One of the unfortunate realities of covering an event outside of Orange County, such as Tiki Oasis, is the limitation of one’s experience. The event’s website suggests that “Tiki Oasis is best experienced if you attend the full weekend of events,” and while this statement behooves the marketing of any multi-day event, after experiencing a mere 12 immersive hours at the “Party on Monster Island,” which was the theme of this year’s Tiki Oasis, this reporter was left feeling highly forlorn.
Based at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, (formerly the historic Hanalei Hotel), in San Diego, this 15-year-old festival possesses some powerful juju. In a nutshell, it is a celebration of the cult of Tiki — that exotic, post-WWII, escapist movement based on Polynesian influences. During the four day Tiki Oasis festival, attendees enjoy a cornucopia of island-themed music, parties, costume contests, burlesque shows, art shows, symposiums, and, of course, extremely powerful potions.
Given that the theme to this year’s Tiki Oasis was “Party on Monster Island,” the programmed entertainment, as well as the attire of the guests, reflected not only the standard, colorful island motif but also '50s era monster films. One of the many symposiums that demonstrated this synthesis was the Monster Au Go Go Guitar Class with Jason Lee (of Jason Lee and the Riptides, an instrumental surf music band). During the symposium, some attendees used their own axes, and some were lent them for the class. The instruction included schooling in three “monster” licks, which Lee explained and demonstrated. All skill levels were welcome to learn Lee’s original guitar lick, as well as a couple by Ghastly Ones and Rob Zombie.
Additional monster-themed symposiums included: “Horrors of the Exotic,” an examination of mysterious and monstrous literary and cinematic influences on tiki culture, hosted by artist Bill Rude; “Movie Maidens and the Monsters of the South Seas,” a history of South Sea Island movie maidens in which monsters like King Kong and Godzilla feature prominently (hosted by TV and film historian / author Luis Reyes); and “It Came From Beneath The Bar: Cocktail Parties Inspired By Classic Sea-Horror Films with Kelly Patterson,” which featured tips on infusing a cocktail party with a monster theme.
Naturally, not every aspect of the festival was influenced by monsters. “Hula Girls in Cocktail Ecstasy — The American South Seas Dream with Sven Kirsten” showcased the new documentary film by the Tiki culture author and historian; the film, which was broadcast exclusively in Europe, shines a light on the original Tiki culture of the '50s. “Crafting Your Exotic Cocktail Masterpiece with Martin Cate,” was an art class (featuring alcohol as the medium) and showcased material from Cate’s new book, Smuggler’s Cove: Exotic Cocktails, Rum, and the Cult of Tiki.
On Saturday, the musical performances ran the gamut from the whimsical ukulele stylings of King Kukulele, who also emceed the costume contests and other Main Stage entertainment, to Rock n’ Roll / Proto-Punk legends The Sonics, who headlined. Hot Rod-Surf-Drag Racing band Boss Fink was a perfect choice for the Car Show Stage, which was adjacent to the hot rods of the Tiki Oasis car show; The Mission Creeps and Creepy Creeps brought horror-inspired (and costumed) rock to the main stage; The Lampshades provided a healthy dose of lounge cheek to the stage with some campy medleys and fake facial hair; and Deadbolt provided a bit of attitude with their biker jackets (complete with “Jane Fonda American Traitor Bitch” patches) and self-styled “Voodoobilly” sound.
As the sun went down, more and more costumed individuals rose from their slumber to join the party. In fact, many festival goers and programmers reported that half (if not more than half) of the fun at Tiki Oasis occurred beyond the official programming of hosts / producers Otto and Baby Doe von Stroheim. It was in the domain of guest rooms — decked out as gloriously as aspects of the official programming, and adhering to respective themes such as Pajama Party or Island of Lost Souls — that the creme de la debauchery took place (after all the kiddies were sent to bed). Unfortunately, just prior to the reign of the parties, this reporter (who had stored a barely adequate reserve of energy to return to his Orange County home) signed off. Thus, the mysterious drums of the evening, the freely flowing booze, and the sights of the after-hours taboo remain as mysterious as the exotically envisioned world of Polynesia is to the cult of tiki.