Heels & Picks: Rocking the Maui Brewers Festival
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
Let’s cut to the chase. I don’t drink beer. Not since my college days in Toronto — when my York University buddies and I would go to the pub for cheap pitchers of what had to be recycled beer from the dregs of other pitchers — have I partaken in much beer drinking. Those pitchers made us all feel like hot death the next day, but that’s another story.
I did manage to graduate, despite the beer. We all manage to graduate, despite the beer, am I right?
And despite my predisposition to be a wine and whiskey girl (which is convenient considering my longtime love is a liquor sales rep), I am always down to perform with one of my bands at a big festival. Even if it’s, say, a beer festival. If it’s for, or at, the Maui Arts and Cultural Center, even better.
The staff at the MACC has afforded The Throwdowns and myself several opportunities to open for major international acts and are always in our corner. Plus, they are just really nice people dedicated to the community of Maui County. The MACC celebrates their 20th anniversary today, and I can’t imagine Maui without the many MACC events that have entertained, inspired and moved me over the years.
Last weekend my boyfriend and I flew from Oahu to Maui for The Throwdowns’ headlining performance during the 2014 Maui Brewers Festival. We both had a crazy long day, culminating in taking our hopefully no longer flea-ridden Boston Terriers to a friend’s house and almost missing our flight.
But we made it. Welcome to flying with Smith.
The Maui Brewers Festival is a yearly fundraiser for the MACC. Now in its sixth year, more than two dozen breweries provided samplings of the best local and international beers, plus ono grinds and great music to with all the brew. I happen to know of many people from Oahu who flew over for the event, so the word must be getting out.
Of the two Hawaiian Islands I have called home, Maui is where I’ve spent the most time. Oahu has embraced me and allowed me to grow and step up within the tropical hustle and bustle, but Maui will always hold a special place in my heart. Many of my closest friends in the world, those who have been there for me through the toughest of times, live there and likely always will.
People often ask me how we work out the logistics of The Throwdowns’ rehearsals, with me living on Oahu and my bandmates Ian Hollingsworth and Ola Shaw living on Maui. The answer is that the guys hustle in my absence, pulling together the band (we’ve had a series of different bass players for the past two years) and they rehearse before I arrive. I fly in and we have one rehearsal with me there, usually the night before the show.
I really appreciate that the guys do this, and they did one hell of a job this time. Ola owns a recording studio in Lahaina, W.A.M. Productions, and that is where we rehearse. I don’t really play much electric guitar with my solo band on Oahu, so all of my gear stays on Maui. Our bass player for this show, who I really think fits the look and vibe of the band, was Chad Kaya. Chad is in Owaila, another Maui rock band you should get to know.
For this Throwdowns performance, we were also joined by keys player Ryan Duffy. We run digital tracks from Pro Tools live during many of The Throwdowns’ songs. Those tracks, produced by Ola, have everything from synths to 808 bombs in them. What Ryan did was basically a live manipulation of his keyboard to make noises sound like digital ambience. It was great.
The drill usually goes like this: rehearsal Friday night, load in gear around lunchtime Saturday, followed by soundcheck and then I disappear to hair and makeup for a bit. (Mahalo to Chrissy Swink for doing my hair and makeup last weekend!)
So what is happening in the meantime? The beer, food and merriment took place on the gorgeous expanse in front of the Yokouchi Pavilion. This year’s festival began at 2:30 p.m. with a VIP crowd enjoying early access and rare beer sampling. VIP tickets, limited in number, are a hot commodity each year and tend to sell out well before the festival.
The general admission crowd pours in at 4 p.m. with wristbands to sample eight four-ounce tastings of beer. General admission also gets you a cool commemorative glass (I’ve had my glass from the first festival for years) and parking. Designated driver tickets are available as well.
All of the delicious beer and food aside, the annual Brewers Festival was envisioned to be the more affordably priced alternative to the Maui Calls gala held each August at the MACC. Events like these allow for free family events like Starry Night Cinema and the MACC’s Slack Key and Ukulele Festivals. They also use the funds to run their Artists in the Community program, which takes performing artists to remote areas like Hana, Moloka‘i and Lana‘i for school shows and free performances.
Though some of these programs are supported by national, state and Maui County funding and business donors, they don’t cover all of the costs. The rest is made up by proceeds from an afternoon of drinking beer, sampling pupus and dancing to live music. That’s a win-win situation, if you ask me.
LiA LiVE & Hi ground, Jamie Gallo with Simply Twisted joined us on stage this year, and we all had a fantastic time performing for the huge crowd. LiA’s set is energetic and she is a bundle of energy, fusing dance routines into her high-octane performance.
Gallo has a lovely voice I have enjoyed for years, and we all caught up backstage in the green room while sipping iced tea and eating fruit and cookies. (Well, I didn’t eat cookies… but they looked delicious.) We all had our significant others, friends and keiki with us, hanging out, warming up, checking set lists and having a few laughs.
During our set, I saw familiar faces, fans, friends and strangers all having a good time. I wore an orange dress from H&M and knee-high black boots – flats so I didn’t fall while jumping around, because The Throwdowns set is a little more active than my solo performances. We played hard, I belted my face off, the guys killed it and though my smoky eye makeup ran, it really was a perfect evening.
My boyfriend kissed me when I walked offstage and said I looked like the Ultimate Warrior in a party dress. I hear that look is in this summer. Perfect.
Erin Smith is a singer and guitarist who performs as a solo artist and with Maui-based Na Hoku Hanohano Award-nominated band The Throwdowns. Born in Canada, she moved to Hawaii in 2004 and now resides in Kailua. Contact her via e-mail or follow her on Twitter.