The aloha spirit was on warm display in one corner of a Whipple Creek neighborhood on a recent Friday night.
Resident Kaloku Holt set up a canopy and sound system in his driveway and entertained his neighbors with Hawaiian-style singing and strumming for about two hours. A couple of Holt’s musical partners rounded out the sound with ukulele, electric bass and vocal harmonies. Enriching the scene even more was a quartet of hula dancers from the educational Ke Kukui Foundation, which Holt leads.
There’s something intrinsically Hawaiian about just hanging out and playing for the neighbors, Holt said. It’s a display of that “aloha spirit” of friendliness and inclusion.
“My style of music is very ‘aloha,’ very kick-back-and-relax,” he said.
If Holt’s neighborhood concerts are any indicator, summer 2020 may turn out to be the summer of live, street-level entertainment — outdoors and informal, socially distanced yet pleasantly intimate.
“This might be the new norm,” Holt said.
Numerous Clark County performers have offered informal driveway concerts recently. A duo from the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra has played classical brass in Cascade Park, jazz organist Louis Pain has jammed in his Washougal driveway, and folk harmonizers Fox and Bones sang forth on Prune Hill in Camas.
Holt is the first we’ve heard of who is offering driveway concerts as a traveling entertainment service.
“So far I think I’ve done eight different neighborhoods,” he said. That includes visits to Ridgefield, Felida, Camas and even Gresham, Ore. “And the catch is, it’s free.”
During the recent concert in Holt’s driveway, neighbors did a reasonable job of staying socially distanced. Many settled into their own driveways with food and drink, kids and friends. Maybe they weren’t always as properly spread out as public health officials would prefer, but a warm breeze kept air moving while the everyone enjoyed the novelty of live, free entertainment on the block.
“We’re trying to avoid people coming in from outside the neighborhood,” Holt said.
A few visitors said they ventured over by foot or car from nearby areas to occupy sidewalks and one communal patch of grass. Farther-flung folks who wanted to catch the music could do so via a livestream carried on the Ke Kukui Facebook page.
The chief ground rule for the neighborhood concerts Holt has launched this summer is: no pre-event publicity outside the neighborhood or online.
“You can’t blast it out on social media,” he said. “That would defeat the whole purpose. We don’t want to have big crowds.”
Neighbors are appreciative.
“It’s been a blessing,” said Jason Bedford while pushing his daughter in a hammock in their front yard, across the street from Holt’s place. “Everybody across the world is doing things like this now. They’re singing opera outdoors in Italy and Spain, right?”
Bedford said his neighbors are being “pretty respectful” of personal space and social distancing. But sometimes he decides to take a break from all the people and go inside, he added.
“I’ve been to every one of these,” said Georgie Wildfang, who drove over from a few miles away, parked at a friend’s place and settled in with a lawn chair. “It’s so nice to have something to do on a Friday night.”
The Ke Kukui hula dancers agreed.
“We’ve been stuck at home with online school for so long,” said Ellie Buss.
The Ke Kukui Foundation still offers cultural classes online, but studying dance via video — and practicing alone, not in an energetic group of peers — is pretty awkward, Maile Taute said.
“This is really refreshing,” dancer Mahealani Mackenzie said. “I missed everybody.”
What’s really delightful, Holt said, is how often his outdoor concerts lead to new connections between nearby neighbors who never met before. That’s what happened with Holt and his own neighborhood, where he moved with his wife and infant son in winter 2018. Since then life has just been too busy to slow down and hang out much, he said.
Then the COVID-19 pandemic stopped everything.
“It’s been a really depressing time for a lot of businesses,” including both entertainers and nonprofit agencies like Ke Kukui, Holt said. “I’m in both of those, doing event planning for the foundation and as a performer.”
The Ke Kukui Foundation has canceled a regional concert tour of visiting Hawaiian musicians as well as its signature annual event of the year, the popular “Four Days of Aloha” cultural festival held every July in Esther Short Park.
Holt, who earns a living as a musician and bandleader, felt completely stymied — until he realized his neighbors were bored and his driveway was waiting. He set up for a performance while his wife distributed flyers.
“I ended up performing for the first time in three weeks and the neighborhood loved it,” he said. “My circle of friends who are musicians are really struggling right now. I thought it would be a double win to have live music in a safe way at various neighborhoods.”
It provides both some “aloha” during a difficult time and gives his musical friends a chance to perform, gain some new followers and collect some tips, he said.
“People have been very gracious about tipping,” Holt said. Audience members drop money in tip jars and send it via online services like PayPal and Venmo.
Holt likes to call his concerts “a movement” for this pandemic era and has launched a social media hashtag, #lawntolawnconcerts, along with his own motto: “What neighborhood will I come to next?”
Holt has a list of commonsense guidelines he shares with potential driveway concert hosts. Mainly they urge alerting the immediate neighbors about what’s up while forbidding any wider pre-concert publicity. Also key is continuing to block the transmission of COVID-19 by enjoying the music from the comfort of your own separate turf, Holt said.
“As long as everyone is respectful of space, it’s a go,” he said.