HONOLULU (KHON2) — The Merrie Monarch Festival is slated for June 24 – 26 after being put on pause due to the pandemic.

With COVID-19 numbers down and vaccinations up, hula is returning to Hilo, but with some modifications.

“Everyone has to isolate for five days prior to entering the stadium for the first time,” said Amy Kalili, co-producer of the Merrie Monarch Festival. “There are also two COVID-19 tests that we are all going to be taking prior to isolation and right near the end of our isolation period. There will also be daily screenings during our isolation, as well as the days that we’re entering the stadium.”

One of the biggest differences will be no live audience.

“You’re not going to have the 6,000 people who are there, and that kind of electric buzz that’s usually present,” Kalili said.

“That little push from those screams really helped,” said Shelsea Ai, kumu hula of Halau Hula Olana. “But I think this year, we just tried to focus on creating a more intimate performance geared towards our judges and have a more talk story session with them instead of gearing to that audience.”

A total of 15 halau and seven Miss Aloha Hula competitors will take the stage next week.

To comply with COVID-19 guidelines, there will also be no big events like the annual craft fair, but nearby businesses are hosting a mini marketplace of their own.

“We have invited many local businesses that will be participating,” said Megan Kualii of Simply Sisters. “Then we also have this beautiful t-shirt that we created for this year’s Merrie Monarch, and proceeds of this sale will go to the Merrie Monarch Festival.”

It’s safe to say the community is counting down the days until hula returns.

“I think it’s kind of a psychological win,” said Mitch Roth, Mayor of Hawaii County. “It’s an economic win, and a cultural win. We feel really excited to have it back. What is the Big Island without the Merrie Monarch?”

Performances will take place June 24- 26, and the results will be revealed the following week.