The Hukilau began when a few people on the Tiki Central message board discussed gathering at Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. Tiki Kiliki (Co-founder, Producer and Organizer) and Swanky (Co-Founder & former Organizer — click here to read his bio) began planning what is nowThe Hukilau™ – an annual event celebrating Hawaiian and Polynesian Pop culture while honoring a historic Tiki bar and location. The idea of the event itself came about when Tiki Kiliki and Swanky were inspired by events in California, namely the largest Tiki event in the world, Tiki Oasis. The reaction and excitement was phenomenal! The first event held in 2002, honoring Trader Vic’s in Atlanta, GA (est. 1976), was three days packed full of entertainment and events. The crowds poured in and all venues sold out. We were also shocked and amazed that Sven Kirsten, King Kukulele and others from California were willing to make the trip and attend the weekend, making it so special with their performances and participation. The experience sparked a fire to do more, thus an annual Tiki gala was born!The Hukilau™ saw a change of location in 2003 when we were encouraged by friends to honor the amazing Mai-Kai in Ft. Lauderdale, FL (est. 1956). The response was overwhelming with attendees from all over the world and once again the event was extremely successful. The Hukilau™ also invited the Italian band “I Belli Di Waikiki” for their first U.S. performance – the event has never been the same!
In 2004, despite Hurricane Jeanne, the event hosted more than 800 guests. With yet another successful year under its belt, along with support from the Mai-Kai family, The Hukilau™ had found a permanent home. The appearance of Billy Mure was a stand out from 2004 – at age 86 he entertained everyone with his amazing guitar strings.
The Hukilau™ made history in 2005 as we assembled a 16-piece orchestra to play one of the greatest compositions of Exotica music ever recorded by the incomparable Robert Drasnin. The live performance of his LP, Voodoo, marked the first time the material had been played in its entirety since 1959. Attendees have described the experience as if they were transported back in time to the 1950s and were watching a live performance in one of the many Tiki palaces that used to grace almost every major city in America. 2005 also produced our largest attendance ever of more than 900 guests.
The Hukilau™ 2006 not only brought us the event’s fifth anniversary but also celebrated the 50th Anniversary of the Mai-Kai. The amazing celebration not only attracted exceptional entertainment but for the first time at any Tiki event incredible seminars were offered to emphasize the importance of the evergrowing Tiki culture and history behind it. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry educated attendees about the art of the Polynesian cocktail, Sven Kirsten presented a slideshow on his book Tiki Modern, Florida Tiki Historian Geoff Sundstrom presented a slideshow of colorful images from Tiki palaces past and present in the Sunshine State and Jeff Chenault took everyone on a visual & musical tour of the greats in Exotica music. Charles Phoenix also charmed attendees with a historic and humorous journey through his vintage slideshow images – one of the highlights of the weekend!! Hundreds of historic photos and memorabilia from the Mai-Kai’s archives were also on display throughout the entire weekend of the event at the Yankee Clipper hotel. The Hukilau™ saw the largest attendance yet with more than 1300 Tikiphiles as everyone came to celebrate event’s fifth anniversary and the Mai-Kai’s “50th” together!
Because of the notorious Florida hurricane season, The Hukilau™ 2007 saw a change of season as the event moved to June. We invited Robert Drasnin back to our stage as he performed live Voodoo II – again, the first time the album was played in its entirety. The Hukilau™ audience was memorized with each piece of music. This was also another year of exotic seminars with the return of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and the debut of his book Sippin’ Safari, James Teitelbaum took us on a visual tour with sites from his debut book Tiki Road Trip 2nd Edition, Jeff Chenault was again on hand to educate attendees about the history and sounds past & present of musicians keeping the island magic alive. Disney historian and artist Kevin Kidney presented his seminar on the history of Tiki through Disney’s eyes and gave us a look into the Florida Orange Bird’s history. 2007 also saw the very first “Sarong-O-Rama!” – a fashion show and revue of Tiki fashion evolution from the 1940′s through today – a huge hit!!
The Hukilau™ 2008 garnered even more success as the event took place once again in June, its now permanent month of year. The Hukilau™ stage saw many new performers, such as the Tikiyaki Orchestra from Los Angeles, The Martini Kings from Los Angeles and The Fisherman from NYC. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry returned for another amazing seminar featuring cocktail recipes of the Caribbean, historic Tiki carver and artist Bosko gave a seminar on the early days of Tiki in California and his journey through Polynesian Pop history and beyond. Bre-elle Ishtar returned with an encore year of Sarong-O-Rama — a fashion show of vintage and current Hawaiiana and Kevin Kidney presented lots of eye candy with his “Tiki TV” seminar, highlighting some of the greatest vintage Tiki moments on the small screen. The addition of a Tiki Art Show curated by Harold Golen Gallery of Miami was a main destination for shoppers and art enthusisats – many featured artists had never shown on the East Coast before. One of the most anticipated moments was the event finale of Mike Skinner’s presentation on Tiki Architecture, full of several “eye-toxicating” images. Attendees had a hands-on lesson at the Mai-Kai looking at architectural drawings, renderings and plans for Tiki palaces now part of history. The Mai-Kai also shared some of their scrapbooks and Hukilau reproduced one of the Mai-Kai’s classic newsletters “Happy Talk” for everyone who attended the event finale. Closing out yet another wonderful year was the vintage Florida slide show from Charles Phoenix — another incredibly successful and wonderful year!
The Hukilau™ 2009 was a non-stop good time with a first ever performance by Los Straitjackets. We also revisited a big hit from 2004 and sold tickets to sail the intracoastal waterways of Ft. Lauderdale aboard the Tikki Beach Boat. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry was with us to tell us all about the history of the Mai Tai, Harold Golen Gallery hosted yet another Tiki Art Show, the Intoxicators!/Marina the Mermaid/Haole Kats/The Bikini Beachcombers gave amazing performances along with newcomers The Stolen Idols who stole the show with their incredible performance at the Mai-Kai. Duda Leite debuted his film “Tikimentary” to The Hukilau™ audience with great enthusiasm – the first installment of his amazing documentary focused on and profiling The Hukilau™ 2007 and other highlights from the Tiki community. The swingin’ hips of Candy Del Rio and Sable Syn Cyr captivated audiences as they never stopped go-going until after the event! DJ’s Lounge Laura Taylor and Laura of Miami played to crowds and, for the very first time in The Hukilau™ history, several rooms played host for The Room Crawl – a party and cocktails were literally taking place in rooms all over the host hotel – it was, by far, the highlight of the weekend. Despite the recession our numbers stayed strong and many agreed – this was the best Hukilau™ ever!!
The Hukilau™ 2010 was another success. We saw such sponsors as Seven Tiki Rum, Trader Vic’s, Trader Tiki’s Exotic Syrups, Weeki Wachee Springs State Park and Tiki Mundo. We returned to the Bahia Mar and had many new performers such as The Sweet Hollywaiians from Japan, The Woggles, and The Neanderthals, and for the very first time The Hukilau™ welcomed legendary artist Shag. The Hukilau™ and Shag also produced, for the very first time, a Shag Aloha shirt that featured Shag’s details of iconic images from the Mai-Kai and The Hukilau™. Duda Leite debuted his new and improved “Tikimentary”, the long awaited world premiere of the “DVD of Tiki” took place and The Hukilau™’s attendees were treated to an amazing symposium by Lu Vickers and The History of Weeki Wachee. Of course, the event would not be complete without our own mermaid — Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid made her showstopping performance at The Wreck Bar and highlighted performances throughout the weekend. Harold Golen Gallery stunned everyone with another great show of Tiki artists from around the globe and Sandra Carr and Bre-elle Ishtar (The Hukilau™’s 1st mermaid) organized another incredible Sarong-O-Rama that showcased fashions both vintage and from local designers. The weekend would have not been complete without the return of Jeff “Beachbum” Berry and his symposium on the Suffering Bastard, the always wonderful sounds of The Intoxicators!, the shakes of our amazing dancers, hula hoopers, Walk the Plank from Atlanta, The Bikini Beachcombers, DJ’s Dr. Scopitone and Lounge Laura Taylor – it was non-stop and yet another successful year.
