Music promoter Doug Allsopp had been bringing eclectic blues and rock acts to Japan since 1999. While the big promoters in Tokyo were hosting bands like Deep Purple and Kiss for the dozenth or so time, Allsopp specialized in lesser-known acts like Charlie Hunter, Ruthie Foster and Les Dudek.
Allsopp’s final tour in Japan before moving to Hawai‘i in 2014 was with the American blues duo Hot Tuna, comprised of former Jefferson Airplane members Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady. They performed eight shows from Kyoto to Yokohama, with the last one in an unusual “talk story” and music format. A moderator interviewed Kaukonen and Casady onstage and translated for the audience, then Hot Tuna performed. The crowd loved it.
So when Allsopp brought Hot Tuna to perform in Hawai‘i, he organized their first show using a similar format. Hawai‘i Public Radio host Dave Lawrence moderated, talking informally with the band about their influences, about the ’60s, about playing with Jefferson Airplane, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. “Then I brought Roger McGuinn of the Byrds out in August 2015,” says Allsopp. “His style is to tell a story and then play the song that the story leads into, alternating between the two. That’s the way he’s been doing his solo shows for the past ten, twenty years.” When the audience responded, Allsopp knew he was onto something. “It was after that tour that I wanted to make this a series.”
He’s calling that series Storytellers—Allsopp brings musicians (most recently blues legend John Hammond and singer-songwriter Jimmy Webb) out to the Islands to play a set of shows, at least one of which is a combination of music and storytelling. Rickie Lee Jones is the next featured artist, with performances scheduled for August 3-10 at various venues on O‘ahu, Maui, Kaua‘i and Hawai‘i Island. More artists are planned for the rest of 2016 and beyond.
For Allsopp and the audiences coming to see the acts he promotes, the series is a bright new star in the Island music firmament. “Bringing touring musicians out to Hawai‘i is expensive,” says Allsopp. “But when the audience gets emotional—really hit with nostalgia—it’s all worth it.”