story by David Thompson
photos by Jack Wolford
A half-hour before show time, a minibus pulls up in front of Bayfront Coffee & Kava in downtown Hilo, and several men and boys in dark green kilts pour out. They set up quickly on the sidewalk, stretching open rain tarps, unfolding chairs for the audience and laying out sheets of plywood for the dancers. Then the bagpipers blow a few notes, the drummers, guitarists, fiddler and flute player jump in, and the show begins.
After “Danny Boy” and a few other Celtic classics, the musicians change to a Middle Eastern scale, and a half-dozen belly dancers swarm the sidewalk, jingling, twirling and veil-dancing their way through their set. For their exit they part a curtain to reveal a trio of Irish step dancers, who clack away on the plywood with their hard-soled shoes as the music turns Celtic again.
By now the audience knows this is no ordinary pipe-and-drum corps, and not just because it brought belly dancers. There’s something even quirkier going on: The production has a thoroughly homespun aura, as though the musicians were self-taught, the costumes homemade and the dance moves learned from instructional videos—it’s as if a big, talented, do-it-yourself family decided to put on a free show in front of the kava bar every Wednesday night.
Which is exactly the case.
“We’re Lobo del Mar, a big family from Alaska—and Texas, Georgia, Israel, Finland …” announces one of the pipers, Brady Buntin, his voice trailing off as if the list were too long to continue. Then he introduces the band, which includes his son, his brother Bart, Bart’s son and seven of their nephews. “The dancers are our wives, sisters, daughters and nieces,” Brady says, cradling the bagpipes that he made himself.
Before the night is through, Brady will do a flamenco guitar solo, Bart will play Mexican canciones and sing a love song to his wife, a pair of Spanish dancers will perform, the belly dancers will return as Tahitian dancers, a 3-year-old girl will dance a comic hula and the band will play, among other things, “Amazing Grace” and “Dixie.” In the faces of the audience, there’s amusement, delight and flat-out perplexity. People don’t know what to make of Lobo del Mar. People never know what to make of Lobo del Mar.