Organizing the second annual Big Kahuna Bash was a real catch-22 in the era of COVID-19.
On one hand, the organizers and performers for the South Pacific-themed music fest and cocktail soiree know the risks of holding such an event right now. On the other hand, they’re also all extra gung-ho for the escapist value that was the festival’s original intent.
“It seemed like the people who love tiki culture really needed this as a consolation prize,” organizer David Moe explained.
Still on target for Saturday outside and inside Grumpy’s Roseville, Big Kahuna is a celebration of the American G.I. postwar adaptation of South Pacific culture. It boasts authentic Mai Tai cocktails, Polynesian art and food, and live music, including “Surfin’ Bird” guitarist Tony Andreason of the Trashmen and Elvis tribute singer Anthony Shore.
This year, of course, it will also ride a new wave of safety precautions.
Temperatures will be taken at the door, masks will be required, and ticket sales are being limited to about 200 people. Tables and standing areas will be 6 feet apart.
While not exactly the Honolulu-breezy, laid-back vibe the event seeks to re-create in a suburban parking lot, any semblance of that feel-good aesthetic is welcome, the participants say.
“I think people need this after being locked down for so long,” said Andreason, who’s “coming out of retirement” to play the event the second year in a row.
The Trashmen guitarist will again perform with the Surf Dawgs, featuring fellow Twin Cities garage-rock hero Zippy Caplan of the Litter. At 77, Andreason said he knows “people in our age category are at extra risk” from the virus.
“But I think it will be a responsible crowd,” he said. “If everyone is careful, we can have a lot of fun again.”
The beachcomber dreamer behind the festival, Moe, is a Minneapolis-based film and TV director who got hooked on tiki culture traveling to Hawaii as a kid. He dreamed up Big Kahuna last year after attending similar festivals in Florida and California.
When those other events were canceled this year as coronavirus cases soared in those states, he became even more resolved to make it work here in Minnesota. He lost his scheduled headliner, Bob Berryhill of the Surfaris (“Wipe Out”), because of the travel risks, but he still lined up some renowned tiki artisans.
“We’re lucky, because we have lower infection numbers here,” Moe said, “and we have plenty of room to spread out.”
Moe said he heard many comments from last year’s attendees over “how big and nice the layout is” at the spacious Grumpy’s Roseville. This offshoot of the shuttered downtown Grumpy’s and its beloved northeast Minneapolis namesake is chiefly operated by music scene vet and visual artist (and ex-Pacific Coast-based Marine) Tom Hazelmyer.
Another safety advantage, Moe said, is the duration of the event: It lasts from 1 p.m. to midnight, with live tiki carving and other demonstrations in the early afternoon, a torch ceremony at dusk, and live music in between.
Andreason and the Surf Dawgs play near the middle at 5 p.m., followed by Shore’s “Blue Hawaii” tribute and then performances by two other surf-rock bands, Hot Pastrami and the Swongos.
“Some people come early and leave even before the music starts, just to enjoy the culture,” said Moe, who still has designs on turning Big Kahuna into a bigger event in years to come.
“But for now, we’re keeping it small. We promise.”