Heels & Picks: HMA goes ‘Out of the Box’
BY ERIN SMITH / Special to the Star-Advertiser
When it comes to a city and its nightlife, the best-kept secrets never stay under the radar for very long.
Restaurants that serve out-of-this-world sushi, the band that just started out and has what it takes to succeed, vintage stores tucked away with the best finds – eventually the word gets out about all of them. It’s the Coconut Wireless, as we call it around here.
Local music manager, Honolulu Museum of Art staffer and personal friend Brandon Apeles has spent the last few months building the museum’s Out of the Box concert series into one of the latest secrets ready for mainstream discovery. He’s helped turn the museum’s Doris Duke Theatre into a destination for those who want to catch national talent in an intimate space, and the community is starting to take notice.
Reggie Watts, with his blend of comedy, improvised music and a hairdo that is an entity unto itself, played a sold out show in October; Rhys Darby, of “Flight of the Concords” fame, had patrons rolling in the aisles in February. Nuanced musical performances from the likes of California singer-songwriter Meiko (you may have heard her songs on television shows “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Pretty Little Liars” and “The Vampire Diaries”) and critically-acclaimed Josh Radin (Rolling Stone gave his 2006 album “We Were Here” four stars) have garnered solid word-of-mouth reviews.
When it comes to the musical side of the series, many of the performers recruited aren’t household names. They’re musician’s musicians — people musicians look up to.
Take Benny Rietveld, for example. He is the musical director and bass player for Santana, a 14-time Grammy winner as well as a McKinley High School graduate. An opportunity to perform with Sheila E on Prince’s Purple Rain tour is what lured him to the mainland in the earlier part of his career. He has since gone on to play bass with Miles Davis and grace the cover of Bass Musician magazine.
On Saturday, Rietveld played bass alongside local musicians Eldred Ahlo, Travis Oh, Reggie Padilla, Keith Griffin, Tim Tsukiyama and Michael Boe. Out of the Box provides them with an opportunity to collaborate with national acts in a space Meiko described as “a listening room.”
Let’s face it, playing in a noisy bar where the focus is not on music is monumentally frustrating. You may as well be singing to your toaster. Performing for people in a room with good acoustics and sound where people can focus on your songs, voice and artistry is money. Perhaps not literally, but it beats playing at a bar — no matter how many free beers they give you.
There are several spaces in Hawaii that are stellar for live performances, and the Doris Duke Theatre is one of them. With 280 seats, it’s a space for lesser-known national acts and local artists on the rise. Fans will also get a more personal experience here than at some of Hawaii’s bigger concert venues.
An interesting phenomenon happens when you put an artist in an intimate space. They go above and beyond to connect with their audience, since there is little distance between them and the crowd. Darby’s February performance included several local-themed jokes that he had clearly written since arriving just days before. It was as though half of his routine was written specifically for the Honolulu audience, rather than the usual jokes from his comedy videos.
When it comes to bringing in artists for the series, Apeles has a knack for finding the right balance between artist, venue and community. He started working in the local music industry as a teenager, starting as a manager for Guy Cruz before helping with promotions for Fiji and playing bass for Anuhea. If you watch the music video for my new single, “Chances,” you’ll find him there playing bass as well.
“I always wanted to put on a show at the Doris Duke, ever since I saw my first show here, a jazz show in 1994 or 1995,” he said. “The venue always seemed so cool, and now here I am booking all the shows for the space.”
Aside from the great sound, strong acoustics and intimate vibe, artists who perform at the Doris Duke have felt the aloha from the crowds and museum staff.
“I had such a great time visiting Honolulu and playing at the Doris Duke Theatre,” Radin said of his performance. “Everyone, especially Brandon Apeles, made me feel so welcome and I can’t wait to return for another show.”
Added Meiko: “My first show at the Doris Duke Theatre was magical. A perfect setting for me to tell the stories behind my songs.”
Coming up this summer, singer-songwriter Lisa Loeb returns to Honolulu for a July 10 performance with local opener Aidan James (she’ll also perform on July 9 to help celebrate the HMA’s 20th anniversary screening of “Reality Bites,” the film that made her career with the inclusion of her hit single, “Stay (I Missed You),” on the soundtrack).
The 2014 Surf Film Festival will kick off with surfing community favorite Todd Hannigan and local opener Johnny Helm on July 16. Hannigan’s best-known song, “Thicker Than Water,” is the title track to Jack Johnson’s surf documentary from 2000 by the same name.
Here’s the remaining 2014 schedule:
» July 10: Lisa Loeb and Aidan James
» July 16: Todd Hannigan and Johnny Helm
» July 26: Bill Champlin Formerly of Chicago
» Aug. 9: Tyrone Wells and Family
» Aug. 20: Saloon Pilots
» Aug. 31: Tuck and Patti
» Sept. 17: Kuana Torres Kahele
» Sept. 27: Ernie Halter
» Oct. 2: Raul Midon
For more information and to purchase tickets to any of the upcoming shows, visit honolulumusuem.org.
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.