Next performance: Saturday, September 25, 9pm; 667-7400 or groovetickets.com
Growing up country, pilgrimages to the West side were but a once-per-summer affair. The winding haul across the Pali seemed endless to me as a tot, but holding your breath and making a wish through the tunnel while Dad laid heavy on the horn was worth it. Rocking my DayGlo coiled shoelaces sprung from magenta canvas High Tops, I was enraptured strolling down Front Street, which buzzed with the din of a dozen tongues and squawking parrots, steeping in the smells of restaurant grills, foreign sweat and a Banana Boat buffet. Macy’s was Liberty House and Planet Hollywood was yet in our solar system, but the Hard Rock Cafe had taken center stage.
In the summer of 1990 especially, when the Hard Rock opened its Maui doors (and well, windows; as the joint’s walls—despite being heavy with memorabilia—are mostly great big whitewashed panes propped open to let the ocean air in), the lines were long. But like the drive to get there, it was worth it, and in the 20 years since its arrival the place has become a Maui mainstay. The Hard Rock brand is rooted deep in the Western (and beyond) psyche—it’s the go-to omiyage when traveling anywhere from Boston to Beirut—so it appeals both to the name-hungry (or just hungry) tourist that can count on the corporate consistency with rock ‘n roll flair and locals who have come to know it as a venue for historic shows and wild nights out.
Since the company’s 1971 start-up in London, and over the course of multiple buyouts and expansions, Hard Rock is more than a Cafe and T-shirts stamped with a city’s name—it’s casinos and hotels and even a short-lived theme park. Ultimately though, it’s all about the memorabilia, and their 166 venues in 52 countries house over 70,000 pieces of music history. That in itself may be the Hard Rock’s greatest contribution, though their philanthropic efforts are more than noteworthy.
So when the Hard Rock hosts a concert—as they are this weekend to celebrate their two decades on the Valley Isle—they meld into it every aspect that’s made them a success. From their classic Hard Rock concert vibe to food and drink via excellent wait staff to the headlining band The Ataris (rumored to be dedicating a new piece of memorabilia for the walls) to a portion of the door to benefit the Sustainable Biodiesel Alliance (also, their Pinktober fundraising is just around the corner), the event is sure to be a distilled shot of Hard Rock dogma.
“We’d thought about making the anniversary show just for past employees,” says Jill Holley, sales and marketing director for the restaurant, “but I don’t know if they’d all fit,” she adds with a laugh.
Perhaps then it’s appropriate that their anniversary concert headlines with The Ataris, a foursome from Anderson, Indiana, that can list 15 ex-members since its first formation in 1995. Frontman Kris Roe is the founder and only original member of the band.
“It’s scary,” said guitarist Chris Swinney (the most recent casualty, replaced by Aaron Glass), in a South African interview for Live Live Magazine, of joining a band with a track record like a soap opera character. “But it’s been super cool because the fans have been great… I don’t care about being famous, but it’s cool to join a band like The Ataris with a built-in fan base.”
That fan base—and everything else about The Ataris, from sound to style—is the result of Roe, who began writing and recording from his bedroom back in the ol’ Hoosier State, and is credited with composing nearly all of the group’s songs on their six records to date. However, their most successful single so far is a cover. “Boys of Summer” (originally by Don Henley of The Beach Boys and Mike Campbell of Tom Petty and the Hearthbreakers), off their fourth album So Long, Astoria—which marked their break from the indie punk label Kung Fu Records to Columbia Records—hit #2 on Billboard’s Hot Modern Rock chart.
Welcome the Night, their 2007 followup to Astoria, is decidedly darker and the title alone for their forthcoming endeavor, The Graveyard of the Atlantic, bodes well for a band maturing into his sound.
Lord knows if I was held to my High Tops and DayGlo of yesteryear—when I got my first taste of the Hard Rock all those 20 years ago—I might not have survived the mean streets of Kula to be writing this today (right, eh, Kula Crips?). Thankfully the Hard Rock has survived—and thrived. For those who continue to rock, we salute you.