Story by Audrey Coleman
Photo by Greg Philips
Seventeen years ago, when a Whittier College official asked theater manager David Palmer to book the Brothers Cazimero, Palmer responded, “Cool, the Flying Karamazov Brothers!” Thus was Palmer propelled on a learning curve as steep as the cliffs of the Na Pali Coast. Today Palmer knows all about Roland and Robert C., and he has made Whittier a premier venue for Hawaiian music.
A Quaker liberal arts college in a sleepy town northeast of LA is not the likeliest place to host the nation’s longest-running Hawaiian music concert series. But roughly eight Saturdays a year, performers like Cyril Pahinui, Eddie Kamae, Makana and Ho‘okena take the stage in Whittier’s Shannon Center for the Performing Arts. The phenomenon known in the Hawaiian music community simply as “Whittier” begins its seventeenth season this August. In 2008 the Hawaiian Music Awards honored David Palmer for his Aloha Series.
Shortly before the curtain rises on a typical Aloha Concert evening, the lobby is crammed with music-lovers sporting aloha prints. Those with Hawaiian family roots mingle with Mainlanders who just adore the music. Display tables sell fragrant tuberose lei, macadamia nut shortbread and floral license plate frames. Fifty-something Palmer navigates the crowd until it’s time to bound onto the stage and welcome the audience.
“David is such a warm, welcoming presence that performers feel comfortable there,” says slack key guitarist Keola Beamer, who returns this October with falsetto singer Raiatea Helm. “The communication and follow-through are always there, so as an artist you can get to be your best. I feel I’m working in an environment of trust and aloha.”
For guitarist Eric Gilliom it’s the Whittier audience: “People want to feel aloha, and they’re not around it a lot. The energy the audience comes with and the energy we come with—that makes this one of those special places.” So special that when Palmer invited legendary falsetto singer Auntie Genoa Keawe in 2006, she chided, “Well, it’s about time you called!”
Among the artists scheduled for the 2010-11 season are Amy Hanaiali‘i, the Makaha Sons and Hapa. The season ends in May with, of course, the Flying Cazimero Brothers.