by Julia Steele
When Jack Johnson was a kid on the North Shore going to Sunset Beach Elementary School, he used to see "Don’t be a Litterbug" stickers plastered at strategic locations around the campus. He grew up, became a famous musician, but didn’t forget the power of that public service announcement. So when he was planning his next show in Hawaii, he decided to make it a fundraiser for environmental education in Island elementary schools—and the Kokua Festival was born.
This April 16, the second Kokua Fest takes to the stage at the Waikiki Shell. Johnson will play, along with guests including Jackson Browne, John Cruz, Ozomatli, G. Love and Special Sauce and slack key guitarist Kawika Kahiapo. Island environmental groups will be on hand; there’ll be a special section for kids. "We want to show people that they don’t have to make a sacrifice to be a little greener in their lives," says Johnson, who seems determined to put the fun in fundraiser and the mental in environmental: He wants to get people thinking about green issues, especially kids—after all, this is a guy who has visited his alma mater and other Oahu elementary schools to sing his hit for the pre-pubescent crowd, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle (which, speaking of recycling, is based on an old School House Rock tune he loved as a kid).
"Growing up here, you spend most of your time outside: swimming, hiking," Johnson says. "I learned so many lessons from Mother Nature, and as I got older and started traveling and returning home, I saw what a special place Hawaii is—and how quickly it can change. I thought some of the attention I was getting from the music could be put into something more important."
Last year’s inaugural Kokua Fest, despite being moved at the last minute because of rain, raised $25,000; Johnson hopes this year’s fest will generate $100,000 for the schools. (Tickets start at $30.) He’d like to expand from recycling to teaching kids about gardening ("a lot of kids are detached from where their food comes from," he notes). Mostly, though, he’d like to see us all "leave as small an ecological footprint as we can."