It's Not Easy Being Green

Call Jack Johnson the Robin Hood of music: He donates all concert proceeds to charity and makes sure venues are green

You know you’ve really made it when you’re the butt of the joke of a Saturday Night Live skit. And a few years ago, singer/songwriter/ultimate feel-good mellow dude Jack Johnson found himself in just that situation.

All of a sudden, there was Andy Samberg on the television, sporting the musician’s signature close-cropped haircut, barefoot, puka-shell necklace-clad and armed with an acoustic guitar.

“Hi, I’m Jack Johnson,” Samberg dragged. “Welcome to The Mellow Show. . . . Cargo shorts!”

But were there any hard feelings over the recurring skit, featuring cameos from the likes of “Jason Mraz” (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) and “Dave Matthews” (Bill Hader)?

“No, no, it was great. I thought it was real funny when I saw them,” Johnson shares over the phone during a stop on his current tour in promotion of his latest album, To the Sea. (He’s in Kansas City, he says, after pausing briefly. He then takes time to explain that he just joined Steve Miller onstage a few nights prior to perform “The Joker” together: “You’re the cutest thing that I ever did see,” he drawled.)

Johnson’s usual music-video director, Emmett Malloy of the Malloys (the White Stripes, Vampire Weekend, Matt Costa, Ben Harper, among others), had actually been involved with Samberg on a project when they started talking about the connection between Malloy and Johnson.

And so the big fight scene of the video for “At or With Me” was born—complete with injuries both fake, authentic and accidental.

End result: “A little black eye—a shiner,” Johnson explains. “I almost broke my nose when we did this one stunt. Andy was like, ‘Why don’t we just let the stunt guys do the stunts?’ But then I started doing them, and he was like, ‘Oh, God,’ and he started doing them, too.”

He then shares his story of that one prop breakaway vodka bottle that “hurt like hell” when Samberg accidentally knocked him over the head with its corner.

“I’m kind of overly proud,” Johnson adds, with another warm laugh. “Holy cow, I had to jump over the top of the table at one point—fake bottles were broken over our heads. He broke a chair over my back . . . and that kind of hurt, actually.”

Johnson is bringing his tour to Irvine’s Verizon Wireless Amphitheater and, once again, is donating all proceeds to charity—and this time, he’s emphasizing local organizations. Every stop on the tour, essentially, is a fund-raiser.

“My wife, Kim, and the wife of my keyboard player help run the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation. [We] try to focus on groups that work with water quality and also [groups that work] with kids and getting them out of the city and into nature,” he says. “This year, we’re focusing on sustainable agriculture and different ideas for the future and reducing usage of plastic.”

Kim, actually, is the heart and soul of the Johnson humanitarian camp. “A lot of times, we’ll be at dinner, and this idea of something I want to do on tour comes up. The next day, she’ll have this checklist and it’s, ‘This is what we talked about, and this is what we’re going to do,’” he says. “None of this would have happened without her.”

Each tour stop includes an area called the Village Green, where attendees can engage with local nonprofits and learn about what they do.

Johnson is notorious on the live-music circuit for his environmental advocacy—which he thoroughly implements. Caterers use real dishes and silverware. No water bottles are available for bands and crew. His tour rider includes requests for everything from recycling bins to biodiesel generators. Tour buses run on biodiesel. As a result, Johnson’s gained a bit of a reputation with some venues for being a tough act to host.

“I don’t know how much resistance our booking agent gets, but the real cool thing is that there’s this venue, somewhere on the East Coast, where I walked in, and there was this big sign on the door that said, ‘100 percent of the venue’s sources are from renewable resources.’ How cool is that?” Johnson asks. “I guess it’s because of the last show we did there in 2008; they basically said it was something worth doing and something they’ve been doing since that first show. I guess you can either demand a certain color of M&Ms, or you can do this in hopes that a lot of venues would implement things that would stay that way afterward. They’re all little things, but the idea is to make the industry a little better in that sense, a little less negative impact when we tour.”

Jack Johnson performs at the Irvine Verizon Wireless Amphitheater, 8808 Irvine Center Dr., Irvine, (949) 855-8095; www.ticketmaster.com. Tues., 7 p.m. $45-$65.35. All ages.

 

This article appeared in print as "Green Days: Jack Johnson wants to green the music industry, one tour venue at a time."

 

 
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