Show and Tell Hawai'i

Has Lei Day lost its luster? Restore Waikiki Shell concert!

May 1st, 2015

Is May Day still Lei Day in Hawaii?

Not so much today.

A key reason: The Brothers Cazimero, who made it a tradition to don lei on May 1 to join their festive hoopla at the Waikiki Shell, no longer stage their concert at the Waikiki Shell.


They did it for nearly 30 years, ending a valuable community commodity in the mid-2000s.  Now there’s no one — an individual or a group — producing an event that has the allure and ammunition like an ol’ May Day party like Robert and Roland Cazimero’s.

Remember? You’d work daytime, and anticipate an evening Lei Day show, if it was a weekday. A weekend was easier to navigate your picnic spot on the amphitheater’s lawn. The concert was always a one-nighter, on May 1.

You’d pack or buy your bento dinner, and revel in the Hawaiian music pageantry. Occasionally, hula folks would dance in the aisles and amid the throng of the lawn crowd. So the fun and joy spread from stage to the audience, an example of the aloha spirit at work.

May Day also had its own song, “May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii,” a composition of Leonard “Red” Hawk, that was unilaterally performed and sung by school celebrants, as well as The Caz at the Shell.  But when was the last time you heard this tune? Do you recall its lyrics?  Can you still sing it?

The opening verse:

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii

“Garlands of flowers everywhere

“All of  the colors in the rainbow

“Maidens with blossoms in their hair…”

Sure, some of you parents support your kids’ May Day pageants at school. But even these modest school programs — also remember those maypole dances? — are  becoming endangered species.

During my tenure at the Honolulu Advertiser, I used to acquire two lei on May Day. One to wear daytime at work, another for that night’s pageantry with Robert and Roland Cazimero, at the Shell. Their mantra: make a lei, give a lei, wear a lei.

The idea to get festive was a defining event that corralled both residents and visitors alike, to celebrate the music and the dance of these islands.  Thus, the Caz bros had the savvy and the integrity to summon their hula gents and maidens, their featured dancer Leina’ala Kalama Heine, and a notable guest star roster (always a secret, till show time) over the nearly three decades, for some serious sharing and caring.

For many locals, this became pretty much the only venture to Waikiki at night in a year. After all, the era of packed Waikiki showrooms, a cluster of movie theaters, and scores of new restaurants were reasons for an outing, but no longer. Surviving showrooms now target visitor audiences, the film theaters are gone, and locals just avoid Waikiki (you listening, you foodie truck fans?).

Lei Day was the kingpin of attractions in its time. (Sorry, Aloha Festivals, but happy you still have a ho’olaulea and a parade… and the still ongoing daytime lei contest don’t count).

The Lei Day gathering was “invented” by island artist and writer Don Blanding and Grace Tower Warren, who felt the urgency to celebrate aloha and culture. The tradition was revived in the 1980s when The Caz did the first one nighttime at the Shell.  The momentum and the magic made each outing a sellout, but the effort took time and money and a year’s commitment, since when one was pau, planning for the next began soon thereafter.

With the homeless crisis putting a smear on Waikiki, there really is an urgent need to put a positive spin on our beloved visitor mecca.  A Lei Day concert on May Day would be a quick band-aid, but it needs a new vision and a new focus — perhaps a project that the Hawaii Tourism Authority and/or the Hawaii Visitors and Convention Bureau can support, enlisting the kokua of the entertainment community.

May Day is Lei Day in Hawaii, and ironically May Day is the universal call for help, too.

Help! We need restore Lei Day tradition luster again.



One Response to “Has Lei Day lost its luster? Restore Waikiki Shell concert!”

  1. Annoddah Dave:

    WH: I agree. In order to maintain some kind of tradition, it may be better served to involve elementary schools in performing lei day dances in a single venue like the Shell or Bandstand. Families can all come together to show off their leis and kids doing simple hulas at a night event. This could be a tourist event as well.

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