willie k dinner show at king kamehameha golf club: deliciously entertaining

2010 July 15_ HLF Willie K 18_ Willie K performing at the Waikiki Aquarium.  Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by FL Morris

Willie K performing at the Waikiki Aquarium.
Honolulu Star-Advertiser photo by FL Morris

Maui born and raised musician Willie Kahaiali‘i (a.k.a. Willie K) has been delighting audiences for decades with his genre-crossing style of entertainment. Now guests can enjoy a sumptuous prime rib and seafood buffet dinner, along with a generous helping of Willie K’s impeccable musicianship, all in one action-packed evening on Thursdays at The King Kamehameha Golf Club (KKGC) in Waikapu.

Perched on the hill above Waikapu, KKGC has commanding views of the central valley, with lofty Haleakala standing sentinel in the distance. The clubhouse is a specimen of architectural genius, and has been named “the coolest clubhouse in the land” by Golf Digest. Its design was originally conceived by Frank Lloyd Wright in 1949 as a luxury home called “Crownfield” for Robert & Ann Windfohr of Fort Worth, Texas. But the home was never constructed.

In 1957, Marilyn Monroe and her husband, Arthur Miller, approached Mr. Wright to design a country home for them in Connecticut. Mr. Wright modified the Crownfield design for them, and the structure’s plans became known as the “Marilyn Monroe House.” This home was also never constructed.

The former owners of Waikapu Country Club (predecessor to KKGC) reviewed Wright’s plans for structures that were never built, and settled upon the plan for the “Marilyn Monroe House.” Although the design was modified to fit the site, the integrity of original design was kept intact.

The Willie K Dinner Show is held in KKGC’s Waikapu ballroom, a stunning, classically elegant circular hall with a dazzling purple leaded glass skylight overhead serving as focal point. Susan and I take a seat at our designated table, and are greeted by server Irina, who tells us we’re in for a real treat this evening. “Willie K mixes it up every week,” she says. “Blues, Makawao-style, Latin, you name it. There’s something for everyone.”

We walk past a table boasting lovely pies, individual frosted cakes, and juicy fresh fruit, and continue out the door and into an adjoining room where the buffet dinner has been set up, complete with prime rib carving station. There are buffets, and then there is this buffet. It’s obvious KKGC’s banquet staff knows its stuff in the food department. Make-it-yourself salad bar, pasta salads, and luscious ‘ahi poke tempt from the first table, while hot selections (salmon, chicken, rice, mashed potatoes, and sautéed vegetables) beckon from the second. Luscious prime rib, carved to order, is the coup de grace on our overflowing plates. Without exception, everything is delicious!

While we happily nosh, Willie K takes the stage to welcome us, and introduces local musician Alika Nako‘oka, Jr., who entertains while we dine. Alika’s golden voice and talented ‘ukulele skills combine on classics like “White Sandy Beach,” “Island Style,” “Fifty-four Bridges to Hana Town,” and “Honolulu City Lights.” Every song is a favorite, and the evening is off to a great start.

By the time Willie K takes the stage with his Warehouse Blue Band, guests attending the show portion only have been seated, and it’s a packed house. In a clever parallel to Alika’s performance, Willie opens with a mellow version of “White Sandy Beach.” It doesn’t stay mellow for long, however. Soon, the band steps it up with a livelier version that has audience members swaying and tapping their toes. Willie introduces his bandmates: Jerry Byers on bass, and Kris Thomas on drums. “These haoles can really play good Hawaiian music,” he quips. Alika Nako‘oka is also joining in this evening on keyboard.

After a heartfelt tribute to his island of birth, “Maui Boy,” Willie tells of traveling to Berlin, Germany in 2013 to record his “Twisted ‘Ukulele” album. “I figured since I was in Germany, I should yodel.” He and his band segue into “Hawaiian Cowboy” from that album, providing an opportunity for Willie to demonstrate both his mastery of yodeling, as well as his sizzling ‘ukulele prowess.

Next, Willie and his band perform what he calls “the sexiest ‘ukulele song ever written”: Hall & Oates’ “Sarah Smiles.” He pauses at the “aah” and chuckles when an audience member is caught singing along by herself.

Still referring to “Twisted ‘Ukulele,” Willie says with a huge grin, “They didn’t put this on the CD, but I wish they had,” before breaking into the Neapolitan classic “O Sole Mio.” When members of the audience begin clapping, Willie good-naturedly admonishes, “Don’t clap…it throws me off,” then changes the rhythm to tango. When he hits the high note perfectly, you’d think you were in the company of one of the world’s great tenor virtuosos like Luciano Pavarotti. Bellissimo!

As Willie switches from ‘ukulele to acoustic guitar, an audience member calls out, “How about an Irish Song?” and Willie humorously obliges by playing a few bars of an Irish drinking song.

Now Willie and his band completely change gears with a rousing version of “My Moloka‘i Woman” from one of his early albums, “The Uncle in Me Vol. 1.” Several audience members hit the dance floor, including local mega-talent Kathy Collins a.k.a. “Tita,” who can boogie down with the best. Willie then lowers the tempo and the temperature several degrees with “Good Morning,” another of his classics from the same album.

Next, Willie performs a song he says has never been recorded, entitled “Wouldn’t It Be Nice?” He says he wrote it before he was famous. “It’s sort of a painting of my life back when I played mostly for free booze,” he says, and I don’t think he’s kidding. The song is impassioned and poignant, and nearly brings down the house.

Willie’s group isn’t called the Warehouse Blues Band for nothing. “In 2012, we released a blues CD, and I think it’s the best thing I’ve ever done,” Willie says. “When you’re a Hawaiian recording artist, it’s hard to break out of that hula shirt, but I did it!”

A raucous version of “Warehouse Blues” from that album quickly has the dance floor filled. For the last hour of his performance, Willie K and his Warehouse Blue Band blow up the house with everything from “Roll Me Over,” and “Howling at the Moon,” to “C’mon Let the Good Times Roll” and “Lonely Heart Aching Blue.” The man and his music are unstoppable!

As Willie K wrote in the liner notes of “Warehouse Blues,” “Anyone who has been there since day one knows how much I love the blues. Ever since the age of six, I’ve been singing the blues. Playing the blues makes me happy, and everybody loves it when I do.”

About his open approach to all music genres, Willie says: “You want to taste it, try it, give it a shot, and see what happens.” His future plans call for making another Hawaiian album, a contemporary rock album, and what he describes as “an epic project, one of those projects where one song lasts for 20 minutes.”

During the dinner and show, craft cocktails, plus domestic and premium beers, wines by the bottle and glass, and soft drinks are available for purchase. Guests attending just the show may purchase light food items for $10: prime rib sliders, spicy ‘ahi poke bowl, spicy ‘ahi poke, and “cake-pop trio” (German chocolate, red velvet, and lemon).

Come and enjoy this fun night out with Willie K!

–heidi pool

AT A GLANCE…

WHAT •

Willie K and the Warehouse Blues Band dinner and live music show. Buffet dinner and show is $60 per person; if you book the show only price is $25 per person, with food and beverages available for purchase.

WHERE •

The King Kamehameha Golf Club, 2500 Honoapi‘ilani Highway, Waikapu.

WHEN •

Every Thursday evening. Dinner seats at 6:30pm; show is 8-10:30pm.

HOW •

Reservations highly recommended: 243-1025.

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