The Hukilau, the East Coast’s flagship event celebrating mid-century Polynesian Pop culture, delighted its Facebook fans with an announcement Friday that this year’s event will not be its last after all.
In late 2013, The Hukilau’s co-founder and longtime organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White announced that this year’s event would be the “Final Aloha.” The annual gathering of Tiki culture fans began in 2002 in Atlanta and has been based in Fort Lauderdale and the historic Mai-Kai since 2003. But as has happened before, fate (or perhaps the Tiki gods) once again intervened.
“While the Final Aloha was a very difficult decision to make, it was necessary by a series of factors at that time,” White posted on The Hukilau’s official Facebook page. “I’m relieved and thankful that we may be able to overcome them. I’m happy to announce due to recent events that The Hukilau will continue!”
The Hukilau has returned from the brink at least once before, and it has overcome many hurdles. It survived a direct hit from Hurricane Jeanne in 2004, then the potential closing of The Mai-Kai in 2008. That year was thought to be the last, until an 11th-hour announcement that The Mai-Kai has secured loans to repair long-standing damage from the hurricane, ensuring both the survival of the iconic Polynesian restaurant (est. in 1956) and The Hukilau.
In 2014, both appear as popular as ever despite the years of the Great Recession and ever-changing popular tastes. But White faced a hard choice as the years passed and she took on new job and family commitments in her native Alabama. “I could see no way that I could continue the event due to the enormity of the project and the demands of responsibility plus my full time job commitment,” she said in Friday’s Facebook post.
“When I take a step back and see all the lives that this event has impacted over the years, how many relationships have been forged, how many historic moments in our culture have been shared between us, it was clear to me that I didn’t want to end the event – I just could no longer do it alone,” she wrote.
But in the months since the Final Aloha announcement, she said, she’s received a “tremendous outpouring of support,” including offers and interest in saving The Hukilau. A recent meeting with two people who are “looking at coming aboard” finally swayed White to make Friday’s announcement. “A few people have stepped forward to help save us,” she said.
The Facebook announcement for the event’s fans (and a subsequent e-mail to ticket holders) ensured that the word got out quickly, White said, even before the website was updated or a press release was sent. “I wanted to be very transparent so that you all could know about this as soon as possible. I know how much all of you save and must pull all the stops to be able to travel each year and spend your hard earned vacation dollars during The Hukilau weekender.”
White acknowledged that some attendees may choose to cancel this year “given that The Hukilau will have a life far beyond the 2014 event.” She pledged to take care of any cancellations personally via e-mail at Christie@TheHukilau.com, adding a note of appreciation: “Mahalo for buying tickets, sharing your enthusiasm of the event, inviting your friends, attending year after year or for the first time.”
As for 2015, White said the dates will be announced at this year’s event, and that those registered for the Final Aloha will have the first opportunity to pre-register for next year. She also said that she’ll soon be issuing an official announcement introducing her new partners.
In the meantime, White invited fans to “raise a glass in your home Tiki bar, at your local Tiki bar or whatever paradise you prefer and toast tonight – long live The Hukilau.” At The Atomic Grog, our drink of choice was The Mai-Kai’s Black Magic (see photo above), featuring a newly tweaked tribute recipe.
Even without the announcement of The Hukilau’s revival, this year’s event is worth celebrating. On tap for the five-day event in June are musical guests The Left Arm of Buddha, The Sweet Hollywaiians, The Smokin’ Menehunes, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Slip and the Spinouts, and Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays; special guests King Kukulele, and Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid. Plus symposiums by Jeff “Beachbum” Berry, Paul Roe, Vintage Roadside, and Philip Greene.
Some symposium tickets and many of the different levels of event tickets have been sold out for some time. But in the wake of Friday’s announcement regarding refunds, The Hukilau may soon be making some sold-out tickets available again. Check TheHukilau.com and the Facebook page for further announcements. And it can’t hurt to send Tiki Kiliki an e-mail to ask about a waiting list.
Ticket-holders get the added bonus of the annual pre-sale of official merchandise, scheduled to begin next week. The Hukilau’s official mug for 2014 (see photo above), sculpted and manufactured by Eeekum Bookum, is a tribute to the iconic image of the cannibal gods that were once on everything The Mai-Kai produced, from matchbooks to menus to staff uniforms. There will also be a T-shirt, three different glassware designs, an aloha shirt, a commemorative print, and more.