Ohana Means Community

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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.

Tiki Ohana – Artists, Part Deux

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About a year-and-a-half ago, I kicked off a series of posts on the Tiki ohana, kind of a who’s who in the Tiki world. My first post was Tiki Ohana – Artists, featuring the artists I had come to admire by that time. Well, I’ve grown in my Tiki knowledge over the past 18 months, and “discovered” and met some more pretty cool artists along the way. Here they are, the second wave of artists to grace the Tiki Lounge.

Kevin-john Jobczynski. I got to know this wonderful artist the way I meet a lot of Tiki people: on the Internet. KJ checked out my page, I checked out his, and the rest is history. He was kind enough to appear on my podcast, where we talked about his beginnings as a sports artist, doing commission work for famous athletes and celebrities, before finally becoming a Disney master artist. Kevin-john has branched out into purely Tiki art as well. I got to meet him in-person at Tikiman Steve’s TikiFest 2016, which was held at Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at WDW’s Polynesian Village Resort. Please check out KJ’s amazing art for yourself: http://kevinjohnstudio.com/

img_1176Dawn Frasier. Sophista-tiki is the name of this talented artist’s studio in Seattle WA. Dawn Frasier is a multi-faceted Tiki artist, creating everything from water color paintings, rugs, handmade clothing from exclusively designed fabrics, and Tiki decor in many shapes and sizes. One of her watercolors was featured on Page 6 of Smuggler’s Cove, the wonderful new book from Martin and Rebecca Cate. I’m proud to have a print of that amazing watercolor hanging on the wall in the Tiki Lounge. Please check out Dawn Frasier’s wide variety of work here: https://www.etsy.com/shop/sophistatiki

Chaunine Joy Landeau. This talented lady’s art isn’t exactly Tiki (yet), but Chaunine Joy’s work puts her squarely on the periphery. She’s a big fan of Disney and Tiki, and it’s just a matter of time until we get her to drink the Mai-Tai and start painting something Polynesian. Chaunine specializes in whimsical watercolors painted on a page from an actual book, which is pretty cool. She and I are working on a piece of art for the Tiki Lounge, and I already have the wall space ready for it. Stay tuned! In the meantime, please check out Chaunine Joy’s studio here: http://chauninejoy.tictail.com/

Tiki tOny Murphy. Tiki tOny is an artist I’ve just begun to follow. I saw some of his artwork at the aforementioned TikiFest 2016, both on the walls of Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto and on t-shirts worn by a few of my fellow revelers. I also covet some of the custom-painted Vans I saw on his website – they will be mine, oh yes, they will be mine! Tiki tOny was just named the official artist for The Hukilau 2017, and some of the initial sketches he’s shared on his Facebook page look amazing. Please check out his website for those Vans and other cool Tiki stuff here: http://www.tikitony.com/

A Small Collection

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Tiki mugs are addictive. At least, they are for me. It all started with a nice score on eBay, and since my first Tiki mug purchase, I’ve gone on to collect a few more. I’m now out of room in the shelf I built just 6 months ago, which means I should probably stop buying Tiki mugs. Or build another shelf in A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge. 😎

As I marvel at the small collection of Tiki mugs I’ve amassed in just a few short years, it dawned on me: these works of art are mileposts along my Tiki journey. I will now recreate that journey for you, with pictures to prove it. Here we go.


The Kahiki Polynesian Supper Club, Columbus OH. As mentioned before, I found this gem on eBay, at a pretty reasonable price. There were many Tiki mugs sold at The Kahiki, so it isn’t particularly rare, but I had just begun researching this now-extinct Tiki temple and had a trio of “worlds colliding” moments (see Whenceforth A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge) when I found this mug. It was the start of a new addiction.


The Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show, Fort Lauderdale FL. As my research into Tiki temples continued, I learned of the granddaddy of them all, The Mai-Kai. Founded in 1956 by two brothers from Chicago, this is the oldest and best Polynesian supper club in the world. My wife Jessica and I took a long weekend trip to Fort Lauderdale a couple of years ago (see Aloha Spirit: The Mai-Kai) so I could see this Tiki Mecca for myself. We spent many hours in this beautiful place, walking through the gardens, checking out the amazing Polynesian dance show, and knocking back a few libations in The Molokai Lounge. The tall Tiki mug came with my first Mai-Tai, and the rum barrel came from the gift shop. Good times, and I would return later for The Hukilau.



