Panda’s Ukulele Dreaming

Standard

My 37th music compilation CD and first of 2020 features the humble ukulele. A 4-stringed instrument most often associated with Hawai’i, the ukulele can sound exotic and wonderful, particularly in the hands of these musicians:

  • King Kukulele, also known as Denny Moynahan, a contemporary singer/songwriter and fantastic storyteller in today’s Tiki scene;
  • ukexotic, a very new musical group who just released their debut Exotica album online;
  • Herb “Ohta-San” Ohta, a traditional Hawai’ian musician who was featured on the original soundtrack at Disney’s Polynesian Village Resort;
  • Jake Shimabukuro, a modern Hawai’ian musician who takes the ukulele to some incredible and unexpected places;
  • Israel Kamakawwo’ole, another classic Hawai’ian musician, who tragically passed away not long after his solo rendition of Somewhere Over The Rainbow mesmerized the world.

I was inspired to put this mix together after seeing Jake Shimabukuro in concert at the Musikfest Café in Bethlehem last month. I scoured my music collection for ukulele music and this is what I came up with. Here’s the playlist:

 

24 Hours in Orlando

Standard

Prelude

So, this time last week, I was attending my company’s annual sales conference at The Marriott World Center in Orlando FL. It was the usual over-the-top event full of business reviews, strategy sessions, panel discussions, and an awards dinner (where I did not win…again). The highlight by far of the conference for me was the keynote speaker, Neil Pasricha. Neil got his start writing the blog 1000 Awesome Things, and he has now published many books including You Are Awesome, which all of us at the sales conference were given a copy of. I enjoyed his presentation so much that I went up to Neil afterwards and got him to personalize my book. We also discussed blogging in general, my blog and podcast, and I gave him an A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge sticker (I keep these on hand for just such an occasion). He said he would check out my sites. Thanks Neil!

The first two days of the sales conference featured miserable weather. Wednesday and Thursday it was in the mid-50s, overcast, rainy. Not exactly the escape a Pennsylvania guy was looking for in Orlando in January! Fortunately, the weather turned on Friday – 70s and sunny. The conference ended at noon, so this was perfect timing for the events I had planned. As most of my colleagues boarded taxis headed for the airport, I munched on my box lunch and waited for a ride of a different kind.

The real fun was about to begin.

Friday 24Jan2020

1:00pm. My brother from another mother George Borcherding arrived at the Marriott World from his home in Jacksonville FL. George is a fellow Disney and Tiki enthusiast who also happens to be a Walt Disney World annual passholder. He travels to Orlando at least once a month to get his Disney on, which usually includes a stop at our happy place, the Polynesian Village. Since I don’t live in Florida, I don’t have an annual pass, so my trip to Walt Disney World for a half-day visit would cost me a pretty penny. How could I justify this expense?

Here’s how. Last December I won the championship of my buddy Chris Benton’s fantasy football league. Not bad for my first year in the league! This is a 12-team league with cash prizes for 1st and 2nd place only. In addition, the champion gets to host a pretty sweet trophy. The cash prize was more than enough to cover the cost of a 1-day park ticket, a 1-night hotel stay, food and beverages, and spending money for souvenirs. So, why not? I earned the right to spend this found money on some great memories.

1:30pm. George and I drove to the Baymont Inn to check in, then travelled to the Hollywood Studios parking lot, where we boarded the new Disney Skyliner headed for EPCOT. I hadn’t been to WDW since they opened the Skyliner, so this was a nice treat and a cool way to fly to our ultimate destination.

2:00pm. We arrived at EPCOT, where the International Festival of the Arts was in full swing. Truth be told, the main reason I wanted to stay in Orlando for an extra day was to attend this event, where my Tiki friend and Disney Master Artist Kevin-John would be debuting his two new It’s A Small World art prints. I had my eye on the Polynesian print, and KJ was going to be at the event from 3-5pm today signing his art. We had an hour to kill.

