Steel Trappings

Spotlight ON! Feature

Spotlight ON! Aaron Benolkin

October 15, 2021 • Addison ChingEntertainment

This month we shine the Spotlight ON! Aaron Benolkin.

Aaron Benolkin was born in Austin, MN, the home of Hormel's SPAM. He moved to Anchorage, AK, at the age of 12 and has been there ever since.

Regarding his childhood, Aaron says, "My dad had an incredible album collection (and associated Hi-Fi system), and my grandfather was an organist. [While] spending summers on my grandparents' houseboat on the Mississippi River, my grandpa would entertain with his friend Bobby, who played saxophone."

At age 8 Aaron began harassing his parents to get him a saxophone. His mom took him to a local music teacher to see if his hands were even big enough to play the sax. Luckily, they were and he became the owner of a 1965 Buescher alto sax. Thus began his journey as a musician.

Music has continued throughout his life. He was a regular gigging musician for 20 years and worked as a professional brewer for Broken Tooth Brewing. In 2020 he switched careers and moved to remote working doing bookkeeping and payroll work.

Aaron says he is now "Working for myself remotely and loving the freedom of it all."

"[I] never thought I'd see myself in this line of work, but after handling my band's books/finances and having an accountant point out I had a knack for it, 2020 provided the opportunity to make a change."

Aaron's venture into Hawaiian music began with a Hawaiian vacation.

"My wife Libby and I took our first trip to Kaua‘i in 2000 and stayed in a cabin up at Kahili Mountain Park. At night we'd leave the radio on KKCR and listen to their overnight Hawaiian music as we slept and that's when my love of Hawaiian music was first sparked," recalls Aaron.

"On our next trip to Kaua‘i, years later, we were lucky enough to catch Wally and Polei Palmeira performing at the Hukilau Lanai with Ed Punua on steel guitar and that's when Hawaiian steel guitar became a fascination."

Aaron continues, "A few years later I met Jess Montgomery after watching him perform with Dennis Chun and the next day he brought a couple [of] lap steels down, met me on the beach where we were staying and gave me my first introduction to C6 tuning (though sooo much of it was lost on me at the time).

"The next year we coincidentally were visiting at the same time as the first annual Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival and that's when I first met Alan Akaka (and so many others)."

Soon thereafter, Aaron began his steel guitar studies with Alan Akaka. This is Aaron's sixth year as a student of the Ke Kula Mele Hawai‘i School of Hawaiian Music.

Says his Kumu (teacher) Alan Akaka about Aaron's playing, "Aaron is a natural on the steel guitar with a good feeling for the instrument and really makes it sing. And it's not only for Hawaiian music. On a recording he did recently with his band his fills added a soulful touch to the overall musical experience."

This video is of a performance by Aaron doing "Hula Lolo" on the Open Stage of the 2019 Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival.

The video can also be seen on YouTube.

This feature is a snapshot of the complete tribute that is posted on the Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase website. See the complete tribute here.

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Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase

Livestream Steel Guitar Saturday
December 18, 2021 – LIVE STREAMED on Facebook and YouTube 3PM - 5PM HST

2022
Facebook LiveYouTube
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase

Livestream Steel Guitar Saturday
January 22, 2022 – LIVE STREAMED on Facebook and YouTube 3PM - 5PM HST

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Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase

Livestream Steel Guitar Saturday - LIVE from Molokai (tentative)
February 19, 2022 – LIVE STREAMED on Facebook and YouTube 3PM - 5PM HST

Facebook LiveYouTube
Kaua‘i Steel Guitar Festival
incorporating the
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase
March 31-April 2, 2022 – Sheraton Kaua‘i Coconut Beach Resort, Kapa‘a, Kaua‘i
Saturday Performances 11:30 AM - 6PM HST
Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Week   
July 11-15, 2022 – Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī
Nightly Evening Performances 5:30PM - 6:30PM HST
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Royal Hawaiian Center Presents Waikīkī Steel Guitar Festival
incorporating the
Hawaiian Steel Guitar Showcase
July 16, 2022 – Royal Grove Stage, Royal Hawaiian Center, Waikīkī
Saturday Performances 11AM - 2PM and 4:30PM - 6:30PM HST

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About HIMELE
HIMELE is a Hawai‘i non-profit corporation that supports music enrichment and education for people of all ages. Our purpose is to educate, promote, and perpetuate Hawaiian music, Hawaiian culture and Hawaiian musical instruments.