It was 25 years ago or more that I met John Cruz. I was outside his house in Amherst playing guitar in the Irish style of dropped tuning where you slack the strings to make a chord when simply strummed. He was watching me play and when I was done he said, “Joe, you playing slack key?”

“No man, it’s Irish style,” I replied.

John told me about Hawaiian slack key and we both realized it was the same thing, and we became instant brothers. He became a huge influence on me especially regarding my music career. He got me my first gig, unbeknownst to me, at Hampshire College. One day he came up to me and said, “Hey Joe, you got a gig at Hampshire on Friday, better practice!”

It was a surprise and my first outing. We went on to join up in a band that played the bars of Northampton. One of the funniest moments we had was when an album we made got reviewed in People Magazine and he called me from New York city.

“Hey Joe, what page is the review on?” he asked.

“I’ll check, why what’s up?”

“I don’t have the cash to get it so I’ve been going from kiosk to kiosk and I keep getting kicked out before I find it,” he said.

John has come a long way since that day. He was an original member of Entrain and for quite a while a regular here on the Island music scene. Since moving back to Hawaii his notoriety has skyrocketed. One of his songs, Island Style, is basically the Hawaiian national anthem.

He is a Grammy Award winner for his work on an album of Hawaiian slack key guitar and has been cavorting of late with the likes of Jackson Browne and Jack Johnson.

On Sunday, Sept. 3 he will return to the Vineyard to play a show at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. He is bringing along Makana, another Hawaiian luminary, a slack key guitar master.

John is responsible for my arrival on the Vineyard. Years ago I got a message that he was involved in a benefit at the Katharine Cornell Theatre. He asked if I could come to the Island and play a few songs. Some 30 years later I am still here and that phone call changed my life.

This time around he brings a new player to that venue, Makana, a noted slack key guitar master who has also made his way into the hearts of Hawaiians as well as many around the world. Martha’s Vineyard and Hawaii have long had a connection as a result of the whaling trade and I have always wondered if some Irish sailor went there long ago, and as he sat on a beach playing guitar did a Hawaiian musician come up to him and ask, “Hey bradda, you playing slack key?”

Music is one of the best ways that cultures meld and we are truly fortunate to have John and Makana coming to share with us a bit of the Aloha of Hawaii, which can mean hello, good bye and love. All of which will be present on this rare occasion, especially, I dare say, love.

John Cruz and Makana perform at the Katharine Cornell Theatre on Sunday, Sept. 3, beginning at 7:30 p.m.