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Best of all possible worlds
June 8, 2011 - Rick Chatenever
My litmus test for entertainment is whether I can remember it the next day. If the show’s still there the morning after, turning my brain into a pinball machine with its echoes bouncing off the rails, it must have been good. I love those Sundays when I wake up and the column says, take a break, Rick — I’ll write myself this week.
Last Sunday it was Kris Kristofferson’s Castle Theater concert triggering the brain cells. Lines from the songs and visions of the charismatic old codger singing them reverberated all morning as I trimmed the huge bird of paradise in the backyard.
Hero worship is hard to avoid when talking about Hana’s favorite movie-music icon. But in an age when tabloids define what “celebrity” means and fools line up to chase it to any depth at any cost, when an actual role model comes along, it seems worth noting.
The concert was a benefit for Lokelani Ohana, a program to create housing for adults with developmental disabilities. The evening began with proclamations and a little speeches —except unlike the usual hollowness of such rituals, these touched the heart with sincere, palpable emotions.
Young people who may one day benefit from the program did a hula onstage, and then sat in the audience enjoying the concert, real reminders of what it was all about. (Attendance topped 700, grossing more than $26,000; for more information, visit www.lokelaniohana.org.)
The evening was full of emotion, even before Kris dedicated one of the songs “to Sophie … and all her family and friends who had their hearts broken,” referring to an 8-year-old Lahaina girl killed in a freak accident hiking in Kipahulu last week.
Taking the stage by himself, with his guitar and harmonicas providing the flimsiest armor to hide behind, the 74-year-old star didn’t dwell on heartbreak, but just made it another mile marker on the roadmap of human nature encompassed in his songs.
Musically, it seems like he only knows a few tunes, plunking them out on the gee-tar. And his voice — never his strong suit in the first place — is now sometimes little more than a gray-bearded rasp.
Which makes the songs all the more amazing.
In a way, his concerts are like one song … with lots of verses. But each song can also stand alone, like a short story. They’ve aged well, those songs.
Considering that he could have hung it up after penning that single line from “Me and Bobby McGee” — “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose” — he chose not to. Instead, his songs are laced with countless world-in-a-grain-of-sand epiphanies. The meaning of life in 25 words or less. And he doesn’t even use big words.
From “It’s Over, Nobody Wins” to “The Best of All Possible Worlds,” his songs have this business of being human covered. He’s one-of-a-kind, the genuine item, from a place halfway between Johnny Cash and William Shakespeare.
There’s love along with the heartbreak in his lyrics, and fragile hopes like flickering candles in endless dark nights. A young man’s lusts have mellowed into contented thoughts of family. The fiery political convictions and integrity of a half century are still there, but older and wiser now.
Mortality is more of a theme now, especially at closing time in the show. But the charisma that once made him a matinee idol still works, making him a sly poster boy for the possibility that the AARP sunset years need not be devoid of zest, curiosity and passion … all delivered with a twinkle in the eye.
There was little banter besides a simple “thank you” after each song, but there were wry asides during the songs, never losing the beat. For all the emotions and truths touched upon in the lyrics, the performance was light, laced with laughs, delivered by a man enough at peace with himself to be an inspiration and beacon to the appreciative crowd.
If Saturday’s concert was about the words, what happened the next evening in the MACC’s McCoy Studio Theater was all about the music. The second annual “Django Would Go” festival celebrating the gypsy jazz spirit of guitarist Django Reinhardt and violinist Stephane Grapelli filled McCoy with the happy, Hoku-winning sounds of Oahu’s Hot Club of Hulaville, joined by Maui’s Tom Conway and then the soulful virtuosity of the John Jorgenson Quintet.
Gypsy jazz is remarkable for its passionate heart under the string-instrument artistry. Vocalist Ginani brought a Pink Martini vibe to the Hulaville, with violinist Duane Padilla echoing Grapelli himself.
Their wonderful set was followed by the dazzling, multi-instrumentalist Jorgenson and company, especially young violinist Jason Anie. When he wasn’t playing, Jorgenson added genial comments to the sublime evening in a veritable jazz bath for the senses —warm, sensual, soothing, but mostly sweet!
• Contact Rick Chatenever at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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