Jack Johnson is both headliner and driving force behind the festival.

Jack Johnson comes
back to give back

It's easy to talk about giving back to the 'hood, the community, or the 'aina. Well, Jack Johnson is doing more than talk about it. The personable, soft-spoken surfer turned Renaissance man (filmmaker, singer/songwriter and recording artist) is hosting and headlining the Kokua Festival at Kualoa Ranch tomorrow.

Super-secret guest for Kokua Fest

Kokua Festival featuring Jack Johnson, Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom & Willie K (pictured), Michael Franti and Spearhead, Makana, DJ Logic and a special, super-secret guest

Where: Kualoa Ranch

When: 10 a.m. to sunset tomorrow

Tickets: $31.50, available at all Ticketmaster outlets, online at or charge-by-phone (877) 750-4400

"It's real exciting. The reality is starting to kick in because we've just gotten all the T-shirts we're going to be selling and the proofs for the calendar that we're going to be putting out," Johnson reported shortly after he returned home from last-minute Christmas shopping last week. The calendar will consist of drawings made by students at Sunset Beach Elementary School, Johnson's old alma mater, that represent the eco-friendly themes of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle."

"A lot of people have been coming in who are going to be donating their time to help us out. We're finishing up the program and it's really getting exciting."

All proceeds from tomorrow's event will go to the Kokua Hawaii Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes increased local awareness of the importance of recycling and other community environmental issues in Hawaii. If all goes well, the Kokua Festival will become an annual event, comparable in size and impact to the early Big Mele concerts that drew thousands of music fans to the scenic windward spot in the mid-1990s.

The festival's inaugural lineup is, by design, a mix of local stars and friends of Johnson's. Makana and the ever-popular duo of Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom and Willie K will represent the 808, while national act Michael Franti and Spearhead are long-time touring buddies.

"We've done a lot of shows in Australia and across the United States, and they're just great guys ... always up for doing benefit concerts for good causes, so we invited them to join us. Our friend DJ Logic is doing a different festival with them on Maui the day before, so he's coming over. We just finished the whole summer tour with him, so it's nice to have him come over.

"It's nice to be able to have it be primarily local bands, but have a couple of groups from the mainland."

Willie K and Amy Hanaiali'i Gilliom will be one of the acts at the inaugural benefit festival at Kualoa Ranch.

Johnson says that this year's festival proceeds will help set up a convenient and workable recycling program at Sunset Beach Elementary ("right down the street") so he can keep an eye on it and "work out the kinks" before expanding it. Oahu Community Recycling will help the kids get the program going and assist with the collection bins and other materials involved.

"The first year we're focusing on recycling, and then down the line, we're going to try different things like help with starting gardens at the schools and help with environmental lesson plans about recycling and gardening."

Johnson acknowledges that recycling often seems to be a tough sell in Hawaii and says that it needs to be made as convenient and unobtrusive as possible.

"Also I think it's a thing about what you're used to, and that's why we're aiming at elementary school kids to get them into the habit of recycling, and that that's the way it should be. As kids, we learned that you shouldn't litter and you should put trash in trash cans (and it became natural). Now we want to take it one step further and make recycling just as important as throwing your trash away in a can instead of leaving it out in a field."

Johnson adds that there's another reason he's looking forward to making the festival an annual event.

"It's fun to get to put on a concert and get all these friends together. But we figured if we were going to do a big old festival, we might as well raise money for a good cause.

"It's been kind of a crazy year," he added, explaining that he spent most of 2003 on tour -- Japan, Australia, New Zealand, the mainland and "Europe a little bit" -- while also helping a surfer friend record an album. Beach access figures in planning tour dates and off-days, Johnson said, with off-days scheduled near good surf spots whenever possible. He spent a week in southern France but "went right through" more northerly locales.

"I've never surfed (the North Sea), but there's surfers up there. You gotta be kinda hard core and be ready to wear a wetsuit up there. That's why I'll spend more time in the south of France or Australia or places like that."

Now that he's home, Johnson is looking forward to several months of "quality time with Hawaii."

"My wife is having a kid, so we're going to be slowing down for while. I'm going to be here through the spring, so I'm pretty stoked. We'll take it from there and see what we feel like doing. I might end up recording another record in the summer if I write enough songs. We'll see."

In the meantime, fans can pick up both the DVD and soundtrack of his surf film, "Thicker Than Water." Johnson said the CD has "a couple of new songs" he recorded with his good friend G-Love from G-Love & Special Sauce.

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