There seems to be a musical connection between the San Francisco Bay Area and Maui. Just this year, we’ve had Journey and Santana perform at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC). And on Mother’s Day, Bay Area native Michael Franti took things to a higher level at the MACC with an uplifting concert that was both musically amazing and a medium for positive change.
On Thursday, May 25, Bay Area local Maria Muldaur will take the stage at the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater. Muldaur rose to the top of the charts in 1974 with the mega-hit “Midnight at the Oasis.” Throughout her career, she’s played a spectrum of genres from jazz to folk and from pop to what she calls a funky, bluesy, spicy, swampy New Orleans piano sound. But what’s similar between her and Franti is the way they embrace the spirit in music–and their intention to spread positivity and love.
Genre and musical notes are just vehicles, Muldaur says–vehicles that should be bringing positive energy to people. “I don’t see any other reason to make music,” she said. “It never was about fame and fortune and being at the top of the pop charts. That happened to me; it was a happy accident back when I had my big hit ‘Midnight at the Oasis’ but I was never motivated by fame, fortune, that kind of pop success.”
Muldaur, who is not a songwriter, has maintained that attitude while developing the fine art of choosing material. Years ago, a Los Angeles-based producer suggested she record the Hollies song “You’re No Good.”
“Why would I choose to do a song like that?” Muldaur responded. “Couples are telling that to each other; parents are telling that to their children; children are telling that to their parents. Why would I want to spend a moment of my energy amplifying that message and putting it out over the airwaves?”
She did not record the song but Linda Ronstadt, whom she calls her dear, dear soul sister, did and Muldaur points out that Ronstadt “took a lot of money to the bank on that one.
“But I don’t regret that I didn’t do it,” she continued. “Because to me, why make music if it is not spreading a positive message. Right now, there is kind of a dark cloud looming over this country. Without going into a lot of political detail, suffice it to say, everybody I come in contact with feels it. And I feel like–now more than ever–my mission of bringing a positive message to people is even more important than it was before.”
Muldaur shared the story of preparing for a tribute show for the late Allen Toussaint. While planning her set, she delved into Toussaint’s material and discovered a song he wrote in the 1970s called “Optimism Blues.” Maria and her band fell in love with it. And when they played it in concert, the response was so favorable that they incorporated it into their repertoire.
Muldaur says when she meets people after her concerts, the value of playing music filled with love and uplifting messages is reinforced. “People have always come to my shows and enjoyed themselves,” she said. “But now, they come up to me at the CD table and say, ‘Thank you so much. I really needed this.’ It’s like we are bringing some kind of healing medicine to people. I feel blessed that this has been my job all of my life.”
Since launching her career, Muldaur has recorded 40 albums–an average of one per year. She maintains a respectable tour schedule, playing a mixture of solo gigs and festivals in California, across the US and around the world.
As with many acts who became famous in the 1970s–Santana and Journey included–the demand for live shows continues regardless of what is at the top of the iTunes charts. Muldaur, who characterizes her career as a long adventurous odyssey through various forms of American roots music, is currently touring with her power trio, The Red Hot Bluesiana Band.
“That’s a word I made up about 20 years ago to describe the New Orleans-flavored, blues, R&B, swamp funk that we like to play,” she said. “This kind of music is beyond being trendy,” she says. “The kind of music I love originated many, many years ago but it is timeless music and it has timeless messages. We always have a good time and audiences seem to dig it. We aren’t stopping anytime soon. Why should I? I love what I do and as long as people want to listen, I’m going to keep singing and exploring and looking for great new tunes.”
Maria Muldaur and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band will perform at the MACC on May 25. The stop is part of a four-island Hawaii tour in support of her self-produced release Steady Love.
$55+. 7:30pm. Maui Arts and Cultural Center, (1 Cameron Way, Kahului); 808-242-SHOW; Mauiarts.org
Photo: Steve Parente