Story by Shannon Wianecki
Photos by Anna Kim
Laniel Salvador leaps onto a makeshift dance floor—a square of linoleum duct-taped to the asphalt of Market Street in the heart of Wailuku town. The crowd that surrounds the impromptu stage is so thick that children clamber onto their fathers’ shoulders to watch. From that vantage point the keiki have a clear view of dancers facing off to hip-hop beats. At the moment Salvador’s team, which consists of two agile high school students who call themselves Ill Habitz, is wowing the audience with acrobatic arm balances, deft footwork and head spins. Before long they’re accepting congratulations for their win.
The monthly b-boy battle is one of the main attractions at Wailuku First Friday— but it’s far from the only one. On the first Friday of each month, the long, wide stretch of road known as Market Street closes to traffic and comes alive with performers, vendors, roving magicians and hulahoopers. Saxophonists send sultry notes into the night air from the full stage fronting historic Iao Theater, and headlining acts that have included Willie K, Ekolu and the Makaha Sons pack the otherwise sleepy city center.
Shops and galleries extend their hours, and dressing rooms at boutiques such as Bohemia and Maui Thing are packed. A few doors down, the colorful Gallerie Ha hosts poetry slams. One Friday, Native Intelligence—a shop devoted to all things kanaka maoli (native Hawaiian)—sponsored a poi-pounding competition. The street festivities in Wailuku offer a delicious mash-up of old and new Hawai‘i. People come from across the island to mingle and snack on international fare: Hawaiian laulau, Puerto Rican pasteles, Mexican enchiladas, Southern barbecue, Thai curry and Italian gelato. The street fair started in 2008 as part of an initiative to revitalize Maui County’s timeworn capital—and it has succeeded wildly. “Now,” says organizer Yuki Lei Sugimura, “we have fifty vendors and a wait list of four months.”