Disneyland’s Enchanted Tiki Room and Trader Sam’s, Anaheim CA. In 2013, Jess and I hit the road again, this time to California for the 50th anniversary celebration of The Enchanted Tiki Room (see Aloha Spirit: Los Angeles). We spent a couple of sessions in the new Trader Sam’s, where my favorite drink was the Krakatoa. It came with a cool animated show in the bar and this spiffy, lava-dripping Tiki mug. I also picked up this amazing Pele mug by Kevin Kidney at the Enchanted Tiki Room festivities, where I also scored some cool SHAG swag from the man himself. It was a memorable trip that contributed a lot of pieces to the Tiki Lounge.


The Hukilau, Fort Lauderdale FL. In 2014, I left Jessica at home and met my buddy Bruce at The Hukilau, the East Coast’s biggest Tiki weekender event (see The Hukilau: Day 1). 4 days of hanging out with like-minded Tiki geeks led to many new friendships and 2 cool new Tiki mugs: an orange coconut mug and a Marquesian cannibal mug by Eekum Bookum. Tasty.

Tiki Pop, Paris France. Sven Kirsten is the godfather of the modern Tiki movement (see Tiki Ohana: Builders). His newest book, Tiki Pop, was the companion book to the expo he had in Paris in 2014, Tiki Pop : L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien, at the musée du quai Branly. I gladly scooped up this tome and the Tiki Bob mug that came with it. Both are displayed proudly in the Tiki Lounge.


Three Dots and a Dash, Chicago IL. Last year, for my 50th birthday, the family took a road trip to Chicago. We spent time visiting my buddy Bruce, who lives in Lincoln Park, and he surprised me with a gift of this cool Tiki mug from Psycho Suzi’s Motor Lounge in Minneapolis MN. After a wonderful dinner at David Burke’s Primehouse, Jess took the kids back to the hotel and Bruce and I headed to Three Dots and a Dash for some Tiki drinks. While there, I picked up this gorgeous seahorse bowl designed by Baï of Paris. This is the most beautiful piece of Tiki art I own! It would inspire me to get another Tiki mug from Baï later.


Hawaii Kai, New York NY. When we returned from Chicago, my mother-in-law Phyllis surprised me with a gift of this cool bamboo Tiki mug. She got it on her honeymoon in NYC, at the now-defunct Hawaii Kai, Manhattan’s most famous Polynesian supper club. This is the rarest Tiki mug in my collection. Mahalo, Phyllis!


Tiki Lounge, Pittsburgh PA. Last year, we attended the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekender in Wildwood NJ (see Wildwood Weekend), organized by my friend Beth Lennon of Retro Roadmap. I made a lot of new friends at the beach that weekend, including Paul Matarrese from Pittsburgh. During a room crawl / swap fest, I bartered one of my music compilations for this cool Tiki mug Paul brought along. The matchbook was a nice throw-in.

 Tiki Farm, San Clemente CA. Tiki Farm is one of the most popular purveyors of Polynesian pop culture around. They’ve created many Tiki mugs during the current Tiki revival, and just celebrated their 15th anniversary with this beautiful mug by Doug Horne. The mug comes with a cast-in spear holder in the back to hold a cool orange spear swizzle stick.


Trader Sam’s Grog Grotto at The Polynesian Village, Orlando FL. On a quick trip to Orlando for a work sales conference last month, we made a quick stop in my happy place, The Polynesian. When we were there for our last family vacation, Trader Sam’s was still under construction. It’s now open for business! I met my newest Tiki friend, George Borcherding, for some Dole Whips and a couple of Tiki drinks. Our first drink was the Uh-Oa, which came in this cool bowl. I now have 2 Tiki mugs from Trader Sam’s, one from each coast.


