In the Dark with Jack Johnson at the Lobero Theatre, We Felt at Home
Power Outage Killed the Lights but Not the Community Spirit at Intimate, Unplugged Concert in Santa Barbara
We were in the dark about getting Jack Johnson tickets until the morning of the concert. My husband got a text from a Dos Pueblos math teacher friend (she taught with Jack Johnson’s wife). “Nice article in the Independent. Did you ever get Jack Johnson tickets? Let me see what I can do.”
“Absolutely!” By the afternoon, text messages were rolling in. “We got tickets!” “Us too!” My Jack Johnson Ticket Sangha (whom we had bonded with in line) all made the cut! We planned to reunite at 7 p.m. on the steps of the Lobero Theatre. It was a blustery night for the historic event celebrating the Lobero’s 150th birthday, and we huddled together, watching the Santa Barbara locals arriving.
The owner of Dylan Star clothing boutique (in the Funk Zone) bumped into me. “I love seeing our dresses out on the town.” The usher led us to our seats — nestled behind our kids’ dentist and in front of the parents of Zach Gill (who is from Goleta). I turned around to see friends from my Marymount days (now Riviera Ridge), parents I recognized from play dates with my kids at the park, and a friend I hadn’t seen in 20 years who flew in from Jamaica just for the show.
I remembered my conversation with Dr. Stephen Porges, founder of polyvagal theory, about how we communicate social safeness through the crinkles around our eyes when we smile. We were retuning our nervous systems by gathering in this way.
As Zach Gill opened the show on the piano, his dad whispered to his seatmate, “That’s my son!” I couldn’t help but think of my boys at home, tucked into bed by my parents, and wondered how they were doing with the winds in Mission Canyon. Big winds can bring big worries in our town.
Meet the Moonlight
Then the theater lights went out. At first, we thought it was part of Zach Gill’s streamer dance from his Cocktail Yoga album. He kept playing the piano in the dark. Hundreds of phone flashlights helped light up the room but couldn’t do anything to power up the microphones and instruments. Zach picked up his accordion and sang, “Gone, gone, gone.” Soon, Jack Johnson joined him on the dimly lit stage with a guitar. We all cheered as this was what we had been waiting for, but was this the end of the show?
Holding his hands to his mouth to amplify his voice, the crowd quieted as Jack said, “We have only about 20 minutes before we have to evacuate the building.… We’re going to try out a couple of songs for you.”
With no microphones and no amplifiers, Jack opened with his naked voice, singing, “Ain’t no need to go outside.” The audience gently clapped to keep the beat, making sure not to overpower the band’s sound. There was a vulnerability of being together in the dark, and a necessity to work together to make this happen. If any crowd could do it, one filled with Jack Johnson’s friends and family and people who waited in line for five hours could.
We lingered on each line Jack sang, not knowing which would be the last of the night. I thought about the five mental habits psychology research has shown to keep us flexible and adapt to life’s challenges. We became a collective example of all five.
The crowd offered Jack compassion as he improvised on his setlist to decide what songs to play. We practiced acceptance, being present, and inner awareness as we settled in to listen to the beat of Adam Topol on the cajon and djembe drum and the soft strum of bassist Merlo Podlewski on an acoustic guitar. And we lived out a collective value of holding the space with respect.
Jack shared between songs, “It’s kind of crazy this place is 150 years old, right? It’s kind of cool that this is the way we are doing it because this is probably how it was back then.”
Do You Remember?
Twenty minutes passed, and the Lobero gave Jack the go-ahead to keep singing. We began to forget we were stuck in the dark and started to feel like we were in Jack’s living room or maybe his Isla Vista apartment back in his UCSB days. No stage lights, just us.
Jack shared stories about buying a piano for $99 at the Salvation Army, as a gift for his UCSB girlfriend, now wife, writing songs at The Mercury Lounge, and getting an extension on a college paper for a song he wrote.
Jack sang about his wife, “It’s been 29 long years.” My husband put his hand in mine. This week was our 24th anniversary of when we first met when I was a biopsychology student at UCSB. I gave his hand a squeeze as Jack sang, “It’s taken so long to see it.”
The World Has its Ways to Quiet Us Down
An hour into the show, Jack offered a tribute to Santa Barbara resident, the beloved David Crosby. Jack shared a story about Crosby’s phone call of support when Jack’s first album came out, then led the crowd to sing together “Teach your children well.” I thought about the Five Gates of Grief we all walk through. Everything we love, we will lose.
Stage left, I eyed Brandon Mowery, the director of development at the Lobero, leaning back and smiling at what was happening. He was the optimist who kept cheering us on in line for tickets. This was probably the first time in months that Brandon got a moment to rest and enjoy what was created here. It was both the worst possible scenario he could have ever imagined and the best. We were creating a new memory here while honoring the past. Entering the paradox of both/and thinking allows us to develop creative, integrative solutions to life’s unexpected problems. We really were better together.
Jack and his band closed the improvised evening around 9:20 p.m. We cheered in the dark to get them back on the stage for an encore. They were back on in a mere 15 seconds. We had no time to waste.
Jack closed with the song “Home” — “Home is wherever we are, if there’s love here too.” And we all felt it. We felt at home with each other and at home in Santa Barbara. And as if the ghosts of the Lobero were working their 150 years of magical performances, the theater’s lights gently came back. And Jack sang on, still with no mic, no amp, just his naked voice to close the show.
No Other Way
“There’s no other way we would have wanted it,” I told my ticket Sangha friend, Dan Sharp. He said, “Let’s come back again next year.”
Yes. And it will never be like this again.
Diana Hill, PhD, is a clinical psychologist, author, and host of the popular psychology podcast Your Life in Process. Born and raised in Santa Barbara, Diana enjoys sunrise swims while her 13-year-old surfs with Santa Barbara Middle School and teaches yoga to her 10-year-old’s class at Santa Barbara Charter School. To the tunes of Jack Johnson, of course!
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