Hawaiian Music on the Big Island

It's easy to forget that Hawaii has its own music until you step off a plane onto the Islands—and then there's no escaping it. It's a unique blend of the strings and percussion favored by the early settlers and the chants and rituals of the ancient Hawaiians, reflecting the unique mixed heritage of this special place. Hawaiian music today includes Island-born tunings of acoustic guitar—slack key and steel guitar—along with the ukulele and vocals.

This is one of the few folk music traditions in the United States that is fully embraced by the younger generation, with no prodding from their parents or grandparents. A good many radio stations on the Big Island play Hawaiian/"Island"/reggae music, and concerts performed by Island favorites like Makana or L.T. Smooth are filled with fans of all ages.

The best introduction is one of the annual festivals: the free Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar Festival (Labor Day weekend), with a handful of greats performing at the Sheraton Keauhou Bay Resort and Spa; the Great Waikoloa Ukulele Festival (March), which features prominent players and everything ukulele; and the KWXX Hoolaulea (September), a popular Island Music jam with big names performing on four stages in downtown Hilo.

Or you can catch live performances most nights at a handful of local bars and clubs, including Chillin' on the Bay, Huggo's on the Rocks,Island Lava Java, and the Kona Brewing Co. in Kailua-Kona; and Cronies Bar and Grill in Hilo.

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