Ku by Baï, Paris France. Ku is the Hawai’ian God of War. This is my 2nd Tiki mug designed by Baï, but this one I got directly from her. Whereas the Three Dots and a Dash seahorse bowl is my most beautiful Tiki mug, Ku is my most detailed and substantial Tiki mug. I really love Baï Tiki’s work – it’s stunning!

So there you have it. These are my prized possessions: Tiki mugs collected along many stops of my Tiki journey. But these aren’t the only Tiki mugs I own. My friends have a habit of thinking of me during their travels, and pick up little Tiki trinkets to bring home as gifts to me. Some of these gifts are Tiki mugs. Nondescript but cool, I haven’t been able to identify their origins, but I display them around A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge nonetheless. Here are a few final pictures of these beauties in action. If anybody recognizes any of these Tiki mugs, please let me know. Aloha!




Panda’s Aloha Surf

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So here we are, 12 years into my Tiki journey, which started with the making of my first music compilation CD, Panda’s Swinging Cocktail Hour. Fast forward to today and my 31st music disc, Panda’s Aloha Surf. This is my 5th Surf CD but first in 3 years.

I’ve had a lot of Tiki travels in the past 3 years. Anaheim CA for the 50th anniversary of the Enchanted Tiki Room at Disneyland. Fort Lauderdale FL for the Hukilau in 2014. Wildwood NJ for That Wildwood Tiki Weekend last June.

I’ve met a lot of new friends during that time, including some talented musicians. Nick Pokrivchak of Great White Caps. John Bartley of Five-Eaux. Russell Mofsky of Gold Dust Lounge. Gary Evans and Brian Crum of The Intoxicators!. Jimmy Stingray and Barry Apfel of Skinny Jimmy and The Stingrays.

To these wonderful players and the other great Surf music bands: this compilation is dedicated to you. It was made by you. Mahalo!

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Listen to the playlist here:

Wildwood Weekend

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The Mid-Atlantic Tiki ohana is alive and well and was spotted in Wildwood NJ over the weekend of May 15-17, 2015. Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap, with a little help from The Thrifty Discount DJs and yours truly from A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, held the first annual Wildwood Vintage Tiki Weekend at the Caribbean Motel. We had a great time here at the Doo-Wop capital of the world!

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So what is Doo-Wop? I myself didn’t know, until Beth Lennon a/k/a Mod Betty approached me with her idea for this weekend, after we both attended The Hukilau in June of 2014. Doo-Wop describes a lifestyle from the 1950s and early 1960s in the USA, centered around architecture, music, and entertainment. Other parts of the world refer to this style as Googie, another word I had to go look up in Wikipedia. Whatever you call it, The Wildwoods in NJ have it in spades, and are working hard to preserve it. And Mod Betty seized the opportunity to combine two of her passions, retro and Tiki, into one event. Brilliant!

imageimage Friday night began with a cocktail reception and music provided by A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge, featuring my own Mai-Tai recipe. It seemed to be well-received. After nightfall, we all boarded buses for a guided tour of North Wildwood, Wildwood, and Wildwood Crest, hosted by the Doo-Wop Preservation League. We saw many amazing motels, restaurants, and bars, culminating in a stop at the Cool Scoops Ice Cream Parlor, a 1950s memorabilia lover’s dream!

imageSaturday day morning and early afternoon allowed me some free time with the family. We spent it on the Boardwalk in Wildwood, browsing through gift shops, playing games in a vintage arcade, and scarfing down some Mack’s Pizza. I grew up eating this pizza as a young kid, and now my son Ryan is addicted to it as well!  

Once 3pm rolled around, it was time for the main events of the weekend to begin. These included a room crawl/swap meet, limbo contest, fashion show, and wonderful dinner of pig roast, barbecue chicken, and all of the trimmings. And there was more rum. Lots of rum! Thanks to Mod Betty, Cliff Hillis, and the many guests who served drinks in their rooms during the crawl, we didn’t run out of rum until well into the night!