George and I decided to cruise through the World Showcase, where they had tents set up for all of the featured artists at the festival. Although Kevin-John was my main attraction, I had also discovered another artist when browsing the festival’s website: Eunjung June Kim Atellier. June Kim had 4 works she was debuting this year, and I love them all, but the one I really wanted was Happy Orange Song. We found her art in the Wonderground Gallery tent in front of the Germany pavilion, and I bought the big print I coveted and postcards of the others. Sadly, June Kim wasn’t at the festival this week to sign her art, but I will track her down in the future.

2:30pm. We still had a little time to kill before seeing Kevin-John, so George suggested we do a little drinking around the countries. We started with a Tokyo Sunset in Japan, which was a tropical, Tiki-like concoction. Then we moved on to England where we tried some whiskey flights. I went Irish, George went Scotch. We timed our stop in England perfectly, as the typical 15-minute Florida rainstorm passed through while we stayed high…and dry.

3:00pm. The time had arrived to visit with Kevin-John. We wandered over to the Canada pavilion, where the main artists tent was located. When we got there, only one couple was in line in front of us, so we only had to wait about 10 minutes for our chance. George and I both bought the Small World – Polynesia print in the tent and had them ready for KJ to sign. I had brought an orange Sharpee for the occasion, which he gladly used. Kevin-John was gracious with his time and genuinely glad to see us. I think he spent 15 minutes with George and me, talking story and signing our art. I felt bad for the people in line behind us, which at this point had swelled to over twenty people deep. Everyone was in a good mood, though, and it turns out George and I knew many of them anyway, or at least they knew who we were. Ah, Tiki celebrity!

3:45pm. After we finished with Kevin-John, it was time to head over to EPCOT Future World and go on some rides. Sadly, this part of EPCOT is really torn apart right now, as they are renovating much of the park. My wife’s favorite fountain is gone; MouseGears is closed and ready to be demolished; much of the walking area is inaccessible as large walls have gone up to hide the mess. It really is only a 1/2-day park right now.

Fortunately we had FastPasses for Soarin’, the one must-do ride at EPCOT. Although I really miss the old ride, which featured scenic California, the new ride is pretty cool as you fly around the world. Thank goodness they didn’t change the pre-ride queue and briefing video, where Puddy still calls the shots. “Nice work, Pal.”

After Soarin’ we had FastPasses for Living with The Land and Spaceship Earth, but we didn’t need them, as both standby lines were less than 10 minutes. That was a good thing, as our half day at EPCOT was nearing an end and we had another happy place to get to. I bought some souvenirs for the family and as dusk fell, we hit the road.

6:30pm. George and I got back on the Skyliner, flew to Hollywood Studios, hopped in his Honda Pilot and drove back to the Baymont Inn, where we unpacked and got ready to head back out. At this point we switched to an Uber, as there was going to be some Tiki drinking involved tonight. No sense driving the rest of the night.

7:30pm. We arrived at the Polynesian Village Resort, our happy place and final destination of the day. I hadn’t eaten anything since that box lunch at the Marriott World, so we went to Captain Cook’s, where I ordered the Hawai’ian flatbread pizza while George chowed down on some pork fried rice. We sat out on the terrace on a beautiful evening, listening to music and enjoying the water wall.

While we were eating and chilling, we met up with some off-duty cast members and their friends. George knew everybody, as he comes here a lot! By the end of the evening, I would know them too. George also touched base with Skipper Nick, who was working at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto tonight, and put our name on the waiting list to get in.

8:00pm. George got a text from our friend Polly Allsmiller, who was hanging out upstairs at the Tambu Lounge with her husband Rich. Walter was tending bar tonight, so we headed up to get the best Mai-Tai on property and say hello to our friends. I had met Rich and Polly the last time I was at The Polynesian. They are wonderful people and tell amazing stories about their times at Disney, both in California and Florida. The Allsmillers are genuine ohana and I’m so glad we got to spend time with them!

