Imagine, if you will, Paia, circa 1973. Dogs sleep in the street. A young Mary Lee, fiddle in tow, waits to hitch a ride from the next motorist to pass through town. It’s a long wait. But at least she’s got the scenery. And the music.
Lee, now of the eclectic gypsy/island acoustic outfit Maui Kila Kila, was part of a collective of musicians that populated Maui a few decades ago. They tended to congregate at Modelia Studio in Maui Meadows, which produced the highest quality recordings on-island. She and fellow Kila Kila band members Wesley Furumoto and Steve McGee have played in various configurations since then, though the size of their musicians’ network has dwindled.
“We’re the only ones left out of the old crew,” Lee says.
McGee says there was a time when jamming with the likes of Neil Young and Stephen Stills was no big deal. Shortly after the release of Young’s 1974 album On the Beach, McGee spotted Young at a bar in Lahaina. “Wanna go jam?” McGee asked the legendary rocker. Sure, said Young. The next day, McGee said, he ran into Young in Haiku. “Wanna go jam?” McGee once again asked the legendary rocker. Sure, said Young.
Lee, Furumoto and McGee have an endless arsenal of similarly random and wonderful stories from back in the day.
During a gig at the Rodeo Club (what is now Casanova), one of Lee’s former bands caused a big enough sensation Upcountry, she said, that a couple of guys rode into the bar on horses.
McGee arrived on Maui for the first time in 1973, fresh from serving on a sailboat crew during a 34-day trip from California (the boat’s original destination was Baja, but the Kiwi captain decided on a minor change of course).
But the band can’t be defined merely by the past.
The three have played together in their current lineup for about seven months. “We complement each other’s playing styles,” Furumoto says.
The result: a conscious, fiddle-infused island sound that transcends geography. Furumoto, who writes most of the combo’s music, says that they draw influence from Celtic music, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan, Gabby Pahanui, U2, Ben Harper, Olomana and, of course, the Beatles.
Lee, who has played violin in a symphony, plays everything from classical to pop, blues to Celtic. Former tugboat captain and multi-instrumentalist McGee is fluent in guitar, mandolin, ukulele, and bagpipes. Wes plays guitar, Hawaiian nose flute (on one tune) and does most of the band’s vocals (though they are working on three-part harmonies).
Maui Kila Kila plays at various venues islandwide, and does a lot of fundraisers. Mary plays fiddle on St. Patrick’s Day at the Kahului Ale House. The band will also play Haiku’s Ho‘olaulea and has a gig at Café Marc Aurel this Friday evening.
Times may have changed, but the music is still here. And it always will be. MTW