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Your Ultimate Guide to the 2017 Merrie Monarch Festival

This year’s Merrie Monarch Festival runs from April 16–22. Here’s everything you need to know about the biggest, most prestigious hula competition in the world.


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Merrie Monarch Festival

Photos: Courtesy of the Merrie Monarch Festival

 

Hula’s biggest event kicks off this weekend in Hilo, with a week of festivities and competition that culminates in a final night of performances next Saturday night. Here’s what you need to know.

 

First things first: If you’re not already holding Merrie Monarch tickets in your hand, it’s way too late to buy tickets. Mark your calendar for Dec. 1, which is when tickets go on sale for next year’s festival—they always sell out quickly. It’s also likely too late to book a room and a rental car if you haven’t already—this is Hilo’s biggest event of the year, and the whole town will be overflowing.

 

But! If you happen to already be booked with Big Island accommodations at the same time, or have friends and family there willing to let you crash on the couch, good news—there are ways to enjoy Merrie Monarch even without tickets.

 

Merrie Monarch Festival

 

Sunday, April 16: Ho‘olaulea

The official kickoff for the Merrie Monarch Festival.

Free, 9 a.m., Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium, 323 Manono St., Hilo

 

Wednesday, April 19 through Saturday, April 22: The Merrie Monarch Invitational Hawaiian Arts Fair

Check out local artisans, crafters and entertainers at this jam-packed fair.

Free, Wednesday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., Saturday, 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., Afook Chinen Civic Auditorium, 323 Manono St., Hilo, namakua.com

 

Wednesday, April 19: Hō‘ike

Hō‘ike means “to show, exhibit,” and you’ll be able to watch Polynesian dances from New Zealand to Tahiti. Hilo hālau Hālau O Kekuhi performs first. Tickets not required, but seating is first-come, first-serve, so show up early. Some people line up as early as 3:30 a.m. that morning.

Free, 6 p.m., Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, 350 Kalanikoa St., Hilo

 

Merrie Monarch Festival

 

Saturday, April 22: The Merrie Monarch Royal Parade

This closing parade winds through downtown Hilo, beginning and ending at Pauahi Street, with pā‘ū riders, musicians and high school bands.

Free, 6 p.m., Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, 350 Kalanikoa St., Hilo

 

And for the coveted ticketed events, even if you’re not there, there are a couple of ways to watch. Watch the Merrie Monarch live on TV at KFVE, or you can catch a live stream of the competition at either merriemonarch.com/live-streaming or k5thehometeam.com.

 

Merrie Monarch Festival

 

Here’s the schedule of competitions so you can get the kaki mochi and popcorn ready:

 

Thursday, April 20: Miss Aloha Hula

The first official night of competition, with solo female dancers going for the title of Miss Aloha Hula by dancing kahiko (ancient) and ʻauana (modern), plus an oli (chant).

6 p.m., Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, 350 Kalanikoa St., Hilo

 

Friday, April 21: Group Hula Kahiko

Hula hālau will be dancing in the ancient style, with traditional instruments, chanting and ornamentation. Men and women each have their own division: This year, nine hālau kāne and 19 hālau wāhine will be taking the stage.

6 p.m., Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, 350 Kalanikoa St., Hilo

 

Merrie Monarch Festival

 

Saturday, April 22: Group Hula ‘Auana & Awards

The ‘auana style was developed in the early 1900s, often accompanied by stringed instruments, and allows for more creativity and experimentation. This is the big finale of Merrie Monarch, with awards being given to the winning hālau (kāne and wāhine) in kahiko and ‘auana, as well as to the overall winner of the festival.

6 p.m., Edith Kanaka‘ole Stadium, 350 Kalanikoa St., Hilo

 

For some vital history and background info on the Merrie Monarch, check out this story we published on the 50th anniversary of the festival in 2013.

 

READ MORE STORIES BY MICHAEL KEANY

 

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