Mana'o Radio's anniversary is approaching, which means it's shameless plug time. Our little nonprofit, noncommercial, listener-supported radio station will celebrate 10 years on the air, come March 11.
When my husband, Barry Shannon, and I started the paperwork for KEAO-LP (91.5 FM), we envisioned a tiny mom-and-pop enterprise, broadcasting more for our creative pleasure than in the public interest. We really didn't expect there'd be much public interest at all. When we hit the airwaves, broadcasting from our sons' bedroom, we were astounded by the response. Before long, we had a volunteer air staff of several dozen - which is about what we had anticipated our listenership would be - and a considerable, enthusiastic audience. Still, neither of us really believed that the station would survive beyond a few years. We certainly never thought it would outlive either of us. But that's what happened.
Barry died a month after Mana'o Radio's fifth Birthday Bash. The following year, our annual benefit concert became BarryFest, celebrating both the station's birthday and what I call Barry's re-birthday. In the years since, dozens of Maui's finest musicians have generously given their time and talents to pay tribute to Barry's memory and raise funds to keep his baby on the air.
Barry was the driving force behind Mana'o Radio, and it seems incredible that he's been gone for half the station's life. But rather than grinding to a halt upon his departure, Mana'o didn't skip a beat, thanks to an amazing family of volunteers and the support of our listening community. These folks have realized our impossible dream, and I know Barry would be the first to suggest changing BarryFest into a pure and simple full-on party for all. And since Mardi Gras falls near our anniversary date, it seemed like a natural evolution for The Event Formerly Known As The Birthday Bash/BarryFest.
Although we were never there together for Mardi Gras, Barry and I enjoyed some wonderful times in New Orleans. His father was Irish-American, but his mother was of Cajun stock. While she was alive, we'd visit her in Beaumont, Texas, and drive her to Lafayette, La., for the annual Petitfils "Kissin' Cousins" family reunion. After a weekend of cabin camping and carousing in the swamplands, the only "Hy-waiian" among a hundred ragin' Cajuns, I looked forward to the relative peace and quiet of Bourbon Street.
On one of our visits, we impulsively decided to check out of the Holiday Inn and into one of the beautiful historic buildings in the French Quarter. I think it was called the Jefferson House, a narrow two-story boardinghouse with sparsely furnished but sweetly romantic rooms. After putting our bags away, we stepped out for dinner - and directly into a walking tour group. Their guide was standing on the stoop, telling them that our hotel was the most haunted building in the Quarter. He told stories about the young girl whose ghost appears regularly in an upstairs room and the little boy who met an untimely end in the courtyard. We still stayed there, but only for one night.
A week after Hurricane Katrina hit, the station organized a benefit concert at Casanova in Makawao. We raised more than $20,000 for the Salvation Army's Katrina relief fund. Barry was so proud of Mana'o and Mauians that day. The only thing that would have made him happier would have been to deliver the donations to New Orleans himself. Sadly, we never made it back there.
Of course, Mardi Gras is celebrated worldwide, not just in New Orleans, and the Mana'o Mardi Gras party will be as eclectic as our on-air format. Brazilian samba a la Carnaval, jazz, blues and more will be presented by a stellar lineup of local musicians including the Kalama Intermediate School Ukulele Band, Maui Underground, Dr. Nat & Rio Ritmo, the Mana'o Radio Orchestra and the Mana'o Jazz Regulators, and the incomparable Willie K and his Warehouse Blues Band.
The party starts at 6 p.m. on Fat Tuesday, Feb. 21, and goes till midnight or so at Stella Blues in Kihei. Stella's will be fixin' up a finger-lickin' Cajun menu and a special three-course dinner package is available. Come in your finest Mardi Gras attire - there'll be a costume contest with prizes. We'll also have a silent auction and goodies for giveaway.
Seven years ago, Barry and the late Ray Ennis, proprietor of Stella Blues, talked and dreamed of working together toward their mutual goal of nurturing live music on Maui. Ray's family and staff continue his legacy, just as Mana'o Radio's volunteers keep Barry's dream alive. On Tuesday, I know Barry and Ray will be lifting their glasses to all of us with a hearty "Laissez les bon temps rouler!" Let the good times roll!
* Kathy Collins is a performance artist, broadcaster and freelance writer whose "Sharing Mana'o" column appears every Wednesday. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.