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How a Festival Can Empower a Challenged District: The Puna Music Festival Story

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Located on Hawaiʻi Island, Puna had been isolated by its geography – Kilauea Volcano’s recent lava flows - and by negative perceptions of the economically challenged region. Today, the district is transforming. A significant driver helping to rebrand the district in the minds of visitors and locals alike? Three vibrant festivals, including the upcoming Puna Music Festival.

Funded by the Hawaiian Tourism Authority and the County of Hawaiʻi, stewarded by Kalani, and presented by KAPA FM, The Fourth Annual Puna Music Festival is reinvigorating Puna’s enchanting ‘conservation coastline’ with a week-long program of concerts, events, workshops, and classes from May 4th through May 10th.

While Puna’s remoteness keeps it under the radar of many Hawaiians and travelers, alike, it has quietly become a haven for sustainable, off-the-grid living and cutting-edge permaculture. Home to the newest land on the planet, Puna is also known for its powerful energetic presence, personified by volcano goddess, Pele, and has been compared to Sedona, Arizona, and other power spots around the world.

A group of community leaders from KAPONO (the Kalapana-Pohoiki Neighborhood Organization) and Kalani, Hawaii’s largest retreat center, have set out to transform Puna through a series of annual festivals. These festivals, including the upcoming Puna Music Festival, invite visitors and locals to create a sense of purpose in the community and to celebrate Puna’s rich cultural gifts and stunning natural beauty.

With founding support from the County of Hawaii and the Hawaiian Tourism Authority, the district now celebrates three major festivals annually: the Puna Music Festival, the Puna Culinary Festival, and the Hawaii Yoga Festival.

As a direct result of Puna’s annual festivals, the district has come to celebrate its unique blend of cultures, increasingly drawing in visitors who seek authentic, adventurous experiences. In its fourth and most promising year, the Puna Music Festival has become a potent expression of the magic available when a growing community comes together to share artistic expression and authentic Hawaiian culture.

The 2014 event kicks off on May 4th with the lively, family-friendly Pohoiki Open Concert, featuring headliner and Hawaiian luminary Paula Fuga. A rising star, Paula is soulfully spreading her message of empowerment throughout the island chain and the world, touring with mainstream artists such as Jack Johnson.

Artists like Paula highlight the festival’s strong focus on creating more meaningful connections between audiences and performers. Another such event is An Intimate Evening with Kaumakaiwa Kanakaʻole, a ‘talk-story style’ concert to be held at the Kalani EMAX on Friday, May 9th. Hosted by Jaz and Kaʻea of KAPA FM, the talented and delightful Kaumakaiwa will share stories of the Kanakaʻole ʻohana, creating mesmerizing music that has become a voice of the new generation in Hawaiʻi.

The celebration incorporates over one hundred artists from Puna and beyond, collaborating in performances at different locations throughout the district.

Perhaps the most eclectic expression of the festival is the popular and whimsical Kanikapila (jam session) in Pāhoa, presented by Suisan on Saturday, May 5th. Typically quiet and serene, the Kanikapila animates the historic town of Pāhoa to resemble a tropical New Orleans, with music playing from balconies, windows, and storefronts. As revelers explore the festivities and performances, they are also welcome to sample local street food and crafts. Festival-goers are encouraged to dress in green and incorporate nature into jubilant costumes, with prizes awarded to those best expressing this year’s theme, “Celebrate Your Nature.”

Local Hawaiian kūpuna have shown strong support for this jubilant event. Born and raised in Opihikao, Auntie Dottie Kyser contributed: “Over the past four years, we have seen the impact that this festival has made, not only in generating excitement and fostering community, but also in grounding our cultural heritage in music and celebration in Puna.”

In addition to the week’s roster of diverse performances, the Puna Music Festival also presents festival-goers with a unique opportunity to participate in collaborative, educational experiences with artists including vocalist and Hawaiian cultural ambassador Paula Fuga, who will lead a songwriting workshop at Kalani on May 5th, from 10 AM to 12 PM. Other featured workshops include oli (chanting) with Kaumakaiwa Kanakaole, and learning to make and play the ʻOhe Hano Ihu (nose flute) with Manu Josiah.

“There is nothing more wonderful than to see the diverse people of Puna come together to celebrate this beautiful district,” said L.J. Bates, Executive Director at Kalani. “By stewarding this festival, we hope that all will see the richness of the culture here, and the incredible destination it has become.”

For the complete calendar of events and to purchase tickets, please visit http://punamusicfestival.com/.

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