The 18th annual Tiki weekender known as The Hukilau will not invade Fort Lauderdale until June, but local Tikiphiles will get an early taste of the rum-fueled festivities this weekend when two special events kick off the 2019 countdown at The Mai-Kai.
Both events will take place in The Molokai lounge at The Mai-Kai, the historic Polynesian restaurant that opened in 1956 and continues to enthrall Tikiphiles from around the world. Both events are free, but there’s a limited capacity of around 150 for each event, so be sure to get there early. Here are the details:
Saturday, March 2: “100 Days to The Hukilau” featuring live performances by the instrumental surf band The Surfrajettes from Toronto, Canada. Doors open at 4:30 p.m. and the band performs at 7 p.m. Free general admission, ages 21 and older only.
* Facebook event
See below: Video, photos of The Surfrajettes at The Mai-Kai during The Hukilau 2017
Sunday, March 3: Retro Rekindled community gathering featuring early happy hour, giveaways and meet-and-mingle with The Hukilau organizers. Richard Oneslager, The Hukilau’s owner and organizer, will speak and answer questions. Doors open at 3:30 p.m. The event is free but reservations are encouraged.
* Facebook event
The Mai-Kai is at 3599 N. Federal Highway in Fort Lauderdale, on the west side between Commercial and Oakland Park boulevards. Call (954) 563-3272 for more information or to make dinner reservations. Valet and paid self-parking.
Guests at both events can enjoy the regular daily happy hour in The Molokai until 7 p.m., when most signature cocktails are half-priced. There are also nightly specials that feature two drinks at 50 percent off all evening: K.O. Cooler and Tahitian Breeze on Saturday; and the Zombie and Piña Colada on Sunday.
The Molokai also features a full appetizer menu (half-priced during happy hour) that includes Tiki bar classics (Pupu Platter, Crab Rangoon, et al.) along with sushi, salads and modern tapas (sliders, fish tacos, etc.). The expansive restaurant also has a beautiful outdoor Tiki garden that can be explored, along with plenty of exotic and elaborately themed dining rooms if you’d like to stay for dinner.
You can also make reservations in the main showroom to see The Mai-Kai’s Polynesian Islander Revue, the longest-running authentic South Seas stage show in the United States, including Hawaii. The restaurant was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. Just as historic are the bar’s tropical drinks, which have achieved cult status among Tiki, rum and cocktail devotees.
Related: The Atomic Grog’s Mai-Kai Cocktail Guide
The Hukilau is one of the world’s biggest and longest running Polynesian Pop and Tiki cocktail events. Established in 2002 in Atlanta, it moved to Fort Lauderdale and The Mai-Kai in 2003 with live music, symposiums, classes and an ever-expanding schedule of events over a five day weekend. The Hukilau 2019 will take place June 5-9, headquartered at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina near Fort Lauderdale Beach.
Sunday’s Retro Rekindled gathering is designed to give attendees and potential villagers a chance to learn more about the bands, bars, room parties, and all the other facets of the event, such as the signature Tiki Tower Takeover. In 2019, The Hukilau is spotlighting female mixologists in the festive tower cocktail party, plus special presentations on “Women of The Mai-Kai” and “Women Who Tiki.”
Oneslager took an ownership role in The Hukilau in 2015. He has been the driving force since 2017, when co-creator and longtime organizer Christie “Tiki Kiliki” White stepped down. Rather than make wholesale changes, Oneslager has kept The Hukilau true to White’s vision while enhancing and adding features such as the Okole Maluna Cocktail Academy. Villagers can learn from the pros as bartenders and mixology experts from around the country teach intimate classes on the finer points of the craft.
Oneslager took a leap of faith across the pond in October 2018, taking The Hukilau and The Mai-Kai to London as part of the annual UK RumFest. Oneslager has said he expects another Hukilau London in 2019. The Hukilau also teamed up with the rum fest’s founder, global rum ambassador Ian Burrell, to sponsor the Tiki bartending competition at last month’s inaugural Miami Rum Congress.
* Recap and photos: VIPs, connoisseurs of fine spirits flock to first Miami Rum Congress
Retro Rekindled, organized by Jupiter Jones, provides an outlet for the vintage-loving community to network and enjoy lectures from others in the scene every month at The Mai Kai. The lecture series features local retro-themed businesses and others offering information and tips. Guests enjoy an early happy hour plus raffles and giveaways. I had the pleasure of speaking at the January event, a special mash-up of retro, rum and Tiki magic. Here’s a link to the photos and recap:
Photos: Demerara rum flows at The Mai-Kai’s retro event featuring The Atomic Grog
The Surfrajettes: North America’s premiere all-girl instrumental combo
That’s what the promotional email said. And yes, indeed, they are. But spotlighting the band’s gender should not be the focus. Just close your eyes and listen to one of the records and you’ll realize that this is a band that has serious chops, whether they’re wearing skirts and go-go boots or suits and ties. The music and performances are tight and reverential to classic instrumental surf, something I admire from any band.
Naturally, any group’s look (whatever it may be) can add to the appeal. The Surfrajettes first came to my attention in late 2015, when they started posting videos on their Facebook page. Their first live show was Nov. 15, 2015, at the Great Lakes Surf Battle, Canada’s longest running surf music festival.
After the uninitiated get past the puzzlement of young women playing what some consider “old man music” from the 1960s, the next thing they ask is: Canada and surf music? Really? Yes, really. There’s a surf scene in Canada, like many around the world, that’s united by a love of instrumental, guitar-based rock from a simpler era, sans vocals.
