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Tiki Talk With Eric Gilliom: A Preview of Swingin Tiki Time

An unusual and irresistible music event is taking place at Mulligan’s On the Blue in Wailea this Saturday: “Swingin Tiki Time With Eric Gilliom.” The party is described as a tribute to classic Tiki music, given both a traditional and updated twist by Gilliom and his band. Also on hand: the Kit Kat Club Cabaret, gorgeous artwork by CBJORK, tiki drinks and an affectionate throwback to the golden age of Hawaiian music.

The evening is a loving tribute to the kind of entertainment value local folks used to find at Trader Vic’s. The absurdly talented Gilliom took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few of my questions about the event, the music that inspires him and his take on the ever popular tiki culture.

BW: To begin with, do you remember your first encounter with traditional Hawaiian music? Was there a song from the golden age that resonated with you strongly the first time you heard it?

EG: Yes, it was my grandmother’s song “Haleiwa Hula” and in elementary school I used to watch her perform that song time and time again. She wrote it and many years later, my sister Amy Hanaiali’i recorded it. Music and entertainment always filled our house. It was as common as breathing.

BW: Considering how iconic the image of the Tiki Lounge is and the wealth of music to choose from, how did you decide on the set list?

EG: This is like a chicken and egg question.. In actuality, we took songs from all kinds of genres, jazz, pop, classic 70s and 80s Hawaiian, and basically “swung” them all with a tiki feel. You could basically say that we chose the theme and melded the tunes to fit it.

BW: Will you be doing any tunes that your grandmother, Jennie Napua Wood, used to do in her show?

EG: Absolutely. A portion of the show is dedicated to her. I’d like to keep it a surprise, but my grandmother will be well represented in the show.

BW: What is the rehearsal process like for a show like this? Is this something you rehearse in front of friends or will opening night be the first time you do the show with an audience?

EG: It’s great to be surrounded by such a professional bunch of musicians and entertainers. Basically I worked on creating the set list with my partner, Lia Krieg, and I got together with my band a couple of times to work on the re-vamping of the songs. Lia was in charge of organizing the amazing Kit Kat Club Cabaret with their talented founder Ellen Peterson. Everyone is so professional and a joy to work with that it just comes together like magic. Opening night will be the first time for this show, and we can’t wait to unveil what we’ve been working on.

BW: In your research of Tiki culture and its history, was there something you discovered that surprised you?

EG: What surprised me is how very much alive and thriving tiki culture is today. I think it’s because it takes people to a happy place, a place where everyone just wants to have fun, relax, and be surrounded with people they love. There’s not enough of that going around nowadays, and a tiki party is the perfect place to do just that.

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BW: If someone were to ask you to sum up what Tiki culture is about, is there a song or album you’d point them to?

EG: I’m not sure if I’d know a particular album or song, but I can definitely name some places and people that resonate with that time. What people have to remember is that Tiki culture is just a caricature of Hawaii, like a cartoon version full of color, flowers, and positivity. It was a huge part of our history, and a lot of folks, like my grandmother, Hilo Hattie, Don Ho, and scores of others, shared the joy and Aloha of the islands with mainlanders who yearned for a piece of paradise. I think to take something like that and do it right, without fake hula dancing, made up Hawaiian words, and worship of fake tiki idols, is important. There’s a way to do this that can celebrate the good of what was born out of tiki culture without being too serious. We see tiki culture everywhere here, umbrella drinks, themed restaurants, and so forth.

BW: Is this an event you’d like to make a regular occurrence for Maui music/party lovers?

EG: We’d love to make this a regular occurrence, take it around the island. The idea is to create a party that can literally ‘pop up’ and create a scene wherever it’s held. Mike and his team at Mulligan’s have been so positively supportive of the idea, and we’re excited to debut this show on the south side at their venue. It be great to create an alternative for locals to bring visiting friends/family, and for tourists to enjoy something besides the traditional Polynesian luau. Don’t get me wrong, luaus are an amazing time, we’re just trying to create a different kind of party for people to enjoy. That’s part of the reason we went for an affordable ticket price, so that people can come back time and time again without breaking the bank. The response has been great so far, and we’d love everyone to come out and take part in the experience.

Swingin Tiki Time is This Saturday, June 13 at Mulligan’s On The Blue, 7:30-9:30pm. All Ages Welcome. Advance Tickets are available at swingintikitime.eventbrite.com

Aloha/Tiki Wear Encouraged.

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About Barry Wurst II

Barry Wurst II
Barry Wurst II is a senior editor & film critic at MAUIWatch. He wrote film reviews for a local Maui publication and taught film classes at the University of Colorado in Colorado Springs (UCCS). Wurst also co-hosted podcasts for Screengeeks.com and has been published in Bright Lights Film Journal and in other film-related websites. He is currently featured in the new MAUIWatch Podcast- The NERDWatch.

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