Seattle's Slack Key Festival of Hawaiian Music Turns 10

The Seattle Slack Key Festival celebrates 10 years of bringing the sound of Hawaii to Seattle
Guitarist Ikaika Marzo returns to the Seattle Slack Key Festival

This article appears in print in the November 2018 issue. Click here to subscribe.

What happens when you tune guitar strings down, so they’re slacker—which is how the Hawaiian slack-key style got its name? Well, you get a chimier sound, mellower, more sonorous, less twangy—edging a little closer to that of an autoharp or a hammered dulcimer. Matching the lower tension in the strings, it’s also a more laid-back playing style, finger picking (à la banjo) rather than assertive rhythmic strumming. Most striking is the mood. In contrast to the happy-go-lucky ukulele, slack-key music is shot through with a peculiar heartfelt wistfulness; it’ll make you miss Hawaii even if you’re listening to it in Hawaii. Cyril Pahinui, a scion of the instrument’s first family (his father, Gabby, is generally considered the greatest slack-key guitarist of them all), has gathered a dozen or so musicians for this festival, now in its 10th year—mostly from the isles, plus a performance by local hula dance troupe Hula Halau Pulamahiaikalikolehua, food and crafts, and, over at Dusty Strings Music School in Fremont, companion Saturday-morning slack-key and ukulele workshops. 

11/11. 1–6 p.m. Prices vary. Highline Performing Arts Center, Burien, 401 S 152nd St.; 206.631.6795;

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