Jack Johnson's Kokua Festival quietly bows out


POSTED: Friday, January 09, 2009

THE NEWS arrived via the Internet like a lump of coal, just two days before Christmas.

Five years after getting its start at Kualoa Ranch, the annual Kokua Festival will not take place in 2009. Hawaii Magazine's Derek Paiva noticed the low-key announcement online and blogged about it last week, days before Jack Johnson's mainland publicist contacted the local media.

“;After hosting five consecutive and successful years of the Kokua Festival, we have decided to take a break,”; the Kokua Hawaii Foundation said in a prepared statement. “;We'd like to send out a big 'mahalo' to everyone who has supported the festival.”;

That's it—no words from Jack or his wife, Kim Johnson. And other than a flippant “;we hope to see you again in the future,”; there's no indication of a possible return in 2010, if at all.

I've covered every Kokua Fest at the Waikiki Shell, and crowd demographics have definitely changed over the years. I spotted fewer “;Keep Country Country”; T-shirts on the lawn in 2008, while reserved seats were filled with tourists way more interested in partying than living green.

As I wrote in my blog last year: “;Despite all the signage and Johnson himself singing 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' at the end of the night, I saw way too many people chucking their garbage into the wrong receptacles.

“;Most were sunburned, with that I'm-on-vacation-so-I-don't-care attitude that's common in Waikiki. And why couldn't smokers throw their butts in the trash?

“;I know Johnson means well, but I think there are too many people who show up at Kokua Fest who are only there for the guest performances.”;

Unfortunately, his people declined my request for an interview, so I can't tell you how Johnson feels about the current situation ...

R&B SENSATION (and six-time 2009 Grammy Award nominee) Ne-Yo set the bar pretty high for performances at Blaisdell Arena this year, proving his star status with an entertaining 70-minute set Monday in front of about 5,000 fans.

Backed by an eight-piece band and a half-dozen dancers, Ne-Yo brought the audience to its feet with “;Because of You,”; followed by a mix of his own hits and those he wrote for other artists. I was a little surprised, however, by his decision to drop his latest single, “;Mad”; and favorites like “;Sexy Love”; and “;So Sick”; so early in the evening.

While true fans are well aware of his songwriter status, Ne-Yo took time to remind the crowