Looking Ahead At Hallowbaloo
Right about now, writer and consultant Alani Apio is going through his usual mid-October routine: He’s designing his very own costume to be unveiled at the end of the month.
His target date, though, isn’t Halloween night, it’s Oct. 29, the date of this year’s annual Hallowbaloo Music & Arts Festival, the annual Halloween bash that kicks off at 4:30 p.m. at Hawaii State Art Museum.
Since the event launched in 2008, Apio has only missed one — and that was because he happened to be on a trip.
“I love it,” Apio says. “(It) has turned into a really sweet, fun and exciting event.”
In its nine years, Hallowbaloo has gone through various iterations and seen substantial growth (the first year, it took place on just two streets, and one of the main stages was the small strip of grass fronting The ARTS at Marks Garage). These days, the event attracts several thousand people each year and features a mix of live music, performance art and food vendors, as well as after parties at various Chinatown bars and clubs throughout the night.
In recent years, the event even has landed a number of internationally known musicians — including Booker T. Jones and Big Freedia — and with this year’s headliner, DJ Low Down Loretta Brown, aka singer-songwriter Erykah Badu, Hallowbaloo hasn’t always been a sweeping success.
But that’s OK, because the crux of the event, he feels, runs much deeper than a big party — and much longer than one night.
The real significance, Tarone and other area business owners and community members feel, is that it serves as a way to support the arts and the businesses within the community. The number of people that the event draws into the area means not only high earnings for local businesses on the night of, but also can translate to continued revenue in the long-term.
That’s because Hallowbaloo, Tarone says, is all about showcasing what Chinatown has to offer.
“It is about telling the story of our great neighborhood,” Tarone says. “It is the arts capital of Hawaii — you have ARTS at Marks Garage, Kumu Kahua Theatre, to the clubs, and then the galleries, the boutiques. It’s about showcasing this neighborhood and trying to have the greatest possible night in this neighborhood.”
Hallowbaloo can attract, on average, up to 10,000 people.
The street festival features food from various area eateries, as well as local artists, and after it ends, a significant portion of the revelers pours over into the bars and clubs throughout Chinatown. Area business owners report that Hallowbaloo — along with other block parties and bar crawls that take place throughout the year — tend to be among their busier nights.
“The revenue that night is significant,” Tarone says, “and that can make a difference for small businesses.”
“It is a big event, so it just seems to draw in a lot more faces,” says Joshua Hancock, owner of Downbeat Diner & Lounge, which is one of 11 venues part of Club Hallow-baloo this year. “These types of events are very beneficial to the small businesses that are in operation down here. We are not in Waikiki where we have that high level of foot traffic; we are a small metro neighborhood that has been slowly growing and changing, very organically, with mostly small business entrepreneurs like myself. ”
“It has been very successful in terms of numbers,” says Bar 35’s Roxy OTM of the event.
That applies to the participating artists, too.
As one-man-band Tavana, who has performed at Hallowbaloo twice before and returns this year, puts it, “It’s always great to be seen by so many people.”
“It is almost like the art scene gets hired to show off for the evening to a lot of people that they are never in front of,” says Rich Richardson, executive director of The ARTS at Marks Garage, which serves as the presenting sponsor for this year’s Hallowbaloo.
Richardson explains that at Hallowbaloo, he often gets to see artists that he has worked with — artists that he knows are doing amazing things but whom other people might not yet be aware of — get widespread attention.
“I get to see a lot of these creatives doing their thing at Marks Garage — and then to see them get exposure to 15,000 people instead of, you know, 15, is a real joy,” Richardson says. “That is a big deal.”
After each Hallowbaloo, Tarone conducts a survey in which one of the questions goes something like this: Would you have come to Chinatown that month if it had not been for the event?
Half of the respondents say no, they would not have been there all month otherwise.
“That,” Tarone says, “is obviously great for the neighborhood.”
There are business owners, including Hancock, that report they come across customers who first discovered their venues during Hallowbaloo — and then later returned.
For the relatively new Pho’hana, which was only several months old during last year’s festival, it provided a nice boost — it was busier than usual that night, owner Tina Brady recalls — and, perhaps more significantly, resulted in repeat business.
“A lot of them were new customers, so it definitely helps,” Brady says. “We definitely had repeat customers from that point on.”
That means that in addition to the direct revenue, the attention that these businesses get on Hallowbaloo also is contributing to longer-term success.
By bringing in a high-volume audience — many who don’t come to the area regularly — the event serves as a sort of a primer to Chinatown, introducing people to what is available. Tarone says that the event “is sending the message that downtown Honolulu is creative, fun, safe and unique.”
It’s a message that, as community members are quick to point out, may not always be so clear. As Hancock puts it, Chinatown still faces “prejudices from an era that is long gone at this point.”
Community organizer Miki Lee agrees, saying that the area “has a little bit of an issue about people being a little bit timid about (it).”
“So this is a good excuse to get dressed up and come down,” Lee adds.
“I think a lot of times, people don’t get out into Chinatown on the regular because there have been, in the past, certain ideas about what Chinatown is and it has really metamorphosed into a whole new environment,” Hancock says. “From 10 years ago till today, Chinatown has become a real destination for a lot of kamaaina to come out and patronize eateries and nightlife activities. A lot of people only come out on these big nights, and they are able to see Chinatown in a new light and see the change that has been going on over the last decade.”
“These events are extremely necessary to the growth of our neighborhood,” he adds.
For more information on Hallowbaloo Music & Arts Festival, see the sidebar on the previous page and visit hallowbaloo.com.
Now in its ninth year, the Hallowbaloo Music & Arts Festival returns Oct. 29.
It all kicks off with the Street Festival from 4:30 to 10 p.m. at Hawaii State Art Museum (extending through Hotel & Richards streets).
Throughout the festival, expect a range of live entertainment, including headliner DJ Low Down Loretta Brown, aka Erykah Badu, whom The New Yorker dubbed “the Godmother of soul.” There’s also national artists Iyeoka and D Sharp, along with a range of local artists including Tavana, Quadraphonix, as well as performance art including dancing, live painting and more.
The street festival also features drinks and a selection of food vendors including Square Barrels, Hawaiian Fresh Farms, India Cafe and Nosh.
Happening simultaneously inside of HiSAM is the Hallowbaloo Ball, a VIP party featuring pupus and drinks and prime stage-viewing areas.
The after-party is Club Hallowbaloo, where one cover gets you into these clubs starting at 9 p.m.: Ong King Arts Center, Bar 35, Nextdoor, Downbeat Lounge, Manifest, The ARTS at Marks Garage, Scarlet Honolulu, Square Barrels, Hooters, Nashville Waikiki and Gordon Biersch. Each venue has a different lineup of events, including live music, costume contests, games and more.
There will be free trolleys from HiSAM to Nuuanu Avenue and Aloha Tower Marketplace starting at 9 p.m.
For the full event lineup and to purchase tickets, visit hallowbaloo.com.