A Smokin’ Red Clay Jazz Festival

Parallel to Kaua’i Lagoons Golf Course in Lihu’e, a flat expanse of lawn houses a canopy tent. Underneath, chairs are lined in neat rows. Whitecaps twinkle in the Pacific Ocean. The show hasn’t started yet, and it’s nearly a full house. Mayor Bernard Carvalho and wife Regina relax and wait for the music to begin.

The lineup for the fifth annual Red Clay Jazz Festival includes local musicians, emerging maestros, world music and soul. Food booths flank one side of the tent, and the earthy scent of truffle oil catches a ride on the trade winds. My husband Dan and I grab a sangria from the Wahoo Seafood Bar and Grill.

Kahau Manzo, executive chef for The Westin, is serving seared day-boat scallops that sit on a bed of crab risotto and edamame succotash. Drops of truffle oil mingle with a swirl of macadamia nut basil butter.

Haunting sounds come from Darryl Miyasato, who’s playing a standup bass with a bow. David Braun’s trumpet sends long, melancholy notes into the audience. The Kirk Smart Quartet keeps time to Elijah Ray’s drumbeats, and Smart serenades us with a mellow guitar.

I can hear the music loud and crystal clear thanks sound man Eric Torgerson of ET Services. I look down, and there’s nothing left on my recyclable plate except stains, so I drop it into a Zero Waste Kaua’i trash bin and go back for more.

Executive chef Guy Higa of Kauai Marriott Resort has a smorgasbord for those on alternative diets. A crunchy chickpea quinoa burger is topped with a drizzle of Kaua’i honey and tahini yogurt sauce. Tofu cutlets coated with furikake sit on a bed of Kaua’i Fresh Farms salad with Wailua lilikoi papaya seed dressing. Vegan bean burgers are topped with salsa fresca vinaigrette. Higa’s wife Diane helps by plating Asian jerk chicken with sesame slaw on Kaua’i greens.

Will Lydgate, music producer and recording engineer for Kaua’i’s Steelgrass Recording Studio, plays barefoot. His funky bass energizes the Berklee School of Music All Stars, a group of faculty chosen recipients of the Steelgrass Residency. 21-year-old Noe Socha plays the guitar and harmonica at the same time, as if in a passionate conversation. Vanessa Collier sings a sultry rendition of Peggy Lee’s Fever that sends chills running up and down my spine.

Ron Miller, owner and executive chef of the Hukilau Lanai, channeled New Orleans into his food. Miller and his team transformed a whole Kaneshiro Farms hog into Red Beans and Rice. Chunks of house-made, smoked andouille sausage float in a flavorful gravy, and a tender biscuit is made with rendered pork fat. Kaua’i shrimp flavors the gumbo made with okra, and bits of andouille in a rich broth. Ali’i (King) Cake has bits of fresh pineapple and macadamia nuts folded in.

As the sun sets, the crowd dons sweatshirts, and the Venissa Santi Sextet – Afro Cuban Holiday comes on stage. Juan “Cuco” Castellanos plays the congas with drumsticks, and Madison Rast picks up the staccato rhythm with his standup bass. Francois Zayas follows on his drum kit. A triumphant trumpet played by Ron Blake calls out, and flowing piano notes come from John Stenger. Santi sings a Latin-style scat.

Sandy Poehnelt and her team at The Right Slice serve warm chicken potpies and shepherd’s pie to a line of customers. Slices of Mango Passionfruit, Caramel Apple Pecan, and Chocolate Coconut Macaroon pies beckon from underneath screen tops dotted with flowers.

Dusk settles in, and some folks wrap themselves in blankets. Headlining is Miss E.C. Scott and her lively band Smoke. The men wear black suspenders over white button-up shirts that are tucked into black slacks. Michael Peloquin plays an

upbeat saxophone and sassy harmonica as the tight four-piece band fires up the crowd. We hear Miss Scott’s soulful voice.

She emerges from the dark, in a sparkling gold top, and sings Phil Collins’ In The Air Tonight. Her voice lingers on the words, and the slow tempo builds to a powerful drum solo. The crowd rushes the stage to dance for the first time tonight.

To see more photos of the Red Clay Jazz Festival, go to Pages 26 and 27.