Bruno Mars Thrills Hawaii Audiences

This was originally printed as the cover story for Hawaii Filipino Chronicle – May 2014 Edition.

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Bruno Mars Thrills Hawaii Audiences

By Deborah T. Manog

Bruno Mars - Hawaii Filipino Chronicle

Cover Photo by Ron Guerrero.
Mahalo Ron for letting us use this photo  and another big thank you to Jade Cadalzo!

“I didn’t want to come back home to Hawaii a failure,” said Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez, better known the world over as pop megastar Bruno Mars.

Since his early days on the Waikiki strip as a Michael Jackson impersonator and the world’s youngest Elvis impersonator, Mars has clearly carved out a name for himself in the music industry.

Just a week after winning highly-acclaimed Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Album, the second Grammy of his career, he blew away the nationwide television with a flawless halftime performance at Super Bowl XLVIII. Mars opened the show by paying tribute to his beloved late mother with an electrifying solo on a drum kit that displayed her name in bold letters across a large red heart.

“His Super Bowl performance sealed the deal,” says Alycia Kiyabu, a Bruno Mars fan who made up her mind to secure her ticket to see him in concert.

The following day, tickets went on sale for Mars’ Moonshine Jungle Tour concert at Hawaii’s Neal Blaisdell Center, which seats approximately 8,000. Within an hour, he had sold out three consecutive shows.

“It’s the biggest one-day, three-show sale in the history of the building,” promoter Tom Moffatt told the Star Advertiser.

“I couldn’t believe how fast the tickets went by,” says fan Janelle Lamosao who saw Mars in concert in 2010. “I remember how his concert was the first time so I was super excited.”

Lamosao was lucky enough to purchase a ticket which was a nearly impossible task. Many people who stood in long lines or waited next to their computers were unsuccessful in the ticket hunt. But still, Bruno’s Hawaii fans couldn’t wait to welcome him back home.

It Started with a Dream

Peter Gene Bayot Hernandez is the son of a Puerto-Rican Jewish musician from Brooklyn and a singer/dancer from the Philippines who met in Hawaii. He has five siblings — four sisters who are chasing their own music dreams in Hollywood and star in their own reality television show, “The LYLAS,” and a brother who joined him as his drummer on tour.

Although his legal name was Peter, his father nicknamed him “Bruno” because he thought that he resembled the pro wrestler Bruno Sammartino as a child. And the name stuck.

He was born into a family who loved music and performing.

“Growing up in Hawaii made me the man I am. I used to do a lot of shows in Hawaii with my father’s band. Everybody in my family sings and plays instruments. I’ve just been surrounded by it,” says Mars.

His energy and talent, even as a toddler, earned him a spot as the star of the show in his family’s musical act, five days a week in Waikiki. In the late 1980s, he was known as Hawaii’s “Little Elvis,” complete with rhinestones on a white jumpsuit and big wave of hair on his head. He was even featured as a young Elvis impersonator in the 1992 film “Honeymoon In Vegas.”

Bruno Mars Concert

Lasers light up the arena during as Bruno Mars sings onstage. Photo courtesy of Joshua Dimaya

“He was always singing and dancing and trying to impress the girls,” says Elise Park, who remembers Bruno as a charismatic teenager at Roosevelt High School before he became a household name.

He formed a band with his high school friends called “The School Boys.” Immediately after graduating from high school in 2002, he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

But he found himself being racially typecast into a certain role. He told GQ Magazine that the record labels would say things to him like “your last name’s Hernandez, so maybe you should do Latin or Spanish music. Enrique’s so hot right now.”

He knew he had to come up with a new name if he was ever going to make it on the pop music scene. He chose “Mars” because it sounded like something out of this world. After adopting the stage name “Bruno Mars,” he never looked back.

After several years as a struggling artist, he formed a record producing and songwriting team with friends Philip Lawrence and Ari Levine in 2009 and they dubbed themselves “The Smeezingtons.” The trio began producing major hits for singers including Cee-Lo Green, Sean Kingston and Matisyahu. The work Bruno put in eventually led to his big break in 2010 as a featured writer/producer/singer on the two summer sensations: Travis McCoy’s “Billionaire” and B.o.B’s “Nothin’ On You.”

Even with all this newfound fame and success, Mars imagined himself returning to the islands. He told GQ Magazine about his retirement plans.

“On a beach, drinking out of a coconut, watching some kids running around in the sand, looking at ocean,” says Mars. “And then planning a reunion tour, overweight.”

His Concert

Fans sat in anticipation as the lights dimmed for Bruno’s third and final show in Hawaii on April 21st. The show was slated to start at 8 pm and was opened by local reggae band, The Green, and Bruno’s father with his doo-wop revival, “The Love Notes” backed by a full Latin band. It was also announced that the State Legislature officially proclaimed that day as “Bruno Mars Day.”

At a quarter to 10 pm, a large curtain swept over the front of the stage and the crowd grew wild, cheering and chanting “Bruno, Bruno, Bruno” in anticipation of his grand entrance. But right after singing his entrance song, Bruno and his band “The Hooligans” ran off the stage and a large voice boomed over the speakers “Bruno Mars will be back in 15 minutes.” Several people were quickly escorted out of the arena and it was clear that the delay was not a part of the show.

“That intermission was very confusing but after seeing security in the red shirts and sheriffs in brown uniforms coming in and checking the isles, I knew something was up,” says Dean Domingo.

Law enforcement officials delayed the concert because of a bomb threat and an unrelated fight involving 10 people broke out during Bruno’s entrance. But soon enough, Bruno returned to the stage and shouted—“Honolulu, I don’t know what happened but what do you say we pick up right where we left off?”

Chairs were not needed that night because Bruno Mars had everyone in the arena up on their feet. His velvety smooth voice combined with slick dance moves made for a magnetic stage presence. The Hooligans were having fun onstage and that transferred to the audience, turning the arena into a large party.

His set not only included popular songs from his latest album “Unorthodox JukeBox” (2012) and “Doo-Wops and Hooligans” (2010) but also surprised the crowd with several renditions of well-known oldies such as Montell Jordan’s 1995 hip hop soul jam “This is How We Do It.”

“I loved how he took it back to when I was young singing old school songs,” says Fenelle Lamosao, who spent the entire concert dancing, even swaying side-to-side during his slow songs.

Girlieh Mae Barit and her friends were separated by individual seats during the concert but that didn’t stop them from having a good time.

“There were moments I wished I was with friends, but the concert experience and Bruno’s interaction with the crowd was all part of the experience,” Barit says. “This local boy proudly showed off his island roots making references to MidWeek Magazine, Zippy’s Restaurant and how to woo a local ‘honeygirl.’ Hearing Bruno Mars speak local made me realize that he’s incredibly talented and humble.”

“It was really nice to hear him represent Hawaii and how he loves being home,” says Kiyabu. “It definitely instilled a great sense of pride.”

Bruno Mars 2

For many in the audience, one of the highlights of the night was witnessing an intimate family moment when Mars dedicated his Grammy Award winning pop song “Just the Way You Are” to his grandmother, who sat among the crowd.

“When you smile, the whole world stops and stares for a while cuz Mama you’re amazing, just the way you are” Bruno sang to his grandmother, who couldn’t hold back her tears.

“That was my favorite part,” says Domingo. “It was so touching and heartfelt.”

Mars ended the show with a bang, literally, with fireworks, lasers, flashing screens and an explosion of gold glittery confetti.

Ryan Agcaoili admitted not being a huge Bruno Mars fan but was “sold” after the concert.

“The way he commanded the stage, interacted with the crowd and the energy he brought made me a believer,” he says.

For many Bruno Mars fans, his concerts were an unforgettable experience. Barit says she is reminded of his concerts every time she hears a Bruno Mars song on the radio.

“I always reflect back to him genuinely saying ‘Honolulu, your braddah made it.’”