Around 6 a.m. Wednesday, the sun began to rise over Hilo, giving an aloha kakahiaka to the Merrie Monarch Festival on the day of its Hoike.
But by the time its rays shined upon Edith Kanakaole Multipurpose Stadium, Daryl Ke was already there.
Ke, a Hilo resident, took honors for being the first in line for that night’s show, arriving at 4 a.m. to set up his canopy, nearly 14 hours before the Royal Court was scheduled to enter.
For Ke, who has arrived in line early for the past four years, the reward was a pick of the seats in a stadium that would rumble that night with the energy of a capacity crowd and some of the best performances hula has to offer.
But it’s not just about good seats, he said.
“We come to support the different halau from all over the world.”
He wasn’t alone.
By 10 a.m., about 30 people had joined the line, extending it around the stadium’s southeast corner with canopy tents and chairs.
The crowd grew to hundreds later Wednesday afternoon.
Access to the event, free again following charged admission to last year’s 50th anniversary show, was first come, first served. Not many were interested in wasting any time.
“This is Hilo,” said Rachel Kruse.
“This is our time to shine. This is Hilo’s time to shine.”
Kruse of Puna arrived at 7:30 a.m. She said she came to support Halau O Kekuhi, with which her daughter, Jasmine, performs.
“We don’t get to see them in the competition,” she said of the Hilo halau. “It’s a big deal.”
“The rest we can watch on TV,” Kruse added.
Being early birds also meant first dibs at the craft fair as well as plenty of good company throughout the day.
“We got good people, good weather, lots of aloha,” said Ty Thorn.
Thorn, of Hilo, said he was also there to see Halau O Kekuhi perform. But he didn’t expect to stay put the entire time.
“We got (shifts) so we don’t have to be here all day,” Thorn said.
Some kept themselves entertained with iPads or by talking story.
Jeff Coakley compared the significance of Hilo’s annual hula festival to major sporting events on the mainland, such as the Super Bowl and Kentucky Derby, adding he might also wait in line early for the Indianapolis 500 if he had the chance.
“It’s part of our heritage,” the Volcano resident said.
“If you haven’t done this once, it’s a bucket check for sure.”
Email Tom Callis at firstname.lastname@example.org.