If you go to Hapa’s Facebook page, they list their genre of music as “progressive aggressive beautiful Hawaiian,” a description that’s as unique as their show. This summer, Hapa is performing twice a week at the Mill House in Waikapu. I spent Tuesday, June 30, there and was blown away. I’ve seen Hapa and have been to the Mill House, but the latest incarnation of both gave me chicken skin.
Barry Flanagan, the founder and lead guitarist of Hapa, tells stories between songs. He came to Maui in the 1980s to immerse himself in the art of Kiho Alu and Haku Mele. In 1994, Hapa release their self-titled album that remains their top selling recording and swept the Na Hoku Hano Hano awards that year.
“May 24th 1980, 3,500 people were at the Lahaina Civic Center for a 50th birthday party, and at the end of the night I got to witness Uncle Phil Secretario, Uncle Moon Keahi–these fantastic men–sit and serenade the workers with this beautiful Hawaiian music called Nahe Nahe,” Flanagan said during the show. “This stuff you have heard tonight is about as contemporary as it gets. I am from New Jersey–Irish, grandparents from Ireland. This music comes at you as contemporary Hawaiian. You have to go towards it.”
Flanagan was flanked on stage by Kapono Na`ili`ili on guitar and Tarvin Lono O’shaugnessy Makia on bass. Radasha Ho`ohuli-Tamure, who was crowned Miss Hawaii in 2005, danced the hula. Flanagan joked about Kapono’s youth, saying that he bought his guitar at Bounty Music in 1981 and Kapono was born nine months later. The guitar looks well loved, if not battered by use, with plenty of Hapa mana, but the lesson that Flanagan taught is that there will be generations of this music to come. Kapono, and other fluent Hawaiian speakers like him, are an important part of that.
The band is fresh from a tour in Japan, where they played with different styles of music. In their Mill House show, they broke off on stage and Kapono jumped on a drum kit while Flanagan took up an electric guitar. Then they played incredible blues music, ala BB King. Hapa had a few other surprises for the audience, but I won’t give them all away. Suffice it to say that Hapa has a stage presence and legacy that evolves on its own; a history I was thankful to see it in person.
As I walked around the tree-lined path around the Mill House, I noticed that the building has a deco architecture I never appreciated before. In fact, the Mill House has transformed its stage room so the sound and production is now solid and well-organized. The Hapa show was tight.
They’ve also got their Train Bar rolling full steam ahead, and it’s open every day 3-8pm. The bar is fully retrofitted with a train caboose, engine and giant mill gears and is now a classy place to grab drinks and a bite. The outdoor tables and chairs look over a tranquil duck pond. The grounds have beautiful fountains and verdant scenery. The bartenders are knowledgeable and their drinks finely tuned. The campari and rum “Slack Key” cocktail was as good as described, and there were 10 mixologist-mades on the menu–I liked the additional graphic of the glass shape next to each.
Both the show and the bar feature a tapas menu by Executive Chef Jeff Scheer. It’s a distinguished selection of ingredients found on the Maui Tropical Plantation property and elsewhere. Scheer’s creativity is hard to pin down, and I don’t really want to classify it. Dishes are slightly familiar, but retooled in presentation or syntax. They contain ingredients like panisse and piperade, and desserts with candied chard in a posset.
There was a time when Scheer’s dishes were only available at his Chef’s Table events once a month through his Maui Executive Catering kitchen in Haiku, so it’s exceptional that you can now experience his food at the Mill House, whether you’re at the Train Bar or at the show.
June marked the soft opening for the restaurant, and as they get their gears oiled we can expect more exciting events in the future. Hapa plays Tuesday and Wednesday nights, doors open at 6pm with an opening act like talented Noa Zeb the night we were there. Tickets are $60 or $75 for VIP, food and drinks are ordered ala carte. Call 808-244-7643 for reservations.