No one can say that Ellsworth Simeona and Dita Holifield aren't close.
By John Berger
Special to the Star-Bulletin
"We'd perform as 'ED' but nobody would know who that was," Simeona said earlier this week. He's celebrating the recent release of his debut album, "Raised on Rice," but has been most visible this year as a member of Holifield's band, Detour South.
Now that you know who they are, "ED" will be among the performers tomorrow night at "Pili Mau -- The 2nd Annual Concert of the Millennium" at the Sheraton. The couple will feature songs off his album -- by her choice.
"He plays country music with me in Detour South but he is first and foremost a Hawaiian contemporary singer and his first release was selected to show that. That's what we want to do tomorrow," said Holifield. She was the associate producer of "Raised on Rice" and is going over material for her next album. She'll record it in Nashville this fall.
Holifield has been Hawaii's foremost country music artist for years and reaffirmed that status when she opened for Trisha Yearwood and The Judds last month. She is also Simeona's musical mentor and biggest fan.
They were there as a couple for interview duty but she let him do most of the talking. "She has believed in me from the first day she heard me jamming and told me I had talent and ought to do something (with it). She's been my biggest believer and from there I'm come to here," he said.
What: Pili Mau -- The 2nd annual Concert of the Millennium, with the Makaha Sons, Amy & Willie, Pure Heart, Robi Kahakalau & Friends, The Krush, Weldon Kekauoha, Ellsworth & Dita and Frank B. Shaner
Date: 7 p.m. tomorrow
Place: Sheraton Waikiki Hawaii Ballroom
Tickets: $30 at the door; $25 in advance
Simeona and Holifield met last year through a friend. They were dating when she convinced him to take a brief detour from Hawaiian music and become a member of Detour South in November.
"She thought I could sing country and she wanted the acoustic guitar sound because that's the sound of today. Everybody (here) had the '80s country sound and she wanted something more modern. She's been way ahead of her time in Hawaii."
Holifield has played just about every country music venue there is in Hawaii. In addition to playing the clubs, she's been the local opening act for Willie Nelson, Randy Travis, Brooks & Dunn, Joe Diffie and LeAnn Rimes, and played to mainland crowds with corporate sponsorship from Jack Daniels as well. Simeona said it's a "whole different world" for him.
Simeona entertained as a soloist for seven years at the former Chart House in Haiku Gardens, and occasionally worked with one or two other musicians. His only concert experience was playing one of the Brothers Cazimero May Day extravaganzas as an anonymous backup guitarist.
"In less than a year I've grown so much (from) working with her. I'd played in Hawaiian duos or trios and maybe once a month in a rock band for fun but nothing on this scale, with six or seven players, and not on the professional level that she works on. She has sets ready, she has costumes. Before, if we had the same aloha shirt that was enough!
"She told me the very first time I played with her that if I'm not singing I gotta shake my ass," he says with a chuckle while Holifield bursts into laughter. "Now all I have to do is live up to what she sold me as," Simeona said.
Simeona is borrowing from his Detour South experience as he promotes his own band and album.
"Instead of just going out and playing music you're trying to further a project and represent yourself well. Dita talks and makes our (Detour South) set lists and takes all the pressure off the rest of us. I'd done that with Hawaiian groups but not to the same extent."
Having two careers in one relationship can cause scheduling problems but Simeona said he and Holifield have had no problems so far. Her country audience has accepted a song or two off "Raised on Rice" and he works with other Detour South members when performing his own music.
Watching this couple work together -- on stage and off -- there's a sense of strong teamwork.
Simeona summed it up this way: "She told me recently that there's so much pressure on the leader that I can be the leader. I told her last night 'OK, I'm the man so I'll make the decisions. Now you tell me what to do!' "
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