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Fostering a connection

Honolulu Star Bulletin, May 04, 2010

Jack Johnson brings the Kokua Festival back to the Waikiki Shell
By Gary C.W. Chun

After taking a break last year while Johnson concentrated on a world tour — documented in part on CD and DVD on “Jack Johnson en Concert” — the couple and their staff are set to present the sixth iteration of the popular outdoor fest at the Waikiki Shell this weekend.

A benefit for the Johnsons’ nonprofit Kokua Hawaii Foundation for environmental education, this year’s lineup may lack the overall star power that previous Kokua Festivals had, but it does have a solid group of acts in Ziggy Marley and Jake Shimabukuro (doing solo sets) and veteran and former island resident Taj Mahal and his Hula Blues Band, plus a road-tested Anuhea Jenkins and her backup band, The Green.

Johnson — sporting a new look (folksinger-ish, with a mop of brown curls and a trimmed beard) — and his reliable backup of Zach Gill, Merlo Podlewski and Adam Topol will be trotting out fan favorites and including newer songs from his “To the Sea” album, to be released nationally on June 1.

It’s a good bet he’ll also guest during Marley’s and Mahal’s sets, as he appeared on both of their latest albums, “Family Time” and “Maestro,” respectively.

“The fun part for me in putting together the music for the festival is to have conversations with potential people throughout the year,” Johnson said by phone last week. “I like to have those who have some connection to Hawaii, either physically, philosophically or both. Ziggy comes here a lot — I remember seeing him as a teenager — and Taj used to live here (on Kauai).

“I’ve bumped into Jake from time to time, like at the Hoku Awards, and he’s such a nice guy and such a well-deserving talent. Anuhea was recommended to me by Paula Fuga, and Anuhea’s a great singer from Maui. There’s been quite a buzz around her, and I like to find new local talent who can use the spotlight that the festival can give them.”

The Johnsons would like to remind concertgoers, however, that the festival provides larger lessons, not just great music.

“In a broad sense, the Kokua shows try to show people how to lessen a negative impact on the environment,” Johnson said. “While Kim and I have been working directly for Hawaii through the foundation, in my travels, I meet with local communities that I try to help on each tour stop.”

The man certainly walks the walk. The festival and his tour shows are powered by biodiesel generators, and on her blog Carrie Urban Kapraun, senior analyst with IEG Sponsorship, noted that Johnson raised $845,000 for 184 environmental nonprofit groups during the 2008 “Sleep Through the Static” tour, and that he plans to donate all of his profits from the upcoming “To the Sea” tour to more than 150 community groups.

WITH A Kokua Village on the Shell grounds consisting of more than 50 eco-conscious booths, Kim Johnson is glad about the opportunities for growing awareness the Kokua Festival brings.

“We’re adding more greening initiatives,” she said, “and perfecting ones like the bike valet service, where there will be a secure parking area near the front of the venue. And with a new partnering with the Green Fleet, bikers will be able to see their own carbon offset.

“We’ll have water stations in operation again, like we’ve had since 2007, where people can bring their own bottles or buy the specially designed Kokua Festival bottles. All the food vendors will be using biodegradable foodware and there will be zero waste stations for recyclables and uneaten food that will be used for pig slop.”

With the foundation supporting the 3R’s School Recycling, Environmental Field Trip Assistance and ‘AINA In Schools programs, Kim said that the previous evening she was putting together a slide show that is a synopsis of all the programs, “and I was chuckling to myself that it was so great to see how far we’ve come in such a short time.

“It all started in 2003 with a recycling program at Jack’s old elementary school, and now that program is in 40 schools with over 18,000 students participating. The ‘AINA gardening and field trips have grown as well, and we’re planning new programs, like Plastic Free Haleiwa that began in 2008. We’re launching Plastic Free Hawaii, using Haleiwa as a model to create a tool kit that other communities can follow.”

The Johnsons honored some of the students that participate in the foundation programs with a special Keiki Kokua Day yesterday at the Shell.

They’ve also received help by partnering with the activist-minded Kanu Hawaii website, “a social media community that’s like a socially conscientious Facebook with a mission to protect and promote island living.

“It’s simple to make private commitments, but a website like this gets people to declare ownership of their feelings by voicing their support to preserving our island environment,” Kim Johnson said.