The Best Of Ki Ho‘alu Returns To Kaua‘i

Rev. Dennis Kamakahi

MidWeek Kaua’i sponsors this year’s Slack Key Guitar Festival Nov. 20, helping to keep it a free event

Kaua’i will again be host to prolific Hawaiian songwriters and ki ho’alu players Rev. Dennis Kamakahi, Makana and Ledward Kaapana, among others, thanks to the upcoming Kaua’i Slack Key Guitar Festival Nov. 20.

And, we’re proud to say, MidWeek Kaua’i is the sponsor which means it’s free to attend.

Event coordinator and founder Milton Lau, who credits his passion for slack key guitar to his admiration to friend Gabby Pahinui, began the event on O’ahu two years after Pahinui’s passing.

“I’ve been a musician a long time but I always played Top 40s stuff, and that quickly got old for me,” Lau says. “I wanted something more, and (Gabby) inspired that.”

In 1982 Lau began the slack key festival to honor Pahinui, he says.

Ledward Kaapana

“He was the modern day godfather of ki ho’alu, I was crazy about his music,” he says. “When he died I wanted to do something to honor him.”

In 1992 Lau brought the event to the Neighbor Islands.

“I dedicated my life to promoting, preserving and perpetuating this art form,” he says.

The festival has no doubt gained a following, and in August in Honolulu marked its 29th year. Lau says the festival is going international, and will play in Australia and China in addition to Hawaii and the Mainland.

“This genre is known all over the world, but many people have not been able to come to Hawaii because it costs a lot of money,” Lau says.

“We always knew there was an audience out there and our goal and mission is to take that music out there to the world while we still can.”

Lau says he’s always inspired when he travels and learns the power of the allure of the slack key, something he experienced when “Down Under,” where he met Trevor Knight, an Australian to whom he taught the musical art form.

“He said he always wanted to learn it, and I spent three days teaching him, and opened up a whole new world to him,” Lau says.


Lau says he hopes to bring the festival to New Zealand and Tokyo as well, noting the Mainland tour will kick off in the fall, and the overseas tour will begin in spring.

“We’re trying to time it when airfares come down,” he says.

Keeping costs down is part of the job, especially as Lau has been able to keep the project ongoing without charging a fee to entrants.

Encouraging everyone to make a $10 donation at the door to benefit the Ki-ho’alu Foundation (a non-profit organization) aimed at keeping the 181year-old art form that began in 1830 on the Big Island going, Lau says those who donate will have a chance to win a new Taylor Guitar that will be given away during the festival.

If that’s not enough incentive to go, Lau adds that besides being a great chance to hear some of the best musicians in the state, it’s a way to meet people from around the world.

“From the words of many people who came last year, including some I talked with from Sweden and Germany, the festival ‘was the best experience’ they’d had in Hawaii, ‘bar none.'”

This year the concert will also include LT Smooth, Brother Noland, Paul Tokioka, Steven English, Millicent Cummings, Poncho Graham, Sandy and Doug McMaster and Michael Kaawa.