Hilo’s music festival Hoʻolauleʻa returned with 20 bands, food, thousands of revelers
January 29, 2023, 9:14 AM HST
* Updated January 29, 2:46 PM
Music floated through the calm air at the Hele gas station on Kaʻūmana Drive in Hilo, enticing people as far as a mile away to join the party unfolding on Bayfront.
More than 20 bands were featured throughout the night on four stages, playing eclectic music that everyone could enjoy, while just as many vendors, if not more, sold ono (delicious) food and merchandise.
For the first time since the fall of 2019, Downtown Hilo was crawling with families and friends enjoying the sights, smells and sounds of what might just be East Hawai‘i’s biggest music festival.
Presented by Coca Cola and Monster Energy, the KWXX Ho‘olaule‘a returned for its 27th annual installment Saturday night after taking three years off because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Ho‘olaule‘a (Hawaiian for celebration or festival) usually draws more than 20,000 people each year. Saturday night’s comeback version lived up to its reputation, with people coming for the tunes and fun, and to see people they haven’t seen in awhile.
“That’s what Ho‘olaule‘a is for,” said one festival-goer. The uncles kicking it along Mamo Street, a good block and half away from Bayfront, were proof enough.
Another reveler described the situation in the four-block area from Mamo to Waiānuenue Avenue more akin to bumper cars, where one moment you turn around and your friends are there and the next they’re gone. You could run into someone you knew twice in less than half an hour or not again until the end of the night.
The crowds were serenaded by the musical stylings of acts such as Ho‘aikane, The Steppas, Ekolu, Grass Fed Longhorns, Celler, Darlene Ahuna, Ledward Ka‘apana and others. Reggae, pop and pretty much everything in between was on the playlist.
A busker even bellowed on his harmonica as part of the mix during the chilly overcast Hawai‘i evening. The temperature at about 8:30 p.m. hovered in the upper 60s, despite it feeling warmer. Maybe because of all the people?
All ages enjoyed the show. Dads hoisted keiki atop their shoulders so they could experience the spectacle. Kūpuna held hands while they took in the festivities. People danced everywhere, in front of the stages, in the audience and as they meandered through the massive crowd.
It was a crowd with an appetite, too. Lines were long for the options being cooked up by vendors, from ribs, hamburger steak, kalua pork and cabbage to tacos and Ukrainian food. People sat on the sidewalk along Kamehameha Avenue and on walls outside the night market on Waiānuenue tickling their taste buds. Even the popcorn smelled better than usual.
Additional photos from the 27th annual KWXX Ho‘olaule‘a on Saturday night in Downtown Hilo. Nathan Christophel/Big Island Now
Downtown restaurants, many with live music playing inside, also were packed. The wait time at Cafe Pesto was at one point an iffy 15 minutes. A short time later, Cronie’s Bar and Grill down the street had no room at the bar, and the employee manning the door said it would be about 30 minutes before a table was available.
The energy downtown was elevated no matter where you looked and everyone there was along for the ride.
“That energy is something we haven’t had downtown in awhile,” said Courtney Gibson of Hilo, who was super stoked to be back at Ho‘olaule‘a. “It’s nice to have people come around for a common excitement.”
The good times also likely continued after the last band of the night played the final song on its setlist. A line was already forming outside the Hilo Town Tavern just before 9 p.m., and inquiries were being made about after-party plans: “Where you guys going after?” a festival-goer asked his friends as they passed each other in the crowd.