. It made me want to catapult Hawaiian music right into the thick of those resorts.”

Ironically, Eric Gilliom was born and raised in nearby Kihei (the town closest to Wailea), on the island of Maui. At the time, he had worked his way through performing arts college, and on to New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, where he sang and danced with some of the nation’s top companies. It was on a break from filming an “In Living Color”-type show with Jamie Foxx that Gilliom visited Maui, and met Flanagan.

“I had seen Eric act and sing in a local production of Rocky Horror, and was totally floored at his per formance,” said Flanagan. After the show, Flanagan
shared a heartfelt conversation with Gilliom and his sister Amy (another accomplished per former). The pair clicked immediately, and set off for the spiritually rich Iao Valley, with nothing more than the clothes on their backs and a pair of guitars.

Forty-eight hours later, Gilliom was hooked on noodling around with a 12-string guitar. Barry, who saw the untapped talent in Gilliom, shared the Hapa repertoire—and booked them a gig at a local bar above Wailea.

The “Wailea Nights” shows became an instant success, garnering a local following from across the island. People from as far as Ka‘anapali and upcountry Maui were trekking to see the hot new duo of Flanagan and Gilliom, pouring their unique blend of Polynesian songs out every night. Flanagan often brought in Kumu hula Charles Ka‘upu to chant throughout certain songs.

“I wanted to find out what the Polynesian part of Hawai‘i is about,” added Flanagan. “It’s something I’m still doing.”

Flanagan cites the new gig at the Royal Lahaina Resort in Ka‘anapali as the “return to this 25- year desire to come to Hawai‘i and figure life out.” For Gilliom, who most recently achieved monumental success as half of Maui’s “Barefoot Natives” band (with sensation Willie K.), as well as being part of Mick Fleetwood’s Island Rumours Band, this concert series is a return to playing with the person who cultivated his career—and put him into the stratosphere where he currently resides.

“It’s because of Barry that I am where I am in Hawaiian music at this stage,” said Gilliom. “I wasn’t that known in the scene—in fact I wasn’t even playing music when we met. And here comes this brother from New Jersey, who drops in and masters this whole art form. He puts a 12-string in my hand, drags me out to Iao and the groove we started then is still going on. Just learning these legendary Hapa songs was enough—to then be per forming them, with their creator, a few days later was a dream.”

According to Gilliom, the move to Ka‘anapali is all about getting closer to the water. Hotel director Tom Bell, who approached the duo with the idea, is constructing a special stage for Gilliom and Flanagan that backs directly to the less-trafficked beach on the north side of Black Rock.

“You’ll be looking at my bald head, Barry’s stunning physique and the water,” joked Gilliom.

“Eric has that magnetic radiance about him,” shared Flanagan, who currently resides on O‘ahu. “He has a very power ful presence when he walks out on
stage.”

When questioned as to what the pair will play, Flanagan shares his philosophy on local music: I consider local to be Polynesian, not Hawaiian. These are island groups—people are moving here all the time and bringing their stuff. And it’s not what you’re bringing to it, but the culmination of what everyone has brought, and how that makes up the environment.”

For Gilliom, it’s the opportunity to play with his biggest influence.

“It’s a thrill for me to play with Barry,” he says. “It’s like going to play basketball and Michael Jordan shows up. I mean, I’ve only been playing guitar for three years. To play his legendary songs that so many people know, and to have him play some of mine, it’s unreal. This is truly a gig for people that want to be there.”

What’s to come from one of the most power ful pairs on the Hawaiian music scene? According to Gilliom, he will be collaborating on a yet-to-be-announced project spearheaded by Flanagan. In addition, there just may be a future collaboration of freshly inked songs between the two—surely to take the Valley Isle, and the rest of Polynesia—by storm.

"It’s a thrill for me to play with Barry,” says Gilliom. “It’s like going to play basketball and Michael Jordan shows up."