Big Island English teacher debuts first album recorded during pandemic in Kentucky cabin

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Madison McCreary Stuart recording album “Time + Tide” in a cabin in Kentucky. (Photo courtesy: Madison McCreary Stuart)

In a tiny Western Kentucky cabin in December of 2020, Madison McCreary Stuart began recording songs for her first album in a loft she and her childhood friends converted into a music studio.

It was during the COVID-19 pandemic. In between teaching English online to her 10th grade students at Kealakehe High School — who were thousands of miles away on the Big Island —she would sing, strum her ʻukulele and play the piano.

Two years later, the result is her debut, nine-track album: “Time + Tide.”

It was officially released April 30 on all streaming platforms under her name Madison McCreary. An album release party will take place on Sunday from 4 to 7 p.m. at Ola Brew in Kailua-Kona.

The 28-year-old Stuart is pleased with the albumʻs early reception. About a month after its release, she said she had 5,000 listeners on Spotify and the album had been played nearly 20,000 times between Spotify and Apple Music.


“I’m just grateful that people are listening, and grateful that something I worked so hard on is out in the world and being heard,” Stuart said. “It makes it all feel more real.”

The Kentucky native describes her music as indie-folk with island notes and blue grass: “Those are vibes that aren’t mixed together as often — like Hawai‘i and Kentucky.”

The album includes singing by childhood friends, Hadley Rouse and Emily Wills, who also played the fiddle. Friend Chris Joslin, executive director of the International Bluegrass Hall of Fame and Museum in Owensboro, Ky., also played the banjo, mandolin and Dobro (resonator guitar).

Time + Tide album cover

Recording was a bit of an adventure. During those days in the middle of the pandemic, she warmed up her voice while driving back and forth to the cabin that sat next to a small lake. One day the recording came to an abrupt halt. A tornado was passing through.

“We were recording the banjo at the time, but we stopped recording because it was too loud,” she said.


Stuart got help producing the album from Joslin and Wills’ brother, Matthew, a music producer in New York.

Each song on “Time + Tide” moves through the months of the year, either in the title of the song, hidden in the lyrics or overall atmosphere of the song.

In the song “Sweet Tea,” it talks about how love can be like cold and warm fronts meeting the springtime. In the track “Carolina,” Stuart sings about her friend Wills heading off to college in the fall. The album ends with a song called “December.”

“It’s about growth — time passing, feeling the nostalgic tug for a childhood home but also a new home. Tension between rooted and moving, changing and flowing,” she said.

Stuart hopes the songs provide a nostalgic feeling.


“It’s fairly easy to listen to but if they want to open their ears it’s something they could dig into,” she said.

Madison McCreary Stuart plays here ‘ukulele during downtime as a teacher at Kealakehe High School. (Photo courtesy: Madison McCreary Stuart)

The album’s first song “January” was written for her friend and former co-worker, Kaua Adams, who also taught English at Kealakehe High.

Adams remembered the first time she heard the song in January 2020. She had just gotten a sandwich from the Poi Dog Deli in Kona. The teachers were on winter break and Stuart, who had just finished writing the song, sent the recording to her phone from Kentucky.

“I sat in my car in the parking lot and I just started bawling,” Adams said. “I listened to it over and over. She immortalized this wonderful conversation we had about how scary new beginnings are.”

Adams, who now lives on the mainland, said “Sweet Tea” is one of her favorite songs on the album. She plays it for everyone.

“It’s like I have my best friend right next to me,” Adams said. “It’s hard being apart.”

Stuart wrote the majority of the “Time + Tide” songs about the relationships and people she’s met during the past six years while living on Hawai‘i Island — and she wrote about the growth in her own identity.

Stuart had been visiting the Big Island since she was a child, but made the move to live in Hawaiʻi to work for Teach for America, a national nonprofit that places teachers in high-need school systems like Title I public high schools.

Stuart said the album also has a few older more “innocent” songs written while she was in Kentucky.

When the album was released, Stuart did an intimate performance for her friends and loved ones, playing all the songs.

“It’s a special memory to share the vulnerable parts of myself with those people,” she said.

Madison McCreary Stuart recording album “Time + Tide” in a cabin in Kentucky. (Photo courtesy: Madison McCreary Stuart)

Adams, who was living with Stuart in Hawai‘i while she was writing these songs, said it’s cool to see something come to fruition from start to finish.

“When we were living together, I’d hear her plucking away on her ʻukulele,” Adams said. “I’d be in my room at night and hear her singing. It often put me to sleep.”

Now that itʻs complete, she said: “It’s an album that feels like poetry to me.”

Stuart’s love for Hawaiian culture and language influenced the way she approached her songs. During her time on the Big Island, she got involved with the program, Kia‘i Aina Kualoloa, which is geared toward teaching cultural and environmental stewardship for Hawai‘i Department of Education teachers.

Mahealani Pai, cultural resource manager for Kamehameha Schools and instructor of the program, said Stuart was part of his first cohort. He described her as attentive and passionate about learning from the cultural practitioner perspective.

Part of training was learning how to oli (chant), which is used in Hawaiian culture to connect with the natural environment. Pai said Stuart learned how to deliver certain chants through the nuances of the language. She now teaches other educators how to oli.

Stuart said chant is about story telling; the specific delivery of words matter as words and pitches come together to convey meaning to someone.

“Oli is about humility and asking permission,” she said. “That mindset contributes to how I approach singing and song writing — asking permission from those in my life to write and sing about them.”

In a way, the release of the album closes a chapter of Stuart’s life. She will be leaving the Big Island in the fall to pursue a Ph.D. at New Zealand’s Auckland University of Technology, Te Ipukarea Graduate Research School. She will study indigenous language revitalization within public education.

Stuart plans to return to the Big Island regularly and hopes to continue teaching as a substitute at Kealakehe High School. It feels like home, she said.

As she continues writing music and works on her dissertation, Stuart said she never wants it to seem like she’s taking. “I hope to learn and give as much of myself as possible to this place [Hawai‘i Island].”

While she’s not sure if she wants to pursue a career in music, Stuart said she’d like to keep writing songs and recording albums. While she’s in New Zealand she’s open to playing shows, especially since one of her childhood friends who played instruments on her album currently lives there working as a music therapist.

As she enters this new phase of life, Stuart feels the first line of the song “January” is essential right now: “Look, my friend; see the moon rising over Hualālai’s head; makes you feel something; like hold and letting go with the same hand…”

To download Stuart’s album check out the links below:

Spotify: https://open.spotify.com/album/2ZhKMdRGJshwtuodkpA2jw?si=iPuuADTCSIqHCkIYgM8j4w

Apple music: https://music.apple.com/us/album/time-tide/1684650895

YouTube: https://youtube.com/playlist?list=OLAK5uy_nYbjF0jiU63NjJlf1OXd54wKKI1RqncOc

Tiffany DeMasters
Tiffany DeMasters is a full-time reporter for Pacific Media Group. Tiffany worked as the cops and courts reporter for West Hawaii Today from 2017 to 2019. She also contributed stories to Ke Ola Magazine and Honolulu Civil Beat.

Tiffany can be reached at [email protected].
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