Jack Johnson’s Only Concert of 2016 At KAABOO Was The Definition of Chill REVIEW+PHOTOS: Jack Johnson @ KAABOO 9/18/16
RECAP: I still think it’s weird to see Jack Johnson headline a festival. I mean, there’s really not that much distance between what he does and half the lineup of singer songwriters that ply their craft on any given night at tiny little venues like Hotel Cafe. But how great a difference the smallest distance can make. Every song he plays connects with and inspires the multitudes because each song is as simple and discreet as the faded blue t-shirt and blue jeans he wears onstage, as oddly humble as the calm and kind expression on his face.
His image on the big screen is projected in black and white, reinforcing the reductive but powerfully unifying binary of his sound. It’s almost like the short buzz cut that wraps around his head and blends seamlessly into his beard lends him a Curious George-ish innocence that endears him to all. Looking around the crowd at the main stage, you see toddlers crawling on picnic blankets, 12 year olds getting their first flirt on, 20-something dudes trawling for chicks, 40-something dads slamming beers, 50-something women singing along. There’s something very safe and familiar about the melody and the lyrics that leaves everyone pleasantly stoked.
And Jack knows a thing or two about stoke. As undergrads at UCSB we crossed paths a couple times. His future wife hung out with my girlfriend and played volleyball on our intramural team. (Double major in math and art, his lady is smart as fuck…just FYI). One time I asked where he was and she said he was off on some surf trip. “Cool, is he a pretty good surfer?” Everyone in the room started laughing. Some homie smoking a doob in the corner of the room chortled out “Dude! Don’t you know who he is? He freaking rips!”
I point this out for two reasons. First, I just like to indulge in gratuitous displays of Gaucho pride. It’s not like we have pro hoops or NFL players coming out of Isla Vista. Jack and Steve Aoki are sort of holding it down right now. Speaking of which, hot DAMN the 90s were strong at UCSB! Second reason I point out the shredular dexterity of Mr. Johnson is that it adds to the mythology of his onstage persona. By all accounts he was (and may still be) one of the hardest charging surfers on Oahu. So there’s an undeniable ferocity to his psyche and yet I’ve never once smelled a whiff of arrogance or cockiness at any of his shows.
And I think it’s that humble warrior spirit that helps people connect to him as an artist. Like a kung fu master, he could be totally gnarly. And everyone knows he could be gnarly. So the elective choice to be less than gnarly. To be more than chill. It gives us something to aspire to even as we’re more than satisfied to snuggle up by an imaginary campfire and relax to his uncanny brand of beautiful love song lullabies. Jack had some help bringing the chill to KAABOO with G. Love (“Rodeo Clowns” and “At Or with Me”) and The Avett Brothers (“Home” and “Better Together”) taking turns joining him on stage, providing the music festival with a finale befit for lovers and their kin of all kinds.