The genesis of the band goes all the way back to the high school days of guitarists Shermy Freeman and Nicole Damoff, when they were apparently the only two female guitar players around their Toronto, Ontario, stomping grounds. They were friends but played in different bands playing different styles of music (rock and R&B, respectively.)
They’re actually from a small town (Port Perry) about an hour from Toronto. So small, luckily, that they ran into each other a decade later when both had stopped playing guitar. But they had the itch, along with a crazy idea. After they got together and meshed perfectly, they quickly came up with the Surfrajettes name and concept. “We have both always been huge music nerds, lovers of ’50s and ’60s rock and roll, garage, surf,” Nicole told Exotica Moderne magazine. “So we play this music just because it’s what we love and have been into forever.”
There you go: The Surfrajettes are a well-planned machine, but certainly no contrived gimmick. The two guitarists began jamming on old 1960s surf tunes and booked their first gig before they even had the rest of the band lined up. But just three months later, it all fell together and that first show in Toronto was the launching pad. The current lineup includes original bassist Sarah Butler and drummer Anna Liebel, who replaced original member Amber Rutschmann in 2017. Sarah hails from the Toronto area while Anna is the band’s lone American, a resident of Rochester, N.Y.
The band honed its chops in Toronto, where’s there’s a strong scene built around the Great Lakes Surf Battle, a multi-day event that draws bands from near and far. The Surfrajettes are now veterans, with three surf battles under their belt. While their colorful retro look enticed potential fans, it was the carefully curated set lists that got everyone hooked. “People are always coming up to us after shows and say how much they loved our song choices and how unique and varied our set list is,” said Nicole in the Exotica Moderne article.
The live shows feature a modest selection of original songs along with classic instrumental surf tunes that everyone knows and loves. But what sets The Surfrajettes apart are their reinterpretations of classic ’60s psychedelic rock songs, from Paint It Black (Rolling Stones), to White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane), to In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida (Iron Butterfly). They call it “surf-i-fying” songs that aren’t surf, Shermy told Vintage Guitar Magazine.
“We like to cover the less obvious songs,” she said. “It’s fun to take the audience by surprise.” That’s exactly what the band did with the single that seems to have boosted their profile into the mainstream. Toxic, the Britney Spears hit from 2003, got the full-on Surfrajettes treatment. It was recently released as a single, with a homemade YouTube video garnering 1.2 million views and counting.
Toxic was released as a single with the original Party Line in June. You can download both songs on the band’s Bandcamp page and pick up a copy on vinyl from the band’s New Jersey-based label, Hi-Tide Recordings. But if it’s not available, be patient. The first pressing sold out in three months.
I’m partial to The Surfrajettes, the band’s self-titled EP from 2017 featuring the originals Cha Cha Heels and Undercover Secretary, plus the reinterpretation of the classic Mr. Moto by The Belairs (Mrs. Moto). It’s also available on Bandcamp with a CD released by Hi-Tide.
The recording of those songs caught the attention Hi-Tide’s head honcho, Vince Minervino, a longtime surf music fan, musician and promoter. The Black Flamingos drummer booked the band to play his Asbury Park Surf Music Festival (now known as the Hi-Tide Summer Holiday: Asbury Park) in 2017 and 2018, jumping at the chance to add the band to his roster that includes Frankie & The Pool Boys, The Hula Girls, Lulufin The Woo Hoo, Satan’s Pilgrims, The Volcanics, and many more.
The Hukilau in June 2017 was one of the band’s first major U.S. festival appearance, and I’m so glad I hounded Tiki Kiliki for months to book them after discovering them on Facebook. She did, in her wisdom, and more events followed for the band. It paved the way for their return to The Mai-Kai in 2019 and hopefully future appearance at The Hukilau.
The increase in the band’s popularity and notoriety shows no signs of abating. The Storm Surge of Reverb radio show and website declared The Surfrajettes the “Best thing to happen to Surf Music in 2018” in its annual Gremmy Awards. “The Surfrajettes wield their retro appeal skillfully and project an accessible, lighthearted and fun message of instrumental surf music with appeal that people can attach themselves to,” the blog post astutely notes.
The band’s 2019 schedule is already filling up, from the Nashville Boogie vintage weekender in May to a West Coast tour and performance at the venerable Surf Guitar 101 Convention in California in August.
Saturday’s event will be a rare opportunity to catch The Surfrajettes in South Florida, and a free one at that. Thanks to The Mai-Kai, Hi-Tide Recordings and The Hukilau.
VIDEO & PHOTOS: The Surfrajettes at The Hukilau 2017
Credits: The Atomic Grog unless noted
* See the photo gallery on Flickr
The Hukilau: June 5-9, 2019, at the Pier Sixty-Six Hotel & Marina, B Ocean Resort and The Mai-Kai restaurant in Fort Lauderdale. Featuring Tikiyaki Orchestra, Surfer Joe, The Volcanics, The Hula Girls, The Intoxicators, Gold Dust Lounge, Skinny Jimmy Stingray, The Swingin’ Palms, Slowey and the Boats, Brother Cleve, Marina the Fire Eating Mermaid, Ian “Rum Ambassador” Burrell and top Tiki bars and bartenders from around the world.
* TheHukilau.com | Facebook: Page and Group
Previous Atomic Grog coverage
* Tickets on sale, book your room now for June 5-9 bash in Fort Lauderdale
* Hotel room parties are back, plus preview events, more
* First official announcement promises enhancements, same vintage experience
The Hukilau past coverage
* 2018 recap: Photos and video from social media | More 2018 coverage
* 2017 daily recaps, news, photos and video | More 2017 coverage
* More recaps: 2016 | 2015 | 2014 | 2013 | 2012 | 2011