8:30pm. George got a text from Skipper Nick that our table was ready at Trader Sam’s, so we finished up at the Tambu Lounge and headed back downstairs. Rich and Polly joined us as we settled in for a long evening of Tiki drinks and merriment with friends and cast members. Trader Sam’s is more than just a Tiki bar – it’s a Disney Tiki bar. If the Enchanted Tiki Room and the Jungle Cruise had and alcoholic child, this place would be it. I’ve spent quite a few evenings here, and I hope I get to spend many more. I’ve also made quite a few Tiki friends here over the years, and tonight just added to my ohana. This truly is my happy place.

Saturday 25Jan2020

12:30am. After closing down Trader Sam’s, we headed back upstairs to the Tambu Lounge to hang out with Walter and the rest of the Polynesian cast members as they closed up shop for the night. By 1am George and I hailed an Uber and headed back to the Baymont Inn, where we called it a night.

Denouement

9:00am. I had woken up a little earlier than this, but George was still sleeping, so I quietly packed my suitcase and headed down to the lobby for some breakfast. George was staying in Orlando until Sunday, and I was flying home today, so I didn’t bother him this morning. I ate my breakfast and called an Uber to take me to the airport. Aloha, George, and thanks again for hosting me for the day! I love you, bruddah.

10:00am. I arrived at MCO with lots of time to spare, as my flight wasn’t scheduled to take off until 12:50pm. I had heard horror stories from my colleagues flying out the day before about long lines getting through security. I didn’t want to chance it. On this Saturday morning it only took me about 15 minutes to get through security, so I had time to kill. I started reading Neil Pasricha’s blog, which is really good. It inspired me to read his book, the one he had personalized for me two days earlier. I finished it 3 days after I got home, and enjoyed every page. I can’t wait until his new book comes out, which he teased us with during his presentation at the sales conference.

After a leisurely lunch at Ruby Tuesday in the airport terminal (not many choices here), I boarded the plane heading back to Newark. So long, Orlando. Until we meet again.

1:00pm. Wheels up as I reflect on the past 24 hours. This truly was a wonderful trip, albeit a short one. It really made me happy to be able to see such wonderful people and do such fun things in the course of one day. I’m glad I took Neil Pasricha’s advice to spend the 20 minutes (well, maybe a little more) to write it all down. The 20-minute replay truly does give you the chance to relive the happiness, and will continue to do so every time I read this blog post. Mahalo, Neil. And George. And KJ. And Rich & Polly. A hui hou.

Ohana Means Community

Standard

Last weekend, I ran into an old friend at a concert. I know George Mowrer from the church we used to attend together and from some men’s retreats we enjoyed. Lately I’ve lost my desire for organized religion, so I hadn’t seen George for a while. He asked me if I had found another church, and I told him no, that I was giving that a break for now.

George and I are Facebook friends, so he knows of my Tiki obsession. When George asked me what I was doing to be in community, I told him my Tiki ohana was my community. He asked me to explain that to him, and I tried the best I could before the concert started and we shifted our focus to the music. I’m afraid my explanation must have been pretty disjointed. I will try to explain it better now, so if you’re reading this, George, this is for you.

My Tiki ohana is both real and virtual. I’ve written at length about the many aspects of it (Who’s Who In The Tiki Ohana): artists, builders, chroniclers, musicians, mixologists. I’ll now talk about some of the specific people I’ve gotten to know well, some in person, some virtually. I feel blessed to know these folks, as they truly make up a wonderful community for me.

Beth Lennon. A/K/A Mod Betty, Beth is the creator of Retro Roadmap, a really cool website devoted to spotlighting vintage and retro places across the country with the hope of preserving them. Years ago, Beth came across my A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge page and reached out to me to talk about Tiki. She noticed that there was an interconnect between my world of Tiki and her world of Mid-Century Modern, one that we’ve explored ever since. I invited Beth to come up to Bethlehem so I could show her Steel Stacks; she and her husband Cliff Hillis both came up and we immediately hit it off! Cliff is a musician, a singer-songwriter who is very busy in the Philly music scene. He brought me a copy of one of his CDs as a gift, and I gave Beth a SHAG art postcard that reminded me of her.