The Hukilau™ 2011 was our 10th Anniversary. We never really thought about 10 years when we started the event. It was quite the celebration! We had great sponsors such as Kona Brewing Company, Trader Vic’s, Montanya Rum, Fee Brothers, Island Time Rentals and many more. Outstanding performances of the weekend were many! The Rum Rat Pack assembled by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry was sold out and held at the Mai-Kai which of course was the perfect venue for a rum-soaked afternoon with such rum aficionados as Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell, Wayne Curtis, Martin Cate and Steve Remsberg. Great historic symposiums by Vintage Roadside telling the story of Aquarama, a historic mermaid attraction of the Ozarks, and newcomer Paul Roe absolutely delighted attendees with his view of Hawaii and the history of tattoos. The soundtrack played like a well crafted set from the 60′s by such artists as Tikiyaki Orchestra, the Intoxicators!, Grinder Nova, The Exotics, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid and The Fisherman. DJ’s spinned all weekend such as Jack Fetterman and Gina of the Jungle from NYC and Florida natives DJ Lounge Laura Taylor and Drew Farmer. Of course, the real showstopper was the Mai-Kai dancers and their show that they worked so hard on and always do for The Hukilau™ crowd. We had the pleasure of working with Kevin Kidney with our merchandise this year and he was a special guest artist too!
The Hukilau™ 2012 was our 11th year. Our marvelous time was complimented with yet another incredible symposium by Jeff Beachbum Berry, a historic look at the Mai-Kai by Swanky, a live Tiki Tattoo symposium with Paul Roe tattooing Tiki Kiliki, a showstopping performance by the famous Angie Pontani, the Intoxicators! filling our evenings with enough surf to smell the salt water, a mug created by Tiki Diablo, more glassware produced and designed by Mookie of Japan, King Kukulele guiding us all through the experience and memories of yet another incredible weekend of memories and mischief.
We have been so honored to have worked with such amazing entertainers and presenters over the years, some listed above and others mentioned here: Robert Drasnin, Waitiki, Denny Moynahan, Billy Mure, Haole Kats, King Kukulele, The Intoxicators, The Crazed Mugs, Laramie Dean, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Trixie Little and the Evil Hate Monkey, Polynesian Proud, Italy’s I Belli Di Waikiki, Yma Sumac, The Fisherman, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Bosko, The Martini Kings, Tikiyaki Orchestra, Mike Skinner, Kevin Kidney, Sven Kirsten, James Teitelbaum, Charles Phoenix, filmmaker Duda Leite, The Bikini Beachcombers, Stolen Idols, Candy Del Rio, Billy Mure, Jeff Berry, Mike Skinner, Angie Pontani, Tiki Diablo, The Disasternauts, Big Pineapple, UberEasy, Johnny Knox and Hi-Test, Slip and the Spinouts, the Penetrators, Torchy Taboo, the Exotics, the He’e Amakuas, the Delusionaires, Walk the Plank, filmaker Jochen Hirschfeld, Paul Roe, Vintage Roadside, The Sweet Hollywaiians, The Neanderthals, The Woggles, Lu Vickers, Tikiyaki Orchestra, Lounge Laura Taylor, Dr. Scopitone, Tongo-hiti and Dames A’Flame and the Vodkanauts.
The Hukilau™ continues to grow and spread the Aloha spirit. There are so many people that assist in making it happen that it’s impossible to name all of them. We would very much like to thank our extended family at the Mai-Kai for welcoming us with open arms year after year: owners Dave Levy and Mrs. Kulani Thornton-Gelardi, and the beautiful and amazing choreographer Mireille Thornton who stated while looking at The Hukilau™ guests enjoying themselves at the Mai-Kai during the event, “This is the way it used to be” – the single most proud moment of my life. Also, a special thanks to incredible support of Pia Dahlquist, Kern Mattei and each and every employee of the Mai-Kai, without whom the magic wouldn’t be the same. Special mention to my friend and amazing talent King Kukulele, aka Denny Moynahan. He has been The Hukilau™’s emcee each and every year since the beginning. Thank you for your Aloha spirit and for keeping us in stitches!!