True story: When I was a sophomore at Dos Pueblos High School, my Algebra 3/4 class came back from winter break to find we had a new math teacher. When we asked “What happened to Mrs. Johnson?” we were told that “She quit teaching to go tour with her husband.” You’re smart; you can put the pieces together. Mrs. Johnson’s husband was the most famous of Santa Barbara’s Johnsons — the most famous of planet Earth’s Johnsons. He was singer/songwriter Jack. But even after Jack Johnson left Santa Barbara for stardom, he would still swing back around to play a set (at Dos Pueblos’ Greek Theater, no less). Whenever I joined the crowd of hundreds upon hundreds of students and faculty for one of these concerts, I was always struck by how incredibly confident, cool, and collected this man was. I had never seen someone so comfortable onstage, so comfortable with himself.
Eleven years later, at the Santa Barbara Bowl, sitting among 4,500 other patrons, witnessing the final performance of the From Here to Now to You Tour, I was struck by the same thing. Johnson does not behave as though he is a decade-plus-long sensation or a household name. He plays like he just invited some friends over to his backyard for a summer BBQ and jam sesh, and, oh, he just happens to have several thousand friends. Johnson’s music is pumped-up and elevated live, Hawaiian-Californian acoustic surf rock with a bluesy makeover, and it absolutely works with the intensity ratcheted up. His crowd banter is spontaneous, hilarious, peerless. He makes no pretenses about saving his big hits, like “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing” and “Bubble Toes” for final jams or encores — he plays crowd favorites right up top. Johnson is too cool to pretend to be cool, and for about an hour and a half at the very tail end of Labor Day weekend, he let us all feel cool by association. Thanks, Jack.