The Wahiawa Historical Society puts on a charming, free hometown pineapple festival every summer. It’s one big, all-day block party, with clowns, bouncies, a craft fair, rides, cultural exhibits, and some of the finest live jazz performances in the islands. Most importantly, it’s a festival bringing residents and visitors back to the former pineapple capital of the world, in this small, forgotten town in the middle of Oahu, tucked away from main thoroughfares and commerce.
The Wahiawa Historical Society thinks of everyone when planning the festival, coming up on August 17 this year. There are plenty of cultural, arts and crafts exhibits, as well as fresh island fruit for tourists. The local food is everything people on the Mainland and beyond dream of when they dream of Hawaii, and has become one of the most popular attractions. The keiki (children) have their own area—for a nominal fee—to frolic and play, with Robotics, Xtreme Fun bouncers and rides, face painting, clowns, cotton candy, Kettle Korn, and shaved ice.
The entertainment hits all the sweet spots, from a Hawaiian style hometown parade and children’s ukulele band, to a festival within a festival showcase of jazz.
The festival’s Hawaiian style hometown parade kicks off 9 a.m. at Ka’ala Elementary School (lower California Avenue), led by Wahiawa’s Mayor Kirk Caldwell and the Royal Hawaiian Band, followed by military units, floats, and marching bands. The parade ends where the rest of the festival continues, Wahiawa District Park.
During the morning hours, the children’s Na Kamali’i O ‘Iliahi Ukulele Band performs under the main tent. Look for judges to announce the best-dressed pineapple costume, as well as parade and Wahiawa Historical Society Garden contest winners.
From 2 p.m. to 6 p.m., the third annual Wahiawa Jazz Festival takes over with some outstanding local and national artists: Betty Loo Taylor Trio, Robert Shinoda & Friends, Tommy James Trio, and Rodney Perez & Tropi-Jazz’s 10-piece Salsa and Latin band.
About 40 years ago, pianist Betty Loo Taylor burst onto the local jazz scene. A musician who played by feel, her hands would fly over the keys with explosive power and evocative swing. Even more impressive, she could hang with the big boys, commanding respect. Nicknamed “Lady Fingers,” Taylor’s still out there gigging, having recently completed a Honolulu Zoo Wildest Show in Town with entertainer Jimmy Borges (Hawaii Five-0). A documentary about her wild and crazy star-crossed life, “They Call Her Lady Fingers,” took the Audience Award for “Best Documentary” at the 2003 Hawaii International Film Festival (HIFF).
When guitarist Robert Shinoda calls his friends onstage for a show, anybody could show up. He holds down Jazz Wednesdays at Aloha Tower Marketplace’s Gordon Biersch, regularly booking some of the top names in jazz and R&B, locally and internationally. This man’s been responsible for some memorable, history-making jam sessions, from Jimmy Borges coming out of semi-retirement to sing with Seawind’s Pauline Wilson, to welcoming L.A. jazz-rock star Jeff Richman and local boy made good, saxophonist Gabe Baltazar (NBC recording studio musician, 1965-1969). If a visiting artist is passing through, Shinoda’s probably got a lock on him or her for that Wednesday night.
Tommy James is one of those big names Shinoda’s familiar with. James has been the Duke Ellington Orchestra’s pianist and music director since 1987. The kind of music he enjoys playing has a farther reach than dance, swing, and big band jazz. He views his works as more American music. Some of his best achievements are his suites, inspired by Shakespeare (Such Sweet Thunder), gospel (Black, Brown And Beige), and classical (Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker).
A Nuyorican, percussionist/vocalist Rodney Perez has loved living and gigging in Hawaii for over 20 years. The 30-year Latin and Salsa musician heads up a 10-piece band, keeping the Tropi-Jazz sound alive. They’re guaranteed to get the crowd up and dancing.