The floors of Koke’e Lodge were shaking in early November, as a crowd gathered in the mountains for the third annual Kauai Old Time Gathering, an event that boasted string bands from all over the country.
Dancers packed into the lodge in the evenings, practicing new steps and musicians wove through the rug-cutting to join jam sessions scattered all over the grounds.
A Cajun dance party took over Friday with musicians Magnolia Sisters, as well as Walt Keale, Donald Kaulia and Ikaika Marzo. Earlier that day, there was a free Cajun dance class with the Magnolia Sisters, so everyone on the dance floor had a shot at knowing at least a few steps.
Saturday night, Grant and Bindi Wells premiered Hanalei Distillery’s brand new spirits — ‘ulu vodka and a dark rum —both made with local ingredients. They made a few craft cocktails as the party continued with the string band Lone Pinion. Dancers learned square dancing and a few other two step-style dance moves earlier that day.
The Kauai Old Time Gathering was held over three days and much of it was free. Tickets for events that required them were available at the lodge and there were workshops on lei making, coconut weaving, hula, square dancing and Cajun two step.
People started arriving Thursday afternoon and the music started almost immediately as attendees set up their campsites, or settled into rented rooms in the cabins and bunkhouses throughout the forest. During the days everyone scattered to take advantage of whatever workshops were ongoing, clustering around the ‘ulu cook-off and dance lessons and then reconvening in the afternoons and evenings at the lodge.
Those that bought a meal pass were treated to a buffet of soul food like pork and peas with rice, vegan and other alternatives were on the menu, too.
Dale Rosenfeld, Wailua, volunteered to help set up and was stoked the gig came with a meal pass. She’s been to the festival before, though, so she knew the food would be great. She also came prepared with her dancing boots — bought special for the Kokee Old Time Gathering a year or two ago.
Other faces in the crowd included Mark Periello of Kauai’s Chamber of Commerce and Ruby Pap, University of Hawaii Sea grant extension agent, and the organizers: Rachel Herring and Fanny Rose Ballentine-Himberg, and their crew from Hale Puna.
This Westside nonprofit is dedicated to restoring the historic Gulick Rowell Mission House in Waimea. Herring is a new addition to Hale Puna and was instrumental in pulling off the event. Kauai Roastery, West Kauai Farms, Zero Waste Kauai, Kokee Resource Conservation Program, Hawaii Tourism, Ya Quddus Bagelry and the Saddle Room were all also sponsors.
After the lodge party was over, the crowd scattered but the music didn’t stop. Duos and trios sprung up in campsites in The meadow or up at the Civilian Conservation Corps Camp and Sloggett, where Saturday night a bonfire roasted local ‘ulu for a group of about 10. One person played ukulele and then another joined. Soon almost everyone at the little gathering was singing along with an off-the-cuff song about the breadfruit in the fire.
Strong coffee at the lodge the next morning sent everyone back to workshops. The Kokee Old Time gathering closed with a talent show at 4 p.m., and a few clusters of musicians lingered longer as everyone else took off down the mountain.
Written for The Garden Island Newspaper by Jessica Else. Published November 26, 2019. Photos by Jessica Else.