On First Friday, Wailuku throws a party


POSTED: Sunday, August 30, 2009

On the first Friday of every month, Wailuku, Maui's normally sedate county seat, shows it knows how to party.

As the sun sets, the block of North Market Street between Main and Vineyard streets is closed to vehicular traffic. Shish kebabs sizzle on grills. Kids twirl hula hoops in psychedelic colors. Rappers, bongo players, rock bands and slack-key guitarists keep the beat going on four different stages. Vendors entice passersby with everything from tie-dyed pareos to taro as big as watermelons.

“;First Friday in Wailuku harkens back to Maui's 'good old days' when everyone in town knew each other and welcomed all visitors,”; said Saedene Ota, founder of Maui Thing, a clothing store that opened in town a year ago. “;Back then, the community was composed of Hawaiians, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, Portuguese, all the different plantation cultures.





        » Place: North Market Street, Wailuku, Maui

» Remaining 2009 dates and themes: Sept. 4 “;Under the Stars,”; Oct. 2 “;RockOctober,”; Nov. 6 “;Makahiki,”; and Dec. 4 “;Celebration of Lights”;


» Time: 5:30 to 8 p.m.


» Admission: Free


» Call: (808) 429-6319


» E-mail: .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)




“;Now we see those ethnic groups plus yogis, musicians, artists, designers, foodies, break dancers, windsurfers and more. There's a shared appreciation for the diversity of foods, fashions and cultures; everyone can find something of interest in Wailuku and that's even more evident on First Friday.”;

The Wailuku Community Association launched First Friday in October 2007 with several goals in mind. “;We wanted to revive the community spirit in Wailuku,”; said Alexis Dascoulias, the association president and the executive director of Maui OnStage, a theater troupe that's based at the historic Iao Theater on North Market Street. “;We wanted to create a monthly event where people could meet, mingle and talk story while enjoying local music, food, fashions, and art and crafts.

“;We also wanted to attract visitors to our charming little town. First Friday supports the WCA's mission, which is to 'work in harmony to encourage a socially, culturally and economically viable Wailuku.'”;

Dascoulias acknowledged Wailuku isn't on most visitors' itinerary, even though it offers great restaurants, shops, galleries, live theater, a spa and a nice park.

“;So many people drive right through town on their way to Iao Valley and don't realize they've missed a wonderful place to spend the day,”; Dascoulias said. “;We wanted to put Wailuku back on the map, so to speak.”;

FIRST FRIDAY definitely has been a boon in that regard. It started with just a few vendors and merchants offering special sales and hosting a band at Banyan Tree Park. According to Dascoulias: “;It took off from there. A thousand people now come, and there are 40 street vendors selling pottery, incense, T-shirts, paintings, jewelry, locally made organic beauty products; truly an eclectic mix of merchandise.”;

The event, she said, is something both malihini and kamaaina will enjoy. “;If visitors want a real taste of life on Maui, they should come to First Friday,”; she said. “;It's also fun for local folks; you can see your friends, your cousins, your neighbors, your banker, your lawyer and your plumber all on the same night eating the same plate lunch! First Friday brings the community together and reminds us of how important having a sense of community is.”;

Past events have featured a break-dancing contest, a display of classic cars, fashion shows by Maui Thing, and oli (chant) and poetry slams. Wailuku's newest store, Native Intelligence, opened on May 1, with a focus on na mea Hawaii, things Hawaiian. That evening, it sponsored a lei-making contest in observance of Lei Day.

In June, Dascoulias recalled, there were couples swing dancing in the street to the sounds of a combo band, and in July and August, crowds moved to the lively sounds of a Jawaiian group.

Plans for September's First Friday include a comedy show at Iao Theater by Maui OnStage; awa (kava) tasting at Native Intelligence; an exhibit of paintings of Jim Morrison and the Doors at Gallery Ha; and live music at Banyan Tree Park, Island Tacos and Cafe Marc Aurel.

FOOD IS a big part of the festivities, and choices might include Fijian curry; made-to-order chicken tacos; Zia Maria's homemade gelato, which comes in flavors such as Bacio, or Kiss, (chocolate hazelnut) and Frutti di Bosco, or Fruits of the Forest (mixed berries); and Maui Macaroons' ono Butterscotch Almond, Classic Coconut, Pecan Choco-Chip and Double Mac Nut cookies.

Cafe O'Lei, Cafe Marc Aurel and Main Street Bistro welcome First Friday celebrants who prefer a sit-down meal. Think dishes such as blackened mahimahi in a ginger-butter sauce with papaya salsa; Landjager Pie (organic spinach pizza topped with smoked, cured Landjager sausage); and Duck Three Ways (Confit of Leg, Seared Foie Gras and Macadamia Nut Smoked Breast).

Most of the shops on North Market Street stay open past their normal business hours, and as Dascoulias noted, “;Even those who don't usually enjoy shopping have a fun time browsing because they're not on a tight schedule. It's a great feeling to walk down the street and see merchants smiling, bands playing and people eating and chatting in a very casual, relaxed atmosphere.”;

For Maui Thing's Ota, First Friday is also a way to give back to the community. The store sponsors a stage each month that puts up-and-coming performers in the spotlight. It also has raised funds and donated a portion of its sales to nonprofit organizations, including Book Trust, Maui Food Bank, Kihei Youth Center and Friends of the Children's Justice Center.

“;These efforts support our goal of balancing commerce and community,”; Ota said. “;Maui Thing needs to operate as a business, but we recognize the importance of building and maintaining close relationships in the place where we live and work. First Friday is a night of celebration, cultural exchange and bonding with others. It's an opportunity to share and to show what it means to really live aloha.”;


Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based freelance writer whose travel features for the Star-Bulletin have won multiple Society of American Travel Writers awards.