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Discover Tiki Culture at The Call of the Tropics Festival

By Jennifer Hanauer

Do you remember the movie Joe Versus the Volcano? Perhaps not the best in Tom Hanks’ body of work, but Hanks’ Joe does powerfully and immediately connect with every viewer who has ever felt like a drone, or even just had a rough week. Trudging into work, day after day, Joe’s only escape from the depressing and muted landscape around him is a lamp that he’s brought from home. That little glow of light coming from that kitschy little hula lamp almost visibly lowers Joe’s blood pressure. Who doesn’t, from time to time, mentally fly themselves away from the stress of everyday life to a warm, sandy beach, propping themselves up under a palm tree, holding an umbrella-festooned coconut shell filled with cool, sweet nectar, letting the rhythmic pounding of the surf lull them into a half-sleep while the world drifts further and further away…

Got your mind wandering, huh? Tiki Culture is all about this kind of escapism, and with the Call of the Tropics month-long celebration in Dayton’s Oregon District starting July 6, everyone is invited to take a break from the ordinary and experience the exotic joys of this mid-century cultural phenomenon with some of the richest examples that the Miami Valley has to offer.

Tiki Culture in America has its roots in 1930s California, boomed with the return of WWII G.I.s from the South Pacific, had its heyday in all parts of the nation in the 1960s, suffered a small death during the Age of Disco that stretched the length of the excess of the 1980s and in recent decades has experienced a resurgence with a renewed fervor building among avid collectors and casual revelers alike. You’ve seen evidence of Tiki Culture all of your life, from the unique, hut-like architecture that seemed to take over everything in the 60s, to the distinctive home accessories such as rattan furniture and tiki poles, to the lives of one of America’s most endeared fictional families with “The Brady Bunch” in Hawaii. And these things are making a comeback, with a focus on not only aesthetics, but also on the mixology of the superior cocktails and the subtle nuances of the exotica music genre.

The Call of the Tropics kick-off is going down during First Friday. “We couldn’t have asked for a better time to do it,” said event organizer Denis Mutter. “It’s going to be the first of its kind in Dayton. Hopefully it goes well, and we can have another party next year.”

What started as a way for the Kon-Tiki chapter of the Fraternal Order of Moai, a fraternal organization and social network for all men and women interested in Tiki Culture, to throw a party for everyone to share in their passion for the culture soon became a much larger event. “It’s spilled into the streets,” said event organizer Eric Simon. “Literally,” added Mutter. The now month-long event will feature art shows, music, salons and specialty cocktails, all with the goal of sharing Tiki Culture with the Miami Valley.

The art show, which will be open to the public from July 6 to 21, will be in the Color of Energy Gallery where there will also be a cash bar featuring tropical cocktails by Sidebar. Everyone who ventures into the Oregon District will be able to enjoy the live music taking place in the EPA parking lot in front of Wiley’s Comedy Club. Performances will be made by The Nick Kizirnis Band, Crazy Joe & The Mad River Outlaws, Team Void and Cherry Lee & The Daddy Katz. Adding to the aesthetic of the event, hot rods will be on display on Brown Street.

During the second weekend of the event, Saturday, July 14, famed music historian and tiki veteran, Jeff Chenault, will be joining the celebration for the Exotica Music Salon, where he will be playing examples of past and present exotica music of the Midwest.

The closing party will be Saturday, July 21, with Francis Llacuna, ukulele player, and special guest speaker the Honorable Dan Gehres, who will be giving a talk on the history of tiki in the Miami Valley.

One of the core values that guide the Fraternal Order of Moai is the concept of good works, improving their community through charitable acts. Call of the Tropics will feature a raffle for artist collectibles to benefit the Society for the Improvement of Conditions for Stray Animals (SICSA), a Dayton nonprofit that offers numerous animal-centered programs and services for families and children. “The national charity that we work with is the Easter Island Foundation, but we’re relying so much on the Miami Valley, specifically Dayton. We wanted to do something that would benefit a group here in town,” said Mutter. Winners will be drawn at the celebration’s closing events on July 21.

With all that will be going on during the event, escapism seems to be what’s at the heart of this event. “I think that’s the modern appeal to this,” said Simon. “It has a lot of appeal as a way to get away from the high-energy, high-stress world. I think that’s why it’s getting a second wind right now. Things are ridiculous and money is tight with most people. We’re not jumping on the jet and running off to the islands all the time. People are staying home. Here at home, the islands are far away, so that makes it a little more amazing.” So answer the call of the tropics, leave your stress behind you, and come down to the Oregon District to celebrate Tiki Culture with some of the most relaxed people you’ll ever meet.

Oh, one more thing, don’t confuse Tiki Culture with Parrothead Culture. While both sport supremely laid-back attitudes, have a certain predilection for casual-Friday dress, and have banded together in chapters around the country to have a good time and do good works for their communities, they are two very distinct wonders, each with their own canon to indoctrinate new followers. Tiki’s paradise has more mai-tais and fewer cheeseburgers.

For more information:

Reach DCP freelance writer Jennifer Hanauer at

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