Highway's Song

“Some Enchanted Evening(s)” and Days Set for Tiki Oasis

To think that the opening night party will be launched at a restaurant called Bali Hai. How absolutely appropriate.

This year’s Tiki Oasis celebration—where the adjectives sublime and kitsch are often lined up at the same intersection—will have as its theme, “South Seas Cinema.” With an added day slated this year, the festival will run from Wednesday, Aug. 8 to Sunday, Aug. 12. This will be a celebration of celluloid depictions of tropical bliss, ranging from grade B black-and-white drive-in movie fare to high budget films shot in the rich, storybook Technicolor of the ’50s.

Baby Boomers grew up in an America where it seemed that every Broadway musical was either written by Alan Jay Lerner-Frederick Loewe or Richard Rogers-Oscar Hammerstein. It was the latter team who were responsible for South Pacific, the musical adaptation of the best-selling novel, Tales of South Pacific by the prolific 20th-century author James Michener. Set in the humid World War II South Pacific world of Navy servicemen and nurses, the show was sprinkled with amusing ditties like “I’m Gonna Wash That Man Right Out of My Hair” and “There Ain’t Nothing Like a Dame.” Hammerstein, the lyricist and passionate social activist of the team, often used the plays as a sounding board for issues he felt needed to be addressed; in South Pacific, it was interracial love, whether it was a Marine Lieutenant falling for an island girl or the European widower plantation owner once married to one. And then there’s the character of the perky nurse, Nellie, forced to confront her own prejudices as a white southerner growing up during the time of segregation. This underlying theme reaches full crescendo in the song, “You’ve Got to Learn to be Taught,” still stunning audiences nearly 70 years after it was first performed. Obviously, Hammerstein was capable of writing on a deeper level; it wasn’t all about a lonely goatherd or a surrey with a fringe on top.

The musical acts confirmed for Tiki Oasis 2018 reflect the times of South Pacific, a lot of great swing, rhythm and blues, and island and exotic sounds inspired by the music before, during and after WWII. Representing the early days of swing will be the award winning Kahulanui (translation “The Big Dance”). The group ingeniously incorporates Hawaiian music into big band arrangements. Hawaiian steel guitar ace Jimmy “Kimo” Delgado will offer the unique fusion of Honolulu-meets-Nashville steel guitar and play selections off his current CD, Kimo Therapy. Adrian Demain’s Cheap Leis, a San Diego-based outfit, feature Hawaiian and western swing and occasionally cover a punk number with a dash of the Aloha spirit. Exotica and lounge moments of this year will feature acts the Martini Kings and Ixtahuele (from Sweden) returning to the Tiki Oasis stage.

Whether it’s the Lindy Hop or West Coast Swing, local dancers will be ready for Jonathan Stout and his Campus Five, who participated in a memorable “Battle of the Bands” contest against Stompy Jones at the 2015 Thanksgiving San Diego Jazz Fest at the Town and Country Convention Center. The 1990s was the decade of the swing revival, and two groups from that era will be playing Tiki Oasis this year: Lavay Smith and Her Red Hot Skillet Lickers and Lee Presson and the Nails. Conjuring up the spirits of the Boswell Sisters, the Andrews Sisters, and Rosie the Riveter will be the “International Pin-up Darlings,” the Satin Dollz. The girl group recently gave a performance aboard the USS Midway for 105 year-old Ray Chavez, the oldest surviving veteran from Pearl Harbor. Old school rhythm and blues and doo wop will be represented by Vicky Tafoya and the Big Beat and Johnny Ramos and Jaalene. Adored on both sides of the Atlantic for their scorching rockabilly and blues and playing T.O. this year will be Maureen and the Mercury 5.
Sunday evening will find the Tiki revelers not going gently into the night. The final night has the reputation of offering up the most intense sets, and this year is no exception, starting with the surf rock of Bombon. The Loons will bid a musical farewell to leader Mike Stax’s all-time favorite group, the Pretty Things, and the Seeds will offer a raw set that is in contrast to the mainstream public perception of what “Flower Power” is.

Tiki Oasis will offer four days of symposia this year; one of the most anticipated is a spotlight on early performer Paul Page, whose entertaining live shows and recordings kept him employed in the Tiki bars and Polynesian-themed restaurants. Page’s career will be presented by Stefan Kery of Subliminal Sounds (Sweden) and Southern California pop historian Domenic Priore.

“Paul Page stems from that era prior to the 1950s, the pre-Tiki days, when his interest in exotica was stoked by the Hawaiian music trend of the 1920s,” said Priore. “He got his own music on to live radio broadcasts in the late ’30s and by the mid-’40s had a Hawaiian Big Band broadcast over NBC. So, after World War II, when the Polynesian restaurant trend began in earnest on the mainland, he was primed for… basically a career playing at places like the Reef, Castaway, Pieces of Eight, and pressing his own indie albums. He didn’t have anyone telling him how to follow trends or how to make music, so what he did on those albums is unique… and very good.”

Throughout the Tiki Oasis playground, there will be disc jockeys playing only the best from their sizeable vinyl collections. Attendees might wish to raise a glass at the turntable of Jim Call, who along with Branden Powers and Chris Howland, was part of the fondly remembered Taboo nightclub at the Hanalei during the 1996-97 years. With a combination of live acts (Toledo, Skip Heller, and the late Peggy Claire were among the many), it laid the groundwork for a scene that would become giant in the years to come.

Tiki Oasis begins on Wednesday night, August 8 at the Bali Hai on Shelter Island and will continue through Sunday night, August 12 at the Crowne Plaza Hotel (AKA The Hanalei) in Mission Valley. For ticket options visit wwwtikioasis.com

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