The Thrifty Discount DJs spun cool lounge and exotica tunes all afternoon and evening, and as the sun went down, the vintage Tiki revelers kept up the merriment with dancing, drinking, and socializing. At one point I asked the DJ if he had the theme from Hawaii Five-0, which of course he managed to dig up and play right away. I grabbed the nearest, able-bodied men I could find and we proceeded to get on the floor and paddle the outrigger from the show’s closing credits. We were cheered on by the beautiful dancing ladies in their retro dresses. Good times!

  

As Sunday morning dawned, some of us took off early to head home or grab some breakfast, while others stuck around to take some last pictures and say their goodbyes…for now. Everybody had a great time at this first Vintage Tiki weekend, and we look forward to doing it again next year. A big mahalo goes out to Mod Betty of Retro Roadmap for organizing this wonderful event! To all of the Tiki ohana who made it this year, and to those of you who couldn’t make it but will be here next year, I say the same thing: Aloha.

     

Tiki Ohana – Performers

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All the world’s a stage, and Tiki is no exception. To wrap up this series on the Tiki ohana, I’m going off script a bit to highlight both groups and individuals who entertain us. Hell, one of the groups isn’t even human! No matter. All of these folks have created a legacy of keeping the Tiki torch alive through song, dance, fire, water, food, drink, and great service. Mahalo to you all!

 

 

MeduSirena Marina. Mermaids are real. This one not only beguiles the Tiki ohana with her underwater maneuvers; she also eats fire, dances as a space-alien slave girl, and is a budding photographer. Marina Anderson, a/k/a MeduSirena Marina, has been holding court at the Wreck Bar in Fort Lauderdale’s Yankee Clipper hotel since 1989. She and her pod of aquaticats have also taken their show on the road, performing internationally wherever a pool with a porthole view has called them. Marina has single-handedly revived this art form from the Mid-Century, and pays tribute to the mermaids who came before her with an amazing show. I was fortunate enough to catch her act last year during The Hukilau, and observed all the behind-the-scenes work that goes into her show. Okole maluna, Marina!

 

 

King Kukulele. Denny Moynahan plays the ukelele. But he does so much more! Under his stage name, King Kukelele, he has performed all over the world, entertaining audiences with his mix of music, comedy, and storytelling, all while wearing his Hawaiian straw hat and grass skirt. King Kukelele is a staple at Tiki events like Tiki Oasis and The Hukilau, where I caught his show in-person for the first time last year. I also enjoy his music on CD, which you can check out here: King Kukelele and the Friki Tikis. Mahalo, King Kukelele!

 

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Mai-Kai Restaurant and Polynesian Show. There is no greater example of Polynesian culture, outside of the Pacific Ocean, than The Mai-Kai. Opened in Fort Lauderdale FL in 1956, The Mai-Kai is still going strong with their combination of tasty food, authentic Tiki drinks in their Molokai Lounge, ubiquitous Tiki decor (both inside and in their lush outdoor gardens), and the best Polynesian song and dance review I’ve ever seen. I first visited this Tiki Mecca 3 years ago, then returned last year during The Hukilau, which was quite the eventful trip for me! I would highly recommend a visit to The Mai-Kai for anybody who wants to learn what Tiki is all about. Aloha!

 

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Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room. This amazing attraction has been entertaining visitors to Disneyland in Anaheim CA since 1963. I first enjoyed this show at Walt Disney World in Orlando FL in 2008, but I was fortunate to see the original during its 50th anniversary celebration 2 years ago. The amazing animatronic display must have been a revelation to visitors fifty years ago! It still enchants the Tiki ohana to this day. I particularly like the courtyard area at the Disneyland Enchanted Tiki Room, where seven Tiki gods tell their stories and Dole Whips are available for purchase. Yum, Dole Whip 🙂 Mahalo, Walt Disney and your wonderful Imagineers!

 

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Walt Disney World’s Polynesian Village Resort. No place offers a more complete immersion into Tiki paradise than this, my happy place. The Polynesian Village Resort opened with the rest of the original Walt Disney World in Orlando FL in 1971. Disney calls their employees “Cast Memebers,” and at The Polynesian, that’s really appropriate! From the minute you pass the sign at the entrance, every person greets you with a warm “aloha” and smile. The buildings are all authentically Polynesian, the amenities are cozy, the food is fantastic, and the Tiki drinks are fist-rate. We’ve been to Walt Disney World for five family vacations (so far), and I would never dream of staying anywhere else. Until we meet again, Auntie Kaui and the rest of the cast members, aloha!

