According to encyclopedias, maps and almanacs, Hawaii has eight main islands.
But Hawaiians who live on the "ninth island" – Las Vegas – know better.
This weekend’s 15th annual Lei Day Polynesian Festival, headquartered at downtown’s California Hotel, celebrates the connection between Hawaii’s tropical paradise and the desert mecca many Hawaiians call home.
The festival’s welcoming aloha spirit extends to the Las Vegas community at large, however.
"It’s to show off our culture, but everybody’s welcome," says Katherine "KP" Pohndorf , the event’s co-founder and promoter.
As in previous years, the festival takes place in the parking lot at Stewart and Main streets, located behind the California Hotel and across from Main Street Station.
"We don’t have the palm trees and that wonderful Hawaiian breeze" out on the parking lot, acknowledges David Lebby , vice president and general manager of the California and Main Street Station.
But there’s plenty of everything else at the free festival, which showcases music, dance, arts and crafts – to say nothing of food and drink – from Hawaii and other Polynesian cultures.
"Hawaii is very multicultural," Pohndorf points out, explaining the presence of booths featuring Filipino, Japanese, Thai and even Cook Island cuisine.
But never fear – plenty of Hawaiian specialties also will be available for purchase, from kalua pig to poi, along with huli huli (barbecued) chicken, lau lau (pork, chicken or butterfish wrapped in taro or ti leaves ), beef teriyaki sticks, hot malasadas (doughnutlike pastries) and shaved ice (known on the mainland as snow cones).
The festival also will feature a nonstop flow of musicians and dancers, including ukulele school performers, hula troupes, slack-key guitarists and local church groups, Pohndorf says.
At 3 p.m. Sunday, the festival’s free "Island Fever Block Party" opens with local bands and the Hawaii-based Na Hokupa .
Throughout the two-day event, vendors will display and sell arts and crafts. Special demonstrations and activities will highlight aspects of Hawaiian culture.
As for the Lei Day leis, it’s too difficult to work with fresh flowers out on the hot parking lot, Pohndorf explains, so a teacher will help visitors make feather leis instead.
Making leis is a traditional Hawaiian May Day activity, as Pohndorf recalls from her childhood on Maui, where school programs included a contest for making leis, along with parades, hula dancing and singing. (Lei Day has been an official Hawaiian holiday since 1929.)
As a result, "we try to make the event authentic" in Las Vegas, following the island traditions, she explains.
While most of the festival is free, one authentic element is not: a special Saturday night concert by Hawaiian recording artists Gary Haleamau and Kawili , Na Palapalai and Kupaoa . Tickets for the 7:30 p.m. concert, to be presented inside the California’s Ohana/Maile Room, are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. (Advance tickets are available at the California’s B Connected desk or by calling 388-2705.)
During its 15-year run, the Lei Day festival has gone through a few changes, experimenting with carnival-style rides and a variety of musical styles, Lebby says.
This year, however, it’s "more of a traditional Polynesian festival," he notes. "We don’t have kiddie rides. It’s really Hawaiian."
And everybody who attends shares that heritage, Pohndorf maintains, noting the "thousands and thousands" who visit the "ninth island’s" annual Lei Day bash.
It’s "all generations, from little kids in their strollers to Grandma in the wheelchair," she says, "and everybody in between."
Contact reporter Carol Cling at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0272.Preview
What: 15th annual Lei Day Polynesian Festival
When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday and Sunday; concert, 7:30 p.m. Saturday
Where: California Hotel/Main Street Station parking lot, Stewart and Main streets
Tickets: Free admission to the festival; $20-$25 for concert (385-1222)