The demo track for “Aloha Beach” rang through my headphones as the Boeing 777 touched down on the tarmac at the Kahului Airport. It was a Monday in late January and the tropical sun was peeking in through the half-opened airplane window as if it were already claiming my right arm in the impending battle of sunburn. I could hardly believe I had the chance to venture all the way to Hawaii to shoot a music video!
This was my first time experiencing the beauty that is Hawaii. For the first time in a long time I had made room in my life for what others around me call “fun” but what I had come to know as “the stress of knowing I wasn’t working.” I sat impatiently as the zipper-merge motion of passengers ahead finally reached row 37. After what seemed like an eternity of deplaning and shuffling through the airport terminal I found myself in the monotony of baggage claim; eagerly waiting to get my luggage and leave. Only then did it hit me: I was actually excited about having some free time! In that moment a peaceful calm washed over me. Not even my missing guitar could keep me from… wait, shit. Where is my guitar?!
…and I was only just booking a plane ticket for what would be a very last minute video shoot. My good friend, and amazing videographer, Dave (follow him here), had presented me with this opportunity a few months earlier but, being as busy as I was, I dragged my feet on the decision. Finally, only a couple weeks out, he made me realize it was the right move. As I confirmed my flights I thought about that fact that there was no plan for the video in place. No script, no props, no locations, no shot list, nor any of the other things most shoots would have well before this point. I should probably be concerned. Meh… it’ll be fine. I couldn’t help but feel optimistic – this is gonna be good. Hell, we were traveling to Hawaii to shoot a music video for a brand new song! How could it be anything but a blast?
I managed to track down my guitar (which is a whole long story-for-another-time) and made my way to the Ace Rental Cars shuttle. To the surprise of my new friend, Ann (the driver), I climbed into the shotgun seat of the Ford Transit van and immediately took on the role of tour guide for the travelers who were unlucky enough to find themselves on the same shuttle as me. If you couldn’t guess I was a terrible guide and knew nothing about Hawaii. The shitshow had officially arrived.
A few minutes later I was waiting at the under-staffed and over-booked establishment where it took an eternity to get a car. Luckily, my other new Ace Rental Cars friend, Merila, helped me chat the time away from the computer behind her desk. She just so happened to have a contact with a great band on the island and was excited to connect us. After taking my information, and pulling up my reservation, she was able to inform me that they didn’t have my car but would be able to ‘upgrade’ me to a minivan. Oh boy! What great news!!
…when Dave, my videographer, and I started planning the shoot! At that point the song wasn’t even recorded (an extreme timeline abnormality for music video shoots, but seemingly a trend in the Westgrove camp – ask me how the “Truck Bed’s Good For” video shoot played out)! The two of us posted up at Dave’s kitchen counter and continually paced between our seats and the microwave where we were reheated the mass quantities of coffee we were consuming. We brainstormed how we would shoot an on-location video with no contacts, cast, or locations…
Flying up the coast of Maui, windows down and “Aloha Beach” blaring on the radio of my white 2022 Chrysler Lady-Magnet, I found myself mentally planning the two full days that I would have to explore before the video shoot was slated to begin. I got straight to it – swinging past the AirBnB to drop off my belongings before turning right around to head back out. It was mere feet from the front door to the water. Aloha Beach!
I was relaxed for a change as I watched the sun lazily sink down behind Lanai island, which protruded from the water just off the coast of Maui. It was so close I felt I could reach out and touch it. In that moment I was content; happily oblivious to the fact that only two days later I would be horribly sick and hardly able to move from my bedroom. I was unaware I’d feel like death and that the entire music video shoot would be on life support!