 

For more detailed reporting on these performers, please check out my previous blog posts:

DisneyKeeping The Tiki Torch Lit

The HukilauThe Hukilau: Day1

The PolynesianWDW Polynesian Village Day1

Tiki Ohana – Musicians

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The Tiki lifestyle has a soundtrack, which is evocative of both the time and place of its birth. Tiki music, to me, is a blend of equal parts Exotica, Lounge, Surf, Hawaiian/Polynesian, and Space-Age Bachelor Pad. I wrote about this at length in my blog post, Galaxy of Sound, which prompted an entire series covering each of these genres. These current musicians embody the Tiki sound, as it was yesterday and continues today.

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Brian Mr. Ho O’Neill. Brian O’Neill of Boston MA single-handedly resuscitated the Space-Age Bachelor Pad music of Juan Garcia Esquivel. Well, actually, he did it with a 23-piece band, but Brian was the driving force behind Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica. I was fortunate enough to convince the folks at ArtsQuest in Bethlehem PA to bring Mr. Ho’s Orchestrotica here for a concert a few years ago, as part of the Luau at The Levitt event. What a great show! Mr. Ho has now also released a few albums by his Exotica quartet, which you can check out here: Orchestrotica.com. Aloha, Brian!

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Jay Brooks. Clouseaux is the creation of Jay Brooks in Houston TX. This band plays a diverse mix of Exotica/Lounge/Spy music that’s evocative of Henry Mancini’s great soundtracks from the 1950s/60s/70s. Check out their music here: Clouseaux.com. In his spare time, Jay also carves Tikis and is El Presidente at Aloha Texas Tiki Co., supplier of home decor for the Tiki enthusiast. Gracias, Jay!

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Tony Marsico. The Martini Kings are the #1 live event band in Los Angeles. They’ve played shows for A-list celebrities in major venues, art gallery openings, Tiki events, and backyard cocktail parties. Tony Marsico and his brother Frank have been playing cool lounge music for years, often with guest singers like Kate Campbell and King Paris. Grab yourself a Martini Kings album and start the party here: MartiniKings.com. Sophisticated swing, Tony!
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Randy Wong. The Waitiki 7 is an Exotica combo from Hawaii led by the rhythm section of basis Randy Wong, percussionist Lopaka Colon, and drummer Abe Lagrimas Jr. Firmly rooted in Hawaii, Randy and the group evoke the Exotica masters of Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman. Colon’s father, Augie, was the percussionist for Martin Denny and originated many of the bird and animal calls made famous in Denny’s Exotica music; Lopaka carries on that tradition in Waitiki 7. Check it out for yourself: New Sounds of Exotica. Mahalo, Randy!

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Stephen Greaves. First The SG Sound, then Jet Set Unlimited. Stephen Greaves of Los Angeles CA makes a lot of sound for one person, and that sound captures the 1960s perfectly. A little Surf, a little Exotica, and a whole lot of Space-Age Bachelor Pad. Think Mad Men and you’ll get the idea. Take a listen: Jet Set Unlimited. Groovy, Stephen!

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Gary Evans. One of the best Surf bands I’ve heard in a long time is The Intoxicators!, led by Gary Evans from Tallahassee FL. I saw them play live last year at The Hukilau, along with another cool Surf band, The Disasternauts, which were mostly the same guys dressed as apes in orange NASA jumpsuits. The common denominator was Gary’s guitar playing, which was, fast, tight, and loud! I hope to see them play again someday, but in the mean time, we can check them out here: Intoxicators. Cowabunga, Gary!

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Russell Mofsky. Another band I saw live at The Hukilau was Gold Dust Lounge, led by Russell Mofsky from Miami FL. I thought they were another Surf band when they first started playing, but I was wrong. The best way to describe Gold Dust Lounge is Exotica/World, with elements of Surf, Spy and Soundtrack music mixed in. Russell’s guitar playing is hypnotic, as evidenced in the song Ensenada, which blows me away every time I hear it. Well done, Russell.