Over the years, we’ve crossed paths on many occasions. Beth came back to Bethlehem for a Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica concert I helped organize at Steel Stacks; I spent time with Beth and Cliff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale; and I helped Beth organize a Tiki weekender in Wildwood NJ, the MCM/Doo-Wop capital of the East Coast. It was at this Wildwood event that I met many people I’ve gotten to know in the local Tiki ohana, folks like Robin Cammarota-Nicholson and Michael Hirsch.

Michael Hirsch. Michael lives in New York City, but his parents live in Allentown, so he comes to my neck of the woods often. Michael has been to my Tiki Lounge a few times. He is an architect by trade, and he is passionate about historical preservation, having written a book on Doo-Wop architecture. Michael organized a tour of historically significant landmarks in Wildwood during Mod Betty’s Tiki Weekend. He also is involved with the Society for Commercial Archeology and brought a few of his SCA friends to the Tiki Lounge the last time he visited.

I’ve seen Michael in other places besides Wildwood and Bethlehem. He and I broke bread together at another Retro Roadmap event at the Village Diner in upstate New York, where I also met his parents, Anita and Syman. It turns out the synagogue they attend is literally across the street from my house! Michael also met my friend Bruce and me at The Polynesian, an upscale new Tiki bar in Manhattan.

Robin Cammarota-Nicholson. Robin is another New York City resident I first met at the Wildwood Tiki Weekend. She and her husband Ken live in Yonkers, but Robin travels the world in her job with the American Council on Germany. Everywhere she goes, Robin searchesm out Tiki hotspots to try out. Although I haven’t seen her as often as I’ve seen Michael, I did run into Robin at a Surf Music weekend in Asbury Park NJ and at a pop-up Tiki bar at Boilermaker NYC, where the bar was taken over by Tiki mixologist extraordinaire and historian, Jeff “Beachbum” Berry.

Jeffrey Berry. Jeff “Beachbum” Berry is one of the most influential people in the Tiki revival movement which began in the 1990s. He has published multiple books on Tiki cocktail recipes and history, travels the world as a Tiki drink ambassador, and opened his own restaurant and Tiki bar, Latitude 29, in New Orleans. I first met Jeff at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale, where I attended his symposium on the dark days of Tiki drinks in the 1970s. I found him to be personable and kind, with no ego, as he spent time talking with me as if I was the only person there.

The next time I met The Bum, he took his generosity of spirit a step further. My sister Anita and I visited Latitude 29 while in New Orleans on some family business. Jeff agreed to do an interview with me for my podcast before we sat down for dinner. He was articulate, genuine, and a wonderful historian during our talk (you can check out this interview in my podcast episode here: Panda’s Tasty Jambalaya). During dinner, Beachbum Berry came to our table and shared a new drink he was working on with us, asking our opinion on it. What a nice gesture from a great guy! I consider it an honor to know Jeff Berry personally, as he is the most accessible and humble of the Tiki titans. Mahalo, Bum.

Steve Seifert. My wife Jess first introduced me to “Tikiman” Steve Seifert, who created a wonderful website dedicated to WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort: Tikiman Pages. Our family are Disney junkies, and The Polynesian is my happy place. Jess began following Tikiman’s website and Facebook page to keep up to date on all things Poly, which helped us better plan our vacations there.

Over the years, Tikiman has asked his followers to contribute to his website, whenever he knew somebody was at The Polynesian and he was looking for on-the-ground reporting. I helped Steve out when our family was on vacation there in 2014. In return, he helped publicize my blog posts through his audience, as I was blogging daily durning our stay (WDW Polynesian Day 1) and Tikiman’s followers took my readership into 5 digits!

A few years later, Tikiman decided to host a get-together for Tiki friends at the Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto in The Polynesian Village. It was really cool to meet him in person, along with seeing other members of the Tiki ohana like Jim Hayward, Scott Deeter, George Borcherding, and Kevin-John Jobczynski.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I’ve gotten to know and appreciate a lot of Tiki artists over the years (Tiki Ohana: Artists, Tiki Ohana: Artists, Part Deux), but I’ve only actually met a very few of them. Josh Agle was the first, and I’ve documented my interactions with him before (Stalking SHAG). One of my current favorite artists is Kevin-john Jobczynski, who has become somewhat famous as a Disney Master Artist.

