The “aloha spirit” of Hawaii is all about warmth, friendliness and inclusion, according to Kaloku Holt.
But it takes a lot more than that to operate a cultural foundation and stage a four-day festival that draws top entertainers and educators from overseas, along with tens of thousands of local visitors. That’s partly why Vancouver’s prized annual “Four Days of Aloha” festival, which was free for 19 years running, has finally made the difficult decision to require tickets and charge admission. Tickets start at $7 for a single-day pass. Children 10 and younger are still free, but must register online.
The musicians, crafters and teachers who come here to dance hula, play music, demonstrate Indigenous arts and crafts and teach Hawaiian history are some of the most esteemed experts in the world, said Holt, executive director of the Four Days festival. It has developed a reputation that even people in Hawaii are talking about lately.
“A lot of people coming here are people you can only see on TV, even in Hawaii,” Holt said.
Another reason for tickets, Holt added, is security and sanity in the park. Vancouver’s so-called “Hawaiian festival” has grown into a public dance party that has packed in as many as 30,000 people in a weekend. This year, Holt said, event planners decided it was time to institute some limits.
“We want to make sure it stays a safe and healthy event that people feel good about coming to,” he said.
Hula and crafts
The festival’s first two days — today and Friday — are devoted to hula and craft workshops that have moved, this year, from Clark College to the Groove Nation dance studio at 3000 Columbia House Blvd., Suite 107. Check the www.4daysofaloha.com website to see if space is still available to learn different styles and levels of hula, hula choreography, ukulele, or jewelry and lei making. You can also learn about canoe culture while paddling the Columbia River (from the Gleason Boat Ramp in Portland), or go on a walking tour of Hawaiian history at Fort Vancouver’s Kanaka Village, guided by park ranger and archaeologist Bob Cromwell.
All are welcome to a Thursday night community party at Groove Nation featuring local dancers and musicians, but you still must register and get a free ticket via www.4daysofaloha.com.
Among the workshop teachers are such Hawaiian stars as musicians Robert Cazimero, Kuana Torres Kahale and Kamakakehau Fernandez; fashion designer and choreographer Manaola Lim Yap; lei artisan Rae Pacheco; master carver Nalu Andrade and jewelry maker Okashi Orian. Leading them all is master hula teacher and dancer Vicky Holt Takamine, Holt’s aunt and the sister of his late mother, Deva Yamashiro, a Hawaiian native who relocated here and started Vancouver’s Ke Kukui Foundation in 2006.
“For some reason my mom ended up planting roots in Vancouver, Wash., of all places,” Holt said. “She always wanted to give something back. She always wanted to plant the seeds of ‘aloha’ in the children of the community. I was amazed, I was inspired, to see … how much difference just one person’s love for their culture can make in the community.
“What I’m doing is just carrying on my mom’s legacy, maybe just adding my own little sprinkles to it.”
Dance and music
The festival’s top billing this year goes to Ekolu, a renowned island reggae band from Hawaii that takes the Esther Short Park stage on Friday with sensual singing and powerful brass.
“It’s amazing that they’re coming here,” Holt said. “We’ve had all kinds of performers and festivals in Esther Short Park but we’ve never had an award-winning band from Hawaii. It’s a milestone.”
Gates open at 3 p.m. Friday with local vendors ready to feed you. The concert, also featuring local bands and dancers, gets underway at 4 p.m. Don’t forget what’s new this year: You need to get a ticket for entry online.
After that, Saturday will be the real centerpiece of Four Days — the Hawaiian Festival, featuring music, dance, vendors, family activities and more. Sunday will be more of the same. Check the website for schedule updates and details, some of which were still firming up in the days before the event.
Ke Kukui Foundation
There’s yet another reason why the Four Days festival decided to sell tickets this year, Holt said. Its sponsor, the nonprofit Ke Kukui Foundation, has ground to a halt and lost its leased office and studio during the pandemic. Zoomed dance and culture classes didn’t work out for students who already spent too much of the past pandemic year in front of computer screens, he said.
“We lost a good percentage of our students,” he said. “We came to a stop. We even lost our cultural space.”
Holt is eager to find a new location. He’s even dreaming big about a new Hawaiian immersion school he’d like to start, he said.
“We need to keep touching our kids,” he said. “We need to make sure there’s a comfortable place for them to be … a place where they can come feel accepted and valued, and get a huge dose of aloha.”