From pitch to stage: UH-Hilo soccer player finds footing as musician

  • courtesy photo Christian Ohly is a UH-Hilo soccer player and leader of the band Ohly, which will play at 8 p.m. Friday at Hilo Town Tavern as part of May's First Friday.

Friday is First Friday in Downtown Hilo, and University of Hawaii at Hilo students — especially the Vulcan soccer team — might recognize the leader of the band playing the 8 p.m. set at Hilo Town Tavern as one of their own.

The band Ohly is named after Vulcan junior midfielder Christian Ohly, a UH-Hilo business major from Rochester Hills, Mich., who followed his sister, Heidi, to UHH. Ohly is also a singer/guitarist and songwriter who has a six-cut EP of all original tunes to his credit.


Ohly, who turned 21 on March 20, describes his music as “indie folk.”

“Folk music is generally thought of as raw instruments, but my music is a little bit more processed, with a core of guitar and a drum kit or maybe a box drum, something like that. I think it’s a mix of contemporary alternative rock with those folkie roots,” Ohly said.

He’ll be joined onstage by former UH-Hilo soccer player Evan Bacani, plus Alden Arakaki, Jeff Wood and Mark Conanan.

On St. Patrick’s Day, which fell on a Saturday this year, Ohly — then three days shy of his 21st birthday — kicked off a full day and night of music at Hilo Burger Joint. His 2 p.m. set wowed many in the packed house of mostly older folks as his solo singer-guitarist set started with the Van Morrison classic “And It Stoned Me.”

“He had me at Van the Man,” said a grizzled guy at the bar who appeared to be in his 60s.

The set, almost a full two hours with no breaks or looping (live overdubs), also contained more contemporary fare with all-ages appeal, including The Lumineers, Mumford and Sons and Weezer.

“It was definitely a cool experience,” Ohly said. “I came here five years ago and saw (the Burger Joint) and said, ‘Wow, I’d like to play there one day.’ And then, to go there for the first time and see that many people were engaged was pretty awesome.”

HBJ owner Rhonda Nichols said Ohly had been trying to persuade her for a while to let him play there and finally got his chance when another musician bowed out of the St. Patty’s Day set.

“He owned it,” said Nichols, who was impressed enough to go to the stage and hold the musicians’ tip jar high for patrons to see.

“I like how he filled the room with just his voice and guitar. He played the right songs at the right tempo,” she said.

“There’s a cool quote from one of The Lumineers guys, about their starting out busking, playing on the street,” added Ohly. “They said pretty much how well the crowd is listening determines how well the musicians sound. That was a huge benefit to me, getting me to sing out.”

Ohly is part-Hawaiian, which allows him to go to UH-Hilo for in-state tuition, and is the youngest of six siblings in a musical family.

“My parents were both in a traveling college group. My oldest three brothers play guitar. My sisters play piano. I didn’t really have a choice,” he quipped.

The EP “Ohly,” which was released in October, is available online at https://ohlymusic.bandcamp.com. His music also can be heard on Spotify and Apple Music.


“I’d love to do music as a profession, but it’s really hard for people to succeed doing it,” he said. “Right now, I’m just trying to get as many people to hear my music as I can.”

Email John Burnett at jburnett@hawaiitribune-herald.com.