I was fortunate to meet KJ at Tikiman’s gathering at Trader Sam’s, where he debuted a new art print created especially for the event. I had previously purchased a piece from him entitled Mai-Tai Sunset, which was one of KJ’s earliest Tiki-specific pieces of art. How cool that he printed it on a piece of driftwood with a bamboo frame and rattan matting! This print, along with several other Kevin-john works, hangs proudly in the Tiki Lounge.

George Borcherding. Like me, George Borcherding is a huge fan of Tiki. I first got to know him via our online interactions, but I have now spent enough time with George in-person to consider him a true friend. All of our meetings have taken place at The Polynesian, which certainly isn’t a bad place to meet. A Dole Whip and a Captain’s Mai-Tai are great reasons to get together!

 

 

 

 

 

 

George, like me, has his own home Tiki bar, which he puts a lot of work into making special. I’ve never been to Nui Keoki’s Enchanted Grotto, but I enjoy following along on his Facebook page to see the latest and the greatest in Tiki decor. I believe he feels the same way about A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge.

One of these days, I will visit George in Jacksonville FL, and I’m sure he will come to Bethlehem PA too. For now, we have many memories we’ve made together at The Polynesian, from the time we met with many of our Tiki ohana at Tikiman Steve’s event, and the time we were a couple of non-Polynesian gringos crashing Auntie Kaui’s birthday celebration in Luau Cove, to just chilling out at the Tambu Lounge sipping on Mai-Tais made by Walter. And we’ll never forget being served by Skipper Natalie at Trader Sam’s, which was sadly the last time we saw her before she tragically passed away at too young an age. Okole mauna, Natalie, and mahalo, Bruddah George, for being a good friend and a big part of my Tiki community.

Panda’s Exotica Island

Standard

Exotica. It’s a misunderstood term, unfortunately. Probably because it sounds a bit like “erotica,” which it is not. Exotica is a style of music that got its name from an album by Martin Denny. Think relaxing, island music, with plenty of vibraphone, wordless vocals, and bird calls. As if you’re in the middle of a jungle and don’t really want to get out. I consider Exotica to be one of the five pillars in the Tiki canon: Panda’s Galaxy of Sound.

The big three of Exotica were Les Baxter, Martin Denny, and Arthur Lyman. Les Baxter began it all with his Music Out of the Moon album way back in 1947, which featured the unusual sounds of the theremin to create an imagined lunar soundscape. Baxter’s music was lushly orchestrated, as he went on to become one of Hollywood’s biggest soundtrack artists. His original version of Quiet Village remains the quintessential Exotica song. Martin Denny stripped down Baxter’s sound with his version of Quiet Village on his classic Exotica album in 1957. Denny’s vibraphonist, Arthur Lyman, struck out on his own and imbued the music with the soul of his native Hawai’i, including his album Legend of Pele from 1959.

Over the years, other artists have made Exotica music, and modern artists from across the globe have picked up the torch. Ìxtahuele from Sweden, The Left Arm of Buddha from Belgium, and Gold Dust Lounge from Florida, to name a few. This playlist celebrates a timeline of Exotica from its heyday back in the 1950s to the current day. I hope you enjoy hearing it as much as I enjoyed creating it.

Here’s the playlist:

Panda's Exotica Island CD Back

Here’s the soundtrack you can listen to on 8tracks:

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band

Standard

“It was twenty years ago today, when Sgt. Pepper taught the band to play…”

So begins the most important Beatles album ever (in my opinion). It was 1967. The band had decided to stop touring to concentrate on writing music. Two of my favorite albums, Rubber Soul (Dec. 1965) and Revolver (Aug. 1966), began the transition from the early Beatles of Love Me Do to the more complex music of their later recordings. With Sgt. Pepper, this transformation was complete.

This is a wonderful album, featuring the competing songwriting talents of John Lennon and Paul McCartney, the Indian-influenced orchestration of George Harrison, and probably the most iconic song Ringo Starr ever sang. Mix in some hallucinogenic drugs and a wide assortment of musical instruments and ideas, and you arrive at Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

It’s hard to believe it’s been over 50 years since this album was released. It sounds as groundbreaking today as it must have sounded in 1967. I was fortunate to have just purchased the 50th anniversary edition from 2017, which is an amazing collection of pictures, posters, videos, and of course music. Lots of music. There are four CDs worth of music here, including the original mono mix of the album, the original stereo mix, a new stereo mix, and lots of outtakes.

img_6437

The biggest reason why I bought this edition is the new 5.1 surround-sound mix of Sgt. Pepper on a separate Blu-ray disc included in it. If you’ve been following along with my social media posts, you know that I’ve really been getting into these surround mixes of great albums. I was curious to hear how the original 4-track recordings would translate into 5.1. I was not disappointed! The surround-sound mix of Sgt. Pepper really pops, introducing me to sounds I hadn’t noticed before.

It was worth it to me to buy this collection just for this new mix. All of the bonus features, including a wonderful book and video on the making of Sgt. Pepper, will keep me busy for a long time enjoying this wonderful album. Which is as it should be, for a masterpiece that has aged well after 50 years.

Mahalo John, Paul, George, and Ringo!

IMG_2161

 

Owning Tiki

Standard

I’ve been a participant in Tiki culture for about 15 years now. In that time, I’ve learned a lot about what Tiki is (and what it isn’t). First and foremost, Tiki is an escape. The many aspects of this escape – music, art, drinks, decor – have been the subject of my musings in this blog, my Facebook page, my podcasts, and my 8tracks music channel.

What I’m particularly proud of is that I have become somewhat of an expert in Tiki to those who know me. I like to think I occupy the Tiki space in those people’s minds, and they often ask me questions, send me texts and pictures from Tiki-related places, and bring me things they think I might like for my Tiki Lounge.

One of the questions I get asked most often: “Andy, how did you get into Tiki in the first place?” I got tired of telling my Tiki origin story over and over again, so I wrote a blog post about it (Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge?). The next most popular question I get is “Is this Tiki?” I’m not always right, but I do try to explain the difference between Oceanic Arts and Party City, i.e. legitimate and respectful Tiki versus tacky cultural appropriation.

The most fun communications are texts from friends who know my love of Tiki and want to show me they’ve paid attention to what I’ve told them. Here are a few recent examples:

Both of these texts came to me in the past month!

Finally, the most gratifying aspect of owning Tiki is when friends bring me things from their travels. I’m not talking about my Tiki ohana, as we send each other things all the time, especially Tiki mugs. I’m talking about unsolicited gifts from unexpected people and places, just because they thought of me and saw something cool. A few examples:

I love that people think of me when they see Tiki things and bring them over. It’s not the gifts as much as the thought that brings me joy. No matter what it is, I will try my best to display these items proudly in the Tiki Lounge, after thanking the givers publicly on my Facebook page. Let’s hope I never run out of room here!

To all of you who have asked me questions about Tiki, showed me you listened and appreciated the knowledge, and brought me tokens of your appreciation, I say mahalo from the bottom of my heart. You are always welcome in the Tiki Lounge for a Mai-Tai and a temporary escape to a fun place.

A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge Soundtrack

Standard

Welcome to the soundtrack of my Tiki Lounge, a world both virtual and real. I originally created this playlist in 2010, but have just updated it (9 years later) to include my theme song, Panda Strutt, by the wonderfully talented Jon Tiki of Five-Eaux. This tune, which can be heard at the beginning of my podcast episodes (including the latest, Panda’s Musical Journey), now kicks off this compilation. It makes sense to me. I hope you enjoy it!

Here is the playlist:

a panda's tiki lounge cd back cover

Click here to listen to this playlist on my 8tracks station: