Honolulu Museum of Art music programmer Brandon Apeles attended his first concert when he was five—his parents took him to see Earth Wind & Fire at Blaisdell Concert Hall. His father was a drummer who played with Screamin’ Jay Hawkins. “Our living room was a music room,” he says. From the age of 12 he was sneaking in the back doors of bars by carrying equipment for bands, and “basically building connections,” as well as learning how to play the bass. Then when he was in eighth grade, he saw the Eagles in concert.

“It was life changing,” says Apeles. “That’s when I realized I just wanted to make music my life.”

Fourteen years later, after many ups and downs, he has his first Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award under his belt. He was at the May 24 ceremony at the Hawai‘i Convention Center, as part of the group The Akira Project, to receive the award for Hip Hop Album of the Year. (He’s pictured above, far right, with his project mates at the awards.)

“I still don’t believe it,” says the soft-spoken four-time nominee. “It’s weird…especially the support we’re getting from the big names in the Hawaiian music scene. For example, Mark Yamanaka, who won like every award this year, said it was an honor to be able to be the first to congratulate me.”

Life in the local music biz isn’t easy. When he was just 18, Apeles worked as Guy Cruz’s manager (“I couldn’t even get in the clubs he was playing!”) then he promoted for Fiji for a year, “then every once in a while I’d give up and work at T-mobile and be miserable.” Then in 2008, a recommendation led to him a stint as bass player for Anuhea for a year, which led to a milestone 2010, when he met key players in the music scene, such as Sabrina and Sing the Body. It is also the year his mother passed away. “That’s when I committed myself to music, because that’s what she wanted me to do.”

Apeles joined the museum a year ago. In that time he introduced the Music of Hawai‘i Series, pushing the boundaries of the definition of Hawaiian music, and now brings in internationally known names for his new Out of the Box series, which kicked off last fall with a sold-out Reggie Watts show, and continues with Lisa Loeb on July 10.

It’s something Apeles has wanted to do for a long time. “I came to the Doris Duke Theatre in the late ’90s to see a jazz concert, and ever since I’ve wanted to do a show here. I love this spot, it’s special because it’s so intimate, and I hate people talking at shows. I gave up doing shows at bars, because there’s no respect for the music. The theater is a place where people come to listen.”

Apeles has long had a wish list of performers he wants to bring to Hawai‘i, but previously didn’t have the right venue available. “A lot of these people coming to the Doris Duke Theatre this summer I have been talking to for years,” explains Apeles.

Which summer show is he most looking forward to? “For nostalgic reasons, I’d have to say Bill Champlin. Ever since I was five I’ve loved Chicago. Oh, and Benny Rietveld—did you know he played with Miles Davis? And…”

He’s a Na Hoku Hanohano Award winner and integral part of the Hawai‘i music scene—but hasn’t lost his sense of wonder as a music fan. And it’s not easy for a hardcore music fan to pick a favorite.