HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Music and hula are essential to Hawaii and it seemed that at the end of 2019, things were looking great.
New music being released, new theater productions being planned, cultural events were increasing.
Attendance was slated to be up at events ranging from UH Men’s volleyball games to the Merrie Monarch Festival. Many Hawaii recording artists were getting ready to head out on tour in places around the world.
Martha Seroogy, Blue Note Hawaii’s director of sales and marketing said that “2020 was shaping up to be the best year we were going to have yet financially.”
“We were on a roll. We had huge acts coming in. Tower of Power was coming back. Air Supply ― acts that used to play the Blaisdell Arena or the Concert Hall were coming and playing this small room.”
But then, the lights went out.
Dave Moss started as Hawaii Symphony Orchestra’s executive director on March 10.
From the moment his feet touched the ground in the islands, he learned what the orchestra would sound like in the era of COVID. Much of it was silence.
“I’ve got 84 musicians that have been not just without work, but without a piece of what makes them human and alive and a tool for communication. So it’s really been that struggle,” Moss said.
“This past year that has weighed heavily on me.”
Award-winning Hawaii producer and entertainer Shawn Pimental said he’s known many Hawaii musicians who have been forced to simply call it quits.
While Pimental saw his recording studio take a pause, all of his friends found themselves at home with no touring, no gigs and no parties to play.
Their means of making money and sustaining their their livelihood had vanished.
It impacted entertainers on a personal level as well.
“Hugging, shaking hands, that’s who we are. That’s a huge chunk of our identity that is gone,” said Hawaii recording artist Hoku Zuttermeister.
2020 was especially brutal for the musicians.
“I lost my grandfather, (my) best friend, my job ... the financial stuff, your truck gets repoed,” he said.
Zuttermeister said because of restrictions, he never got to attend a funeral for his best friend Hawaii entertainer Ioane Burns.
But for many in the entertainment industry, there was also a silver lining in a dark year.
Hawaii musicians and entertainers have always stepped up in times of need.
As soon as the pandemic hit, recording artists started streaming to keep their audiences engaged and to give them emotional relief during uncertain times.
Blue Note Hawaii tried to open during the pandemic when they were allowed, but many stayed away ― not quite ready to gather.
“I think it was a little too soon for the general public,” Seroogy said. “They probably didn’t feel comfortable coming out yet. I think a lot of people were in wait and see mode and we ended up having to cancel some of our shows because ticket sales just weren’t there.”
She said one of the most difficult parts was the unknowns.
“You didn’t know when it was going to end or if it was going to be another couple months or a couple of years, are we still going to be around. It was bleak,” she said.
Blue Note Hawaii, known for its intimate performances due to the close proximity of artist and audience, closed their doors for a second time when cases soared.
They rearranged their floor plan to accommodate new restrictions and after reopening in November 2020, their staff continued to socially distance and wear masks, gloves and PPE.
All of the planning has paid off.
“We’re open. I mean, there are 10 Blue Notes in the world and we’re the only one that’s open for business right now. Every other one is still shuttered,” Seroogy said.
“I think people feel safe because we have so many safety measures in place. Um, we’ve shown that we can do this.”
Blue Note has enjoyed consistently sold out shows, although capacity is lower. Plus they turned to streaming and now have an international audience. With groups like En Vogue that just signed to play at Blue Note and with more phone calls coming in, things are looking up.
The Hawaii Symphony Orchestra also found that streaming was a way to engage their audience.
“The fact that we reached over 200,000 people over those five broadcasts are numbers that we never could bring inside of 1,400 seat or even a 3,000 seat theater or 8,000 seat venue, like the Waikiki Shell,” Moss said. “And so we’ve been able to touch people through music, through these partnerships, throughout this pandemic.”
It’s given their members energy and enthusiasm. They’ve also used the pandemic time to plan forward in charting HSO’s direction.
Zuttermeister is waiting for the time when he doesn’t have to feel uncomfortable when “aunty” comes up to the stage after dancing hula and he can’t “honi” her and say thank you.
He is also waiting for the day when he can sing close to friends and family and not have them feel uneasy as well.
Shawn Pimental added, “There are still opportunities for musicians who can adapt to the times; like they did a generation before, when record stores went under. We know music and art really help people through the hardest times ... and show resilience as a people, as a human race.
“The only way we get through this is together.”