Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi Hawaii’s Back yard

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi

Kauai Music Fest
debuts next Sunday

Aspiring novelist Rich McSheehy had a great idea when he attended the Maui Writers Conference two years ago, and it's now coming to fruition -- not in the form of a book, but as a festival he hopes will become one of Kauai's biggest annual events.

During a normal workday, McSheehy, deputy technical director of the Office of Naval Research's Mid-Pacific branch, oversees projects related to radar and communication systems.

But for just about every waking moment other than that for the past year, he's worn another hat as president of the Kauai Music Festival, which debuts next Sunday at the Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa.

"This event is truly unique," McSheehy says. "Budding songwriters can get advice and coaching from some of the best people in the music business. They also can get exposure for their songs from people who have the power and connections to move their careers to a higher level. Even those who live in Los Angeles and New York would find it very difficult to get the attention that songwriters will be able to get at the Kauai Music Festival."

It all began with a friendship. One of the people McSheehy met at the 2001 Maui Writers Conference was Carolyn Smith Bryant, whose husband, Del, is executive vice president of BMI (Broadcast Music, Inc.) in New York. McSheehy told her about his dream to launch an event on Kauai like the Maui Writers Conference, only geared toward songwriters. That way, he reasoned, "We could have night after night of concerts and create a genuine festival rather than just a workshop."

Bryant loved the idea and persuaded her husband to get involved. "Del and I discussed it, and he was as excited as I was," McSheehy recalls. "BMI has been an invaluable resource, helping to line up a stellar staff, shape concepts for seminars and workshops, and pull together all the complex pieces that go into creating a festival of this caliber."

DURING THE four-day celebration, fledgling composers will be able to hone their craft in small classes taught by prominent songwriters whose works have been performed by Celine Dion, Enrique Iglesias, James Taylor, Jennifer Lopez and other stars.

The festival's distinguished staff includes Jesse Harris, who won a 2003 Grammy Award for the Song of the Year, "Don't Know Why," which rocketed Norah Jones to fame; Lisa Loeb, best known for her hit single, "Stay," the theme song for the movie "Reality Bites"; and Golden Globe and Grammy award-winner Lamont Dozier, who wrote "The Happening," "Baby Love" and other chart-toppers.

Also planned are music technology seminars focused on computer programs, electronic synthesizers and other high-tech devices; personal consultations with and panel discussions by top publishers, attorneys and producers in the music industry; open-mike venues where participants can perform their compositions before the staff and their peers; and jam sessions that allow attendees to create new music with professional songwriters.

All participants may submit one song of any genre for judging in the songwriting competition, and several of the most promising students will be selected to make a demo recording assisted by the likes of Russ Titleman (who has produced albums for George Harrison, Eric Clapton and the Bee Gees) and David Tickle (who counts Prince, U2, Sting, Police, Joe Cocker and George Michael among his credits).

The Kauai Music Festival's three concerts are certain to be big draws. On June 2 the 15 finalists in the songwriting contest will take the stage at the Songwriting Competition Concert.

They'll be vying for a spot in a BMI showcase, guitars from Baldwin Piano and Gibson Guitar Co., and the opportunity to submit their song to record companies. Harris, Dozier and Loeb also will be making an appearance at this concert.

"The Songwriting Competition Concert will very likely have contestants from Hawaii, so it'll be fun to see them competing against people from all over the U.S. mainland, England, Japan and Spain," McSheehy said.

THE HAWAIIAN Music Night on June 3 boasts an impressive lineup of local talent, including Hapa (Barry Flanagan and Nathan Aweau), John Cruz, Raiatea Helm, Larry Rivera, Owana Salazar and Malani Bilyeu. The evening also will feature hula performances, Hawaiian chants and a special segment about the famed sailing canoe Hokule'a and the Namahoe, a new double-hull voyaging canoe currently under construction at Kauai Community College.

The festival wraps with a gala concert on June 4 during which the five songwriting competition winners will be spotlighted. Multiple-Grammy nominee Toni Childs will also be among the performers.

In addition, McSheehy says, "The concert will feature all of our staff, often in unusual pairings, so that, for instance, we may see Jesse Harris team up with John Cruz for a song, or maybe Lisa Loeb will join Malani Bilyeu. It'll be a fantastic night of music and fun."

Even better, festival moneys remaining after expenses are paid will support a college scholarship fund for Kauai youths studying music.

Kauai Music Festival

Place: Hyatt Regency Kauai Resort and Spa

Dates: Next Sunday to June 4

Cost: $395, including all festival activities. The deadline to register is May 31. Ask about discounts from American Airlines and Avis Rent A Car.

Individual concerts: $20 in advance or $25 at the door. Tickets can be purchased on the Web site below or at Big Save in Eleele, Hilo Hattie, Borders, Hyatt Regency Kauai, Larry's Music Center, Hanalei Video and Music, and other Kauai outlets.

Accommodations: The Hyatt Regency Kauai is offering festival-goers a special rate of $225 per night, single or double occupancy. A $35-per-night charge is applied for additional individuals 19 and older. There is a maximum of four adults or two adults and two children per room.

To book elsewhere, check the Kauai Visitors Bureau Web site at for options.

Call: 808-332-0363 on Kauai or 877-MUSIC-22


Web site:

Cheryl Chee Tsutsumi is a Honolulu-based free-lance writer
and Society of American Travel Writers award winner.


E-mail to Travel Editor


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