Tiki taken seriously
If the rain persists next week in Huntington Beach, Randy Wong has a simple response: Bring it on.
The Hawaii native will visit Surf City the last three days of 2010 as bassist and musical director of the Waitiki 7, an eclectic band that combines jazz, Latin and more into a style called exotica. A few months ago, Wong suggested a New Year’s extravaganza to the owner of Don the Beachcomber, and he and his band will take the stage beginning Wednesday at the restaurant at 16278 Pacific Coast Hwy.
Wong describes his music, and the Polynesian-themed Tiki culture that it represents, as a form of escape. And that could include a respite from the weather outside.
“Every other Tiki festival on Earth is always in the summer,” he said. “But when you need Tiki the most is when it’s Christmas-y.”
Waitiki: A Festival of Music & Cocktails, which begins at 7 p.m. nightly, features appearances by Wong’s band along with other exotica artists, including Robert Drasnin, Sherry Shaoling and former members of the 1990s band Combustible Edison. The festival will climax New Year’s Eve with a Tiki dance party featuring music, dancing and even original cocktails invented by members of the bands.
The Waitiki 7 has members who live in both Hawaii and New England and only fits in about half a dozen gigs a year, Wong said. The shows in Huntington Beach will be special for two reasons. First, they will mark the West Coast debut for the band, which has headlined in Hawaii, the East Coast and even Germany.
And second, the appearance at Don the Beachcomber represents a return to the band’s roots — once removed, anyway.
Don the Beachcomber, which opened last year in Huntington Beach, is the first new location in 20 years for the chain often credited with inventing Tiki culture. Founder Donn Beach launched the chain in the 1930s in Hollywood and set up more than a dozen other restaurants featuring Polynesian décor, bamboo artifacts and rum-based cocktails.
Arthur Snyder, the co-owner of the Huntington Beach location, had been a fan of the Waitiki 7 for several years and corresponded with Wong by e-mail before several of the band members came to visit his restaurant in the spring. The band’s music, Snyder said, evolved from the artists who played at the original Don the Beachcomber restaurants decades back.
“I would think every music professor around would want to be a part of this,” he said about the festival.
Wong said he knew he wanted to perform at Snyder’s restaurant as soon as he walked in and saw real bamboo walls, handmade lamps and other artifacts. Many modern Tiki restaurants, he said, use kitschy imitations.
“They take the Tiki thing seriously,” Wong said. “It’s not like wearing Tiki hats on your head or anything.”
Cost: $30 Dec. 29; $40 to $125 Dec. 30 and 31
If You Go
What: “Waitiki: A Festival of Music & Cocktails”
Where: Don the Beachcomber, 16278 Pacific Coast Hwy., Huntington Beach
When: 7 p.m. Dec. 29 through 31
Information: (562) 592-1321 or https://www.donthebeachcomberpresentswaitiki.com
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