The Mai-Kai’s Molokai bar was jumping on Saturday night, June 9, as an eclectic mix of cocktailians, Tiki enthusiasts, retro hipsters, and surf music fans gathered for The Atomic Grog’s first Mai-Kai Mixer.
Doors opened at 4:30 for Saturday’s early happy hour, and dozens of Mai-Kai faithful queued up early for exclusive flights of the Fort Lauderdale Polynesian palace’s legendary cocktails. DJ Mike “Jetsetter” Jones got the festivities in high gear with his wide-ranging playlist of retro party music, and up-and-coming surf band Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays nearly blew the doors off the place. The party went full-throttle until the midnight hour.
The rum cocktail flights sold out quickly as more than 30 signed up to taste sample versions of three vintage drinks featuring Lemon Hart Demerara rum. Several hundred filtered through the bar throughout the evening for happy hour – which ran until 7 p.m. – and two high-octane sets from Deerfield Beach’s Skinny Jimmy & The Stingrays.
Since its birth in the early 1960s, surf music seems to arrive in waves roughly every 15 years. And just as Florida surfers have played second fiddle to California, so have the Sunshine State’s surf bands. But it’s surely not due to lack of talent or effort.
As a fourth wave washes over us, music scholars are beginning to examine the history of this phenomenon that never seems to die. During the climax of an exhibit of surf culture at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton this month, an ethnomusicologist put Florida’s role into perspective during an hour-long lecture, “Surf Rock and the Music of the ‘Right’ Coast.”
“Surf rock isn’t just some fad that appeared and has lasted through the years,” said Dr. James E. Cunningham, an associate professor in FAU’s Department of Music. “It’s followed trends in technology throughout its existence.”
Cunningham floated his theory that surf rock’s peaks in popularity, and its so-called revivals, also coincided with breakthroughs in technology. He points to advances in surfboard technology, guitar and guitar amp technology, and even the media (radio, television, the Internet) that paralleled the music’s booms.
Just two years ago, it was unclear if legendary guitarist Dick Dale would ever tour again. Now in his 70s, the man who invented surf music more than 50 years ago was battling complications in 2010 after a bout with cancer in 2008.
Then, miraculously, his health improved. He and his son Jimmy began playing acoustic sets, and by early 2011 plans were moving rapidly toward a limited touring schedule. Soon, the concept of “limited” flew out the window and Dale’s tour last spring and summer included six dates in Florida. The South Florida shows last June were nothing short of incredible [See review].
But rather than tire and grow weary on the road, Dale got stronger. “You’re my medicine,” he would tell the audience after his concerts, showing no signs of his frail health. Dale also clearly benefited from his clean-living lifestyle and years of physical fitness. His wife, Lana, also keeps him on track as his physical and spiritual caretaker.
More touring followed, and when 2012 rolled around he announced a rigorous 50-date jaunt across the country with not much down time. This time, there were nine Florida dates, including back-to-back nights in West Palm Beach and Miami on April 21-22. Would Dale and his band be showing any signs of rust or weariness? We would soon find out.
There are many elements crucial to the appreciation of authentic Polynesian Pop, aka Tiki culture: The history, the architecture, the decor and art, the cocktails. But like the atmosphere of any great Tiki bar, the assimilation of the perfect musical mix cannot be understated.
You can catch many great bands performing at The Hukilau and other major events, but filling your music library with a wide range of songs from the past 50 years can be daunting. Luckily, there are quite a few podcasts that do an excellent job of providing the perfect soundscape. They also giving listeners a chance to sample songs before buying.
Below is a list of our favorites, updated in August 2012 to add the Exotic Tiki Island podcast and GaragePunk Surfcast.
But first, a quick primer. A good starting point for any Tiki music collection is, of course, Seven A. Kirtsten’s The Sound of Tiki. This 17-track collection offers a great history lesson with tracks by exotica forefathers Arthur Lyman, Les Baxter, and Martin Denny plus a visually stunning 50-page booklet (plus Kevin Kidney-designed cover and artwork).
There’s a lot to like about the The Hukilau, the gathering of the worldwide Tiki community that takes place every June in Fort Lauderdale: The cool art and collectibles, the cocktails and camaraderie, the history and majesty of The Mai-Kai restaurant.
One overlooked and under-appreciated aspect of the four-day event, however, is the live music provided by bands who travel from around the country to perform for the brightly-attired masses at a variety of venues. This year’s event was no exception. The Intoxicators from Tallahassee, Tikiyaki Orchestra from Southern California, The Exotics from Milwaukee, Grinder Nova from Atlanta, The Fisherman from New York City and The Disasternauts from Cocoa Beach all brought their own distinctive retro sound and style to the event.
Following are some video highlights and our recollections of the potent musical Mai Tai that we call The Hukilau …
Dick Dale and Laramie Dean: Sunday, June 12, at The Vagabond in Miami
Monday, June 13, at Respectable Street in West Palm Beach. See below:Photos from both shows
Concert reviews by Jim Hayward
The much-anticipated return to South Florida by surf guitar god Dick Dale was fraught with question marks.
Could guitarist Laramie Dean, a 30-something-year-old Dale disciple with big dreams but not a lot of experience on a national level, pull off a three-week coast-to-coast tour with no booking agent or tour manager?
Would all the young musicians joining forces for the tour – most notably Dale’s 19-year-old son Jimmy, drumming for both his dad and Laramie – be able to quickly come together as a unit and rise to the standards expected of them?
And, most critically, would the 74-year-old Dale be able to withstand the rigors of the road after years of health issues (he’s battling both diabetes and cancer)?
All of these concerns proved to be unfounded in the wake of the recent tour that sold out clubs across the country and undoubtedly left many eardrums still ringing. If the two South Florida dates are any indication, touring is the best medicine for the ailing guitar legend. Dale’s performances left no doubt about his abilities. He appeared spry and gregarious on stage and off, signing autographs and meeting fans late into the night.
As for Laramie and his surrounding cast, these guys performed like a well-oiled machine. And Jimmy Dale? The sky’s the limit for this kid. On the road for just a week, the bands blew into South Florida for a two night stand: