Will you dance with me on the main stage?
The Fisherman were churning out their vibraphonic jungle exotica when Crazy Al scanned the crowd for someone brave enough to join him on stage. It would take someone uninhibited to match his renowned level of energy. Roxanne was the obvious choice, and she quickly responded “yes” before allowing her nervousness to take the main stage instead. In that short moment in the early aughts, Roxanne became one of the first official-unofficial Tiki Oasis dancers.
The tradition was born back in the first years of Tiki Oasis, back when it was still in Palm Springs, and back when it was small enough for everyone to fit around the pool at the Tropics Hotel. To Derek and Roxanne, the now-famous tiki weekender was something they’d never experienced. It was “the best, most well-funded backyard party” ever imagined. The kinetic energy coupled with a feeling of belonging was palpable. Everyone talked to each other. Every person had a common passion – classic tiki culture. Every attendee felt like part of the event, and every polynesiac could be found pitching in to make the gathering a success.
Thankfully, the kinetic energy and aloha that Derek and Roxanne felt at the Tropics has been recreated at The South Pacific Room, their home bar – named in honor of the reception hall at the Bali Hai. Over the past decade, Derek and Roxanne have thoughtfully transformed their 70s den and expansive backyard into their own private tiki oasis. The mastery of details is abundantly evident. Derek carefully considered the layout, designed the flow, carved the trim, centralized the tech behind the bar, and planned ahead for ample electrical.
“People often ask me if I do this for a living, when in reality, I’ve just taken the time to figure out the right tool, at the right speed, on the right wood.”
As Derek showed me around the South Pacific Room, I kept trailing behind his lead to closely admire the intricate, bold, and precise carving in the room’s trim, frames, lamps, and center table. It’s easy to understand from the many examples present how he’s developed the reputation of a master craftsman. Derek is a clever problem-solver. He approaches woodworking and lamp-making and other tiki-inspired crafts with a scientific curiosity. He was inspired by earlier tiki revivalist craftspeople like Bamboo Ben, Crazy Al, as well as other home bar enthusiasts like Al Knepper of the Lagoon Room (right down the road).
I’ve always admired people who give their talent forward, and Derek is a good-hearted example. He graciously shares his acquired knowledge to a new generation of apprentices. Roxanne was his first student, but there have been many others since. As a team, they have hosted numerous lamp-making workshops at the South Pacific Room. The workshops are always sold out, and it’s no wonder why. In the span of a single Saturday, occasionally two for a more complicated build, an attendee can assemble a lamp that looks like it’s been rescued from a long-gone tiki palace. Throughout my visits in Southern California, it was quite common to hear home tiki bar owners point to one of their tiki lamps and exclaim with great pride – “I made that at Derek’s workshop!” I suspect it’s equally heart-warming for Derek to visit the homes of others and see beautiful and tangible evidence of his teaching.
As I said my goodbyes for the night, I saw the connection. Roxanne is a master of dance, and Derek is a master of craft. For both, groove is in the heart.