…3am. I hadn’t slept yet. The night had been spent packing, then recording a scratch vocal track for “Aloha Beach”, which I was just barely finishing as my Lyft driver pulled up to the front of the house. By 4am I was settling in at the airport. Having already fought the unnecessary battle that every traveling musician encounters with airline employees when gate-checking our sensitive, expensive instruments. I sat quietly working. Nashville International was just barely brewing its proverbial morning brew and was mostly void of other travelers. It wasn’t a bad place to work…
I still cannot decide if I should call it luck of misfortune. On one hand, I had been given two healthy days to do some fun touristy things. But on the other hand the shoot would miss my only healthy days. In any case, my first full day of being a tourist would begin in the morning and I was going to take full advantage!
After my requisite morning coffee, I stopped at a nearby ABC Store to grab a couple shooters of locally produced rum. I was headed to a whale watching expedition with the Pacific Whale Foundation, unaware there would be a bar on the boat, and well, I don’t know… maybe whales are super boring. As luck would have it, we came across several groups of very active whales and were treated to quite a show. They flapped their big-ass tails around and jumped out of the water and stuff… it was cool. You should go.
After creeping on the big fish-shaped mammals for a couple of hours the day concluded with an evening of wandering around the tourist-y area near the AirBnB. It felt very strange to not be working for a change. I took in all the sites and met countless people. There were locals and tourists; shop owners and surfers. I met some chill local food truck operators and tried all sorts of amazing food. Social media helped me link up with a local band, and a recording studio. Not a bad day. Next up – unwind in the hot tub!
…and I sat with a small black coffee slowly bleeding off some of its tongue-scorching heat on the seat beside me. My laptop gently whirred away as it opened the “Aloha Beach” recording session. I frantically continued my work on the song. New drum tracks first, followed by piecing together guitar takes which I pulled from garage rehearsals that I’d hastily recorded during last summer’s tour. It was going to be a mad dash to ready the song its video shoot. I never thought I’d be thankful for 13 hours of airports and airplanes but today I was. This work would wait for no one…
Day two started at Vigilatte Artisan Coffee where I snagged an iced wake-me-up, wandered up the street, and found a quiet spot on the beach. The sun was climbing up over the mountains behind me while the waves gently rolled in out front. I posted up on a beach towel and sat down for meditation and journaling session – both fairly new practices for 2023 Brett. It was fantastic. Maybe I was starting to get into this “making time for things other than work” concept!
Around 10am I began texting with one of my new surf buddies, Sherman. I had connected with Sherman the day before and it seemed he’d make a great surfing teacher. He sent me back a vague description of where he’d be and we made plans to meet up at 11am. I packed my things and headed back to the house. After changing into some surf-appropriate attire I headed off to the grocery store for some quick energy. I was feeling a bit weak and, figuring it was just signs of an insufficient breakfast (foreshadowing… it wasn’t). I downed a couple Clif bars and a Gatorade. After sending an update text to Sherman I headed back to the beach.
…and I was now rushing through the Phoenix Airport to get myself, my overloaded laptop bag, and my massive guitar flight case to the next gate. I posted up on the floor next to the only remaining electrical outlet near the gate. I hoped to finish up some last minute tweaks to “Aloha Beach,” hoping to use my second flight to make up for the sleep I hadn’t gotten the night before. It was a losing battle of distractions in the noisy terminal. In only minutes I had given up hope and found myself sipping a bloody marys with a fellow traveler. This was much more entertaining. I’ll finish my work on the plane. Being a bit tipsy might help anyway…
I rolled up to the spot to which I thought Sherman was directing me and parked. I sent a text… then another text… and then a call. Radio silence. After waiting 45 minutes I got back in the car and started scoping out other beach access points. As I wandered around I struck up a conversation with a tourist girl out on the beach. By pure luck she had not only met Sherman that morning, and knew where he was, but she was also part of a group of girls who were down to join the cast of the video shoot the next day! Another piece of the puzzle fell in to place.
