Thousands gathered on the University of Hawaii Maui College lawn on Saturday, Mar. 24 for the March for Our Lives rally and concert. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D–Hawaii, launched the event with a moment of silence for the 17 people who were shot and killed on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. Standing in the rain, the crowd grew as powerful speeches about the need to find a solution to gun violence filled the air.
The message and moment were solemn—and the seriousness of the issue was evident throughout the day. But by the end of the night, the sky cleared–painting the most spectacular backdrop for what ended up being one of the most joyous nights ever experienced at the Maui Arts and Cultural Center (MACC).
The night culminated in an all-star jam on the MACC’s outdoor stage that brought together the biggest and brightest names in Hawaii. Superstars Willie Nelson, Kris Kristofferson, Steven Tyler, Mick Fleetwood and Jack Johnson were joined by many of the Islands’ top performers, including Willie K, Marty Dread, Landon McNamara, Gretchen Rhodes, Lily Meola and many more. The sound, the lights, and the stage—adorned with an abundance of plants and flowers–created a perfect canvas for songs of protest, love and unity.
Of course, the true rockstars of the day were the teens. Kids from across the island organized, planned and helped execute one of the biggest and most important events ever to occur on the Valley Isle. High school students Isabella Blair and Lily Katz said organizers insisted the teens plan the entire event including artist selection.
“They said, ‘Give us a wish list’,” Blair said. From the moving comments of King Kekaulike freshman Rachel Zisk, whose cousins were at Douglas High School the day of the shooting, to keiki carrying signs and marching with their parents, it was the children of this island that made the day so spectacular.
The message of peace, love and aloha was carried into the night with an all-star concert that left many saying: “Best concert ever.” The emotions ran high during the night, especially when beloved Willie K, who is battling cancer, was joined by Gretchen Rhodes on stage to sing a moving rendition of “Leather and Lace.”
“Thinking about ‘Leather and Lace’ brings tears to my eyes,” said concert-goer Billy Smith. “But it was the kids’ faces that the camera kept panning to that meant the most. That’s exactly what we were there for.”
Every entertainer from Meola and Pat Simmons Jr, who kicked-off the show with the Buffalo Springfield classic “For What It’s Worth,” to Landon McNamara, who wowed the crowd with his post-Vegas viral hit “Loss For Words,” selected songs that supported the cause. For the Baby Boomers, it was reminiscent of the Vietnam protests when music fueled a political movement. Steven Tyler closed the show speaking about the power that the youth of today holds in its hands.
“Music is just about the only thing that can kill the savage beast within us,” he said. “The Vietnam War, we marched and we put out that fire. Selma, Alabama, we put out that fire… and we can put this fuckin’ fire out too!” But it was Maui’s grand master of superstars, Willie Nelson, who uttered the most important words of the day when he simply–and repeatedly–said, “If you don’t like them, vote them out!”
And vote they will; hundreds of young people registered to vote—taking actual steps to be the change they want to see in this world. This generation of kids–born in the 2000s, in the time of Columbine, Sandy Hook, Las Vegas and tragically too many more to mention–showed the world that they will not be victims anymore and they are actively playing a role in shaping the future of their country.
The kids of this island, with the support of Supermensch Shep Gordon, took us from tragedy to joy, leading to a day that left us believing that we have had the power to make change all along. “It was amazing to see the students of Maui empowered,” said Gordon. “We are lucky to have them here.”
Here are photos of the rally and concert (all photos by Sean Michael Hower):