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Annual Slack Key Guitar Festival on Maui

Slack Key Guitar festival

Listen to the lovely harmonies of talented artists from around the state at this year’s Kī Hō‘alu Guitar Festival. The family-friendly casual, outdoor event that features the laid-back melodies of the kī hō‘alu or slack key guitar, takes place from 1 to 7 p.m. on June 24 at Maui Arts & Culture Center’s A&B Amphitheater.

slack key guitar festival

Slack key is a style of guitar playing which involves plucking strings that are loosened or “slacked.” Historians theorize that the method dates back to the early 1800s when Mexican and Spanish vaqueros (cowboys) were enlisted by King Kamehameha III to roundup cattle that were overpopulated and running wild, particularly in Waimea on Hawai‘i Island. They brought their guitars with them, and after a hard day’s work, would sit around a campfire and play.

After they left, Hawaiian cowboys or paniolo, were gifted the guitars and took what they learned from their Mexican and Spanish teachers and melded it with their own songs. They also found a way to glean more sound from one guitar, as there were likely not many around at that time, by loosening the strings so that one instrument could provide a rich harmony on its own.

slack key guitar festival

Slack key is a time-honored tradition and became even more popular when the most influential musician of this style, the late Philip “Gabby” Pahinui, made his first recording in the mid-1940s. The early 1970s also saw a surge in the musical genre during a time when Hawaiian culture was making a significant comeback after being repressed for many decades by missionaries. Today, there are several slack key guitar festivals produced throughout the islands, including on Maui.

Kī Hō‘alu Guitar Festival will feature several world-renowned artists. Bring chairs or mats and get cozy as you hear the delightful strumming of new and classic slack key guitar tunes at this 27thannual festival. Visit mauiarts.org for more information.

Photos by Ben Ferrari



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