I finally linked up with Sherman and we discussed the conditions out on the water. Because he had gone MIA earlier we had missed the morning window for good waves. Oh well. I had some time to wait. This actually worked out well as I was still feeling a bit weak, I was getting a headache and now my equilibrium was a bit off. Abnormal for me but I brushed it all off; “Surely it’s nothing” I thought. “Probably just didn’t properly feed my caffeine addiction today.” While we waited on the waves I popped into a shop at a nearby resort. I loaded up on some more quick-energy snacks and some extremely over-priced Excedrin, then laid down for a quick power nap on the beach.
Sherman woke me not long after and I felt worse than ever. The headache was a touch better but I was still not right. What I was, however, was determined. Sherman set me up with a board and after a few minutes of beach training we set out. I could feel my energy and general health fading fast. The minutes began dragging out and paddling started to feel impossible. My balance continued to deteriorate and I was barely able to stay on the board – how was I going to stand up on this stupid thing?
But I dug deep. Sherman called out to turn my back to the wave and begin paddling. The wave pushed up against the back of my board and I followed the steps I had learned on the shore. Push up, plant front foot, rotate into position and rise. I was surfing… for about two seconds. With too much weight on my front foot the nose of the board dug into the water. I was sent flying off the front, under the wave, and in to the reef below. Cool, first blood! Hopefully there are no sharks around.
I could still feel my energy and balance dwindling. Whatever illness was befalling me was working fast and I could sense that I only had a few attempts left. After paddling back out a few more times it all came together. The wave came barreling in behind me. Without thinking I began paddling. As the water began guiding me in toward land I pushed myself up, brought my left foot out in front, pivoted and stood. Everything clicked and it suddenly felt as if I had know how to surf my entire life – I was riding the wave. It couldn’t have been timed more perfectly. I rode it out as long as I could, using my momentum to bring me as far in toward the beach as I could. I didn’t have a single shred of energy left to paddle back out. “I’ll come back in the morning” I told myself, “surely by then I’ll be refreshed and not feeling like a vertiginous drunk who hadn’t eaten in a month.” Little did I know I wouldn’t be doing anything tomorrow morning.
…and we thought we were prepared for anything. We had come up with pages of ideas, endless obnoxious thoughts, crazy work-arounds, and we had our shot-lists laid out. It all came together into a great plan, largely thanks to Dave’s hard work, but it was a plan that would largely fall apart a few days later when I found myself texting from my room on shoot day 1:
“Do we have a contingency plan for the part where I’m so sick I can’t get out of bed for the video shoot?”
I knew the answer was “no.”
Given the condition I was in it was unclear if I was even well enough to drive. But I managed to make my way back to the AirBnb and mustered up just enough energy to make it to bed. By this point my headache was out of control, I had body aches, an uncontrollable cough, and shortness of breath. I was also freezing and shivering uncontrollably (despite it being in the mid 70s, I was fully clothed, and thoroughly burrito’d under my covers). Perfect. All major symptoms of covid.
The next two days were absolute misery. Try as I might there was no way I could get to my feet, much less feign being my normal animated self, nor handle traveling around the island; shooting take after take of the shots on the list. Dave continued to check in with me by text but was lucky if he even heard back. The video outlook was bleak.
Three days in I was feeling a bit better and was semi stable on my feet; enough to venture further from my bed than just the bathroom. It’s worth noting that every one else in the house had expressed a complete lack of concern over becoming ill before I left my room. Anyway, I posted up at the kitchen counter, attempting to use caffeine to further pull me out of the fog.
The forecast for our remaining two days had taken an unfortunate turn and it was currently raining. Given my state of health I would have honestly loved to do nothing but go back to bed. But I didn’t really have that choice. But that was ok – I’d been here before; I knew how to handle it. I’ve played entire shows, sometimes four hours long, feeling like I was going to die (yet another story for another time). I could do this. Given the weather, time constraints, and my slow-moving, ill self, it was unclear if we’d get enough footage to actually complete the project. But we had no choice. The time had come to suck it up, put a smile on, and roll camera…
But that’s a story for part two!
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