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John Tiki Bartley. Five-Eaux is the cleverly-named creation of Jon Tiki, a/k/a John Bartley of St. Louis MO. Surf music is alive and well in the Heartland, and Jon Tiki’s music goes beyond pure Surf, delving into Lounge, Spy, and Soundtracks as well. Here’s a recent song he recreated: Pintor. He was also kind enough to write the theme music for my Podcast, A. Panda’s Tiki Lounge; it sounds like The Pink Panther meets Dick Dale, and it’s wonderful! Thank you, Jon Tiki.

Tiki Ohana – Craftsmen

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One of the most important aspects of Tiki culture’s popularity is the physical image of Tiki and his tropical paradise. This image has been popularized through carved statues, mugs, bamboo decor, and many other manifestations of the Tiki lifestyle. Just about every Tiki temple, from the elaborate Polynesian supper club to the basement Tiki bar (like mine), owes its inspiration and/or physical construction to these members of the Tiki ohana. (I’ve already spoken about Oceanic Arts at length in other posts and in the Tiki Ohana – Builders post, though they certainly belong here as well.)

Bamboo Ben Bassham. The name says it all: Bamboo Ben is the king of all things bamboo. He has made just about everything out of this tropical grass: masks, lamps, purses, shelves, furniture, ceilings, bars, sheds, you name it, he’s done it, or will do it. Bamboo Ben just helped Suzanne Long outfit her new bar, Longitude, in Oakland. Although he’s based in Huntingdon CA, I hope to bring him out east to finish the ceiling here in the Tiki Lounge. Aloha, Bamboo Ben!

Crazy Al Tikimania Evans. A picture’s worth a thousand words: Al Evans is crazy – for Tiki. He seems to be everywhere there’s a Tiki event going on. Crazy Al is an expert Tiki carver, and he’s an accomplished designer of Tiki mugs as well. I met him at The Hukilau in Fort Lauderdale last year, where he was testing out his latest creation: a Tiki mug modeled after the Molokai Maiden masthead found at The Mai-Kai. That is, when he wasn’t joining MeduSirena Marina’s pod of mermaids, as a merman, swimming at the Wreck Bar as part of the show. Crazy, Al!

Jeff Chouinard. Another guy I met at the Hukilau last year was Jeff Chouinard. We were both at happy hour at the Mai-Kai’s Molokai Lounge and were talking to the same Tiki enthusiasts, throwing back a few drinks. I had no idea who Jeff was, but we exchanged stickers and went on our merry way. I then got to know him through Facebook and discovered what an amazing Tiki carver he is! In addition to giving one of his Tikis to the Mai-Kai, Jeff has also made a mark in his native Tampa FL, terrorizing the place by turning dead palm trees into beautiful Tikis all over town. Read all about it in CL Tampa. I hope to own on of his Tikis someday. Surf Soul Tiki, Jeff Chouinard.

Daniel Gallardo. Perhaps nobody is as ubiquitous in the Tiki ohana as Daniel Gallardo, a/k/a Tiki Diablo. An expert carver, he’s really made a name for himself creating Tiki mugs for special events and places. The Hukilau, The Tonga Hut, The Mai-Kai, Tiki Ti, and Latitude 29 are just a few of the Tiki mugs supplied by Tiki Diablo. Mahalo, Daniel!

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Baï Tiki. Craftsmen is a misnomer in the case of this lovely lady from Paris France. Baï Tiki is an accomplished crafter of Tiki mugs, including an amazing seahorse Tiki bowl for Three Dots and a Dash in Chicago. Who says the French don’t know Tiki? Who do you think discovered most of Polynesia, anyway? Merci, Baï!

Tiki Ohana – Builders

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The Tiki craze was created by Don The Beachcomber in the 1930s, exploded with the return of American GIs from the Pacific Theatre of World War II in the 1940s, swept the nation in the 1950s and early 1960s, and vanished almost completely by the 1970s. Fortunately, Tiki was resurrected in the 1990s and is regaining its popularity today. Here are the current keepers of the Tiki torch who helped build and rebuild this wonderful lifestyle.

