John Cruz w/Blayne Asing
Kahilu Theatre -March 10, 2018
“We love you, Johnny!” shouted an excited female fan in the packed Kahilu Theatre. “You’re the best!” John Cruz, the Grammy-winning singer-songwriter, acknowledged his loyal follower with his warm magnetic smile.
Cruz’s sold-out concert felt more like a family gathering than a typical formal performance. If you looked around, you’d have seen the audience singing along to the songs – ushers too!
Born into one of the great musical families of Hawai‘i nei, John Cruz is a kī ho‘alu (slack-key) master known for his soulful vocals and unique acoustic style. Cruz’s band included multi-talented family members and friends. On electric guitar was his brother-in-law Imua Garza; vocals, Tiffa Cruz-Garza (John Cruz’s sister); drums, Seann Carroll, a longtime Cruz family drummer for years. John met him through his brother Guy — Seann drummed for Guy about 18 years. On bass was Alika Boy Kalauli IV, who has been performing with the Cruz family for over ten years. Both Alika and Seann play in a band with Imua and Tiffa Cruz-Garza called MoostR.
A tender moment in the show came when Cruz reminisced about a 2014 concert at the Kahilu when he was joined by his three brothers: Ernie Cruz Jr., Guy, and Tony. John played a tribute to his late brother Guy by singing “Special Someone.” John lost both Ernie and Guy in 2016.
On a brighter note, Cruz played the foot-stompin’ “Funky Love Attack,” a cover by the eclectic Martha’s Vineyard-based group Entrain. The whoops and hollers continued with the familiar “Island Style.” Halfway through the song, Cruz talked story about his family members, and said if he included his father, the song would have had a story about hunting pheasants off Saddle Road.
The Kahilu crowd couldn’t let Cruz go without shouts for a “Hana Hou!” Cruz delivered two impressive scorchers, “Shine On” and “One of These Days.”
O’ahu born singer/songwriter Blayne Asing opened the show with “Molokai Sweet Home.” a song written by Hawaiian musician Malani Bilyeu, a former member of the quartet Kalapana. Asing and his wife now call Moloka’i home and he continued the “Friendly Isle” theme with “Moloka’i On My Mind,” the title track and single from his 2016 release.
Asing began playing ukulele at age eight, and at 13, had the opportunity to hang out with the late legendary Hawaiian musician Ernie Cruz Jr. But, as he explained to the Kahilu crowd, a musician’s path can be a bit bumpy in the beginning. Asing has come a long way since those early days. He released his debut album Young, Old Soul in 2015, which earned him the 2016 Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award (Hawaiʻi’s Grammy Award) for Most Promising Artist.
As a performer, Asing has worked with Brother Noland, Henry Kapono, Kawika Kahiapo, and Mike Kaawa. But his favorite thing is getting an invitation from the multiple award-winning slack-key master, Ledward Kaapana, to play at one of his infamous garage jam sessions.
After the show, both Cruz and Asing did a meet-and-greet with concertgoers, talking story and signing CDs.
Molokai Sweet Home | Poor Man Blues | One Day Soon | She’s My Honey | Molokai on My Mind | That’ll Be All Right With Me
Burning Bridges | Shine On | Love Will Find a Way | Special Someone | We Can Be Forgiven| Funky Love Attack | Hurricane | Island Style | Wassamatta You | Prayer for a Friend | The Law Can’t Touch Us | Is What It Is | Missing You | Sitting in Limbo
Shine On | One Of These Days
Steve Roby is a music journalist, best-selling author, and from San Francisco. He’s been featured in the NY Times, Rolling Stone, and Billboard Magazine. Roby is also the Managing Editor of Big Island Music Magazine.
Photos: Steve Roby