LAHAINA, Hawaii — More than 700 residents — tightly bonded by a deadly wildfire that swept through their small seaside town — managed to escape reality Sunday as an impromptu concert eased the sorrow, even if just for a while.
Many of those who stood under the bright sun or sat on the sands of Honokowai Beach Park either lost their homes or knew someone who had in the Aug. 8 fire, which killed at least 115 people.
As of Sunday, hundreds of people remained unaccounted-for. But through the tears of some, most found a way to smile past the pain as they sang along to songs by the popular reggae group Common Kings and other bands.
“I wanted some good times, because we’ve all been through some bad times. We lost a lot in Lahaina, and now we’re all together to hug our friends and family and be here laughing and dancing,” said Santos Balenzuela, 24, who lost his house and his bartending assistant job as a result of the wildfire.
He said that in the days after the wildfire, he slept in his car and then resorted to couch-surfing. Now, he’s staying at a hotel with assistance through the Red Cross.
Some in the crowd said they felt compelled to help lift up Lahaina and give support as needed.
“I feel that I have so many friends and family who lost everything. It’s about the sense of community and culture,” said Katie Shappelle, who moved to Maui five years ago and came out Sunday to support friends and give respect to those who lost their lives and possessions.
The hourslong concert, which included donated food and drinks, was the idea of local volunteers who suddenly decided to put on music in the park, a long-standing gathering place for residents. Word spread quickly once the acts began to perform.
Sheldon Tateyama, 49, said he donated all of the musical equipment for the concert.
“It was just to uplift everybody. So many people are still trying to live day by day,” said Tateyama, who said his 23-year-old daughter, who is seven months pregnant, lost her home. “I’m still at a loss for words.”
Along the shore, residents fished, biked and played volleyball without a net. People took group pictures and relaxed in lawn chairs. The sounds of calming ocean waves pushed back and forth. As the day wore down, the orange sun began to set.
Many said the music was a way to forget about grief.
“People just came out. It was something to get us to smile. It was something to bring us together,” said Faiva Fonohema, 18. “It’s been hectic, but we haven’t had time to grieve. When all of this is over, then we can grieve.”