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LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. 1956 was an important year for Tiki. This was the year The Mai-Kai opened its doors in Fort Lauderdale FL, and the same year that 2 guys in Southern California opened Oceanic Arts. I’ve written at length about LeRoy and Bob’s story (Keeping The Tiki Torch Lit, Nov 2013). It’s not an exaggeration to say that Oceanic Arts was the most important contributor to the Tiki lifestyle, both yesterday and today. They weathered the downturn of the 1970s and 1980s and are still going strong. Mahalo LeRoy Schmaltz and Bob Van Oosting. Please check out their website: www.oceanicarts.net.

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Sven Kirsten. Here, ladies and gentlemen, is the most important figure in the current Tiki revival. Sven Kirsten is a self-proclaimed urban archeologist, a foreigner to our shores, who took it upon himself to research, document, and chronicle the Tiki culture of Mid-Century Modern America in his comprehensive tome, The Book of Tiki (2000). By doing so, Sven Kirsten inspired an entire generation of Tiki-philes to come up above ground, publicize their findings, and connect with each other. Sven Kirsten’s popularity is at an all-time high, as evidenced by last year’s successful exhibition at the Musée du Quai Branly in Paris: Tiki Pop, L’Amérique rêve son paradis polynésien. Please check out the companion book here: www.taschen.com.

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Otto Von Stroheim. The Tiki craze was born on the West Coast, and the revival started there as well. From his home base in Los Angeles, Otto Von Stroheim was an early pioneer bringing Tiki back. He began publishing his Tiki News magazine in 1995 and continues to publish it as an e-newsletter today. Otto and his wife Baby Doe also created Tiki Oasis, the original Tiki weekender event held every August in Southern California, typically in Palm Springs or San Diego. He is one of the experts on all things Tiki, from cocktails and mugs to entertainment. Okole maluna, Otto Von Stroheim. Please check out this wonderful interview at The Atomic Grog: www.slammie.com/atomicgrog.

image Christie Tiki Kiliki White. Meanwhile, on the East Coast, a young lady in Atlanta GA was dreaming of putting on a Tiki Weekender event of her own for the folks who couldn’t make it to California. Along with her friend Swanky, Christie Tiki Kiliki White created The Hukilau in 2002, hosted by Trader Vic’s in Atlanta. That first 3-day Tiki weekend was a resounding success, and The Hukilau was moved to The Mai-Kai in Fort Lauderdale the following year, where it’s been held ever since. I attended last year’s event and blogged live all 4 days I was there (Aloha from The Hukilau, Jun 2014). Now considered the world’s most authentic Tiki event, The Hukilau celebrates it’s 14th anniversary in 2015, thanks to the tireless efforts of cofounder and organizer Christie White. Mahalo, Tiki Kiliki! Please check out The Hukilau’s website for information on this year’s event: www.thehukilau.com.

image Tim Swanky Glazner. As a cofounder of The Hukilau, Tim Swanky Glazner is the East Coast’s answer to Otto Von Stroheim. An expert on all things Tiki, Swanky has many interests including wood carving, Tiki mugs, and mixology. He is the head bartender at Hapa Haole Hideaway in Knoxville TN, and created The Swank Pad website years ago to keep track of his diverse collections. Swanky is currently researching a book on the history of The Mai-Kai, which given his expertise and collection of memorabilia, should be an amazing read. Please check out Swanky’s Facebook page devoted to his forthcoming book here: Mai-Kai: Mystery, History and Adventure.

Tiki Music: Exotica

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Exotica. The term is often misunderstood and confused with erotica, which is a completely different animal. Although it’s sometimes accompanied by scantily-clad dancers, Exotica is really about music. Tiki music.

Like Tiki, Exotica is about escape. It’s a form of music that takes its listeners to a faraway place and time. One could argue that the earliest Exotica music was created by Romantic-era composers, e.g. Ravel’s Bolero and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade. There is some merit to this idea, but the term “Exotica” was coined in the mid-20th Century to describe the music of Martin Denny. It’s a style of music heavy on percussion, including many types of drums, keyboards, and vibes. It also can include exotic animal noises, like bird calls and monkey screams, usually created with a human voice. One variant of Exotica, known as Hollywood, added lush arrangements of strings and horns to make the escape even more dramatic.

So, here are the Exotica albums I’ve come to enjoy over the years, covering a broad spectrum of the genre.

Raymond Scott

Raymond Scott Quintette: Reckless Nights and Turkish Twilights (1992). Recorded between 1937-39, the Raymond Scott Quintette’s music sounds as vibrant today as it did 75 years ago. This was the precursor to Exotica: music evocative of a distant and exotic place. Anybody who grew up watching Loony Tunes or Ren & Stimpy would instantly recognize Raymond Scott’s amazing music.

LesBaxter

Les Baxter: Ritual of the Savage (1951). This has been called the most important album of the entire genre. It sounds like a Hollywood movie soundtrack to me. Les Baxter was a pioneer in mixing lush, orchestral music with primitive instruments and vocals, but I prefer the more stripped-down version of Exotica that was soon to follow.

MartinDenny

Martin Denny: Exotica (1957). For my money, this is the greatest Exotica album of all time. Hell, it gave the genre its name! Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village set the standard for everything that followed: a simple arrangement of percussion and animal calls that still manages to transport you to another world.

ArthurLyman

Arthur Lyman: The Legend of Pele (1959). Taking Exotica a step further, Arthur Lyman used his Hawai’ian heritage to focus his musical getaway. On this album named for the goddess of fire and volcanos, he even does a cool version of Scheherazade. If you know of the story of Pele, this is a very appropriate anthem for her.

Tikiyaki

Tikiyaki Orchestra: Aloha, Baby! (2011). These guys from California ushered in an Exotica revival. Their Polynesian theme and Hawaii Five-O references breathed new life into this mature musical style. How many bands do you know with their own airline, resort, and shuttle bus complete with a Mai-Tai bar? Aloha, Baby, indeed!

Ixtahuele

ÃŒxtahuele: Pagan Rites (2013). Exotica from overseas should not be surprising, and ÃŒxtahuele from Sweden does not disappoint. Their percussion-heavy sound is directly descended from Martin Denny and Arthur Lyman, but their rhythms and melodies are uniquely beautiful. If Thor Heyerdahl and his team of Norwegians could chase Tiki, why not 5 guys from Gothenberg?

ElliotEaston

Elliot Easton’s Tiki Gods: Easton Island (2013). Yup, that Elliot Easton, lead guitarist for the ubiquitous rock band, The Cars. Easton Island is his side project making Tiki music, but driven by guitar. This is an unusual move that really works, thank’s to Easton’s clever melodies and homage to a broad range of music, from Surf to Spaghetti Westerns. Let the good times roll!

LeftArmOfBuddha

The Left Arm of Buddha: Exotica Music and Other Savage Stuff! (2013). Another import from across the pond, this time from Belgium. I just saw this group perform at The Hukilau, where they made their American debut. What a show! 8 musicians, 3 dancing girls, 1 wacky fez-wearing emcee with broken English, a video screen playing campy old movie clips, all added up to great Tiki theatre. Shades of Les Baxter and Hollywood, Belgian style!

GolDustLounge

Gold Dust Lounge: Lost Sunset (2014). It’s hard to categorize this band I also just saw for the first time at The Hukilau. Leader Russell Mofsky claims many diverse influences, including Ravel’s Bolero for the title track, Lost Sunset. I hear Arthur Lyman when I play that song. Gold Dust Lounge spans many of the Tiki music genres (and beyond!), but for the purposes of this post, I will declare Exotica.

What amazes me the most about these artists is that they all created original compositions. There are very few covers in Exotica (with Martin Denny’s version of Les Baxter’s Quiet Village one notable exception). With new performers from around the globe playing this diverse style of music, Exotica is in good hands. It is the brightest star in the Tiki galaxy of sound.