Every evening all around the island, restaurant patrons stop talking about their hectic work week or epic vacation day to listen. We’re spoiled with all of the great live music at our fingertips. Pop into most any establishment during pau hana, and you could be serenaded by some of the island’s best musicians. From solo artists, to bands, and even married couples, this stacked roster of talent includes veterans and newcomers. There’s acoustic folk, reggae, R&B, jazz and rock. We caught up with a few performers at their weekly gigs to learn more about them and their music.
Kanoa & Jessica Lewis
Louis “Kanoa” and Jessica Lewis Kukaua are Maui’s “first couple” of the pau hana music scene. I saw them recently at Monkeypod Kitchen in Wailea where they play Thursday evenings.
The couple met in 2005. “I was bartending at Life’s a Beach in Kihei while Kanoa played his set. I would get up and sing a song here and there,” said Jessica. That slowly developed into singing a 30-minute set together, then an hour, then three hours. “Louis and Lewis” was born.
Kanoa and Jessica are quintessential live performers. Kanoa is a human jukebox. Armed with a guitar and sequencer pedal, Kanoa weaves together their soulful renditions of popular songs out of thin air. Watching and listening to them build a song from scratch is musical alchemy, and every song becomes new and unique.
“We never have a pre-made setlist,” said Jessica. “We like to go with the vibe of our audience and choose songs we feel they’ll enjoy. We also love getting requests and try to make a noble effort for every song–even if we don’t completely know it yet!”
That playful spirit and carefree attitude shines through their music. It’s smooth, intimate and effortless. You can catch Kanoa and Jessica at Monkeypod in Wailea, the South Shore Tiki Lounge and at Maui Brewing Company in Kihei.
If you’ve walked through Paia on a Thursday evening, you may have heard a voice of sweetness and light drifting down the sidewalk among the impromptu sidewalk bongo bands. That voice belongs to Julianna Trowbridge, who plays Café des Amis on Thursday nights from 6:30-8:30pm. She also plays at Maui Brewing Company Saturdays from 4-6pm.
Café des Amis’ outdoor lanai has a back-porch vibe, with bamboo fences, a string of lights and local flavor sitting at its wooden tables. Trowbridge’s acoustic style fits right into this scene. When I went to see her there, she played covers of Sublime, Jason Mraz and Jackson Browne, adding her own soft, pretty flair.
Originally from San Francisco, Trowbridge has been playing gigs on Maui since last year. “But I’ve been playing guitar and singing to myself for eight years,” she said. “It’s always been in the back of my mind that I wanted to.”
With encouragement from friends and local artists like Levi Poasa, who acted as her mentor, she took the leap and started pursuing gigs. “Levi is my inspiration!” she said, describing how he helped her figure out what gear to get and introduced her to different restaurants. She’s found the Maui music scene welcoming and encouraging–like Elaine Ryan, who got her the audition at Maui Brewing Co.
“I’ve done a couple local events,” she said. “Pop-up shops, weddings, that kind of thing. It’s super fun. I do write my own music, but I’ve only performed an original song once, at Open Mic Night at Charley’s.”
But she has enough material to record an album, which she’d like to do. “This is just something I want to do,” Trowbridge said. “I think it’s really cool that Maui cultivates so many artists, and there are opportunities to do something like this. There are so many talented people here.”
She’s one of them.
Brendan O’Colmain contributed to this story.
Photo of Kanoa and Jessica Lewis: Light Sea Images
Photo of Julianna Trowbridge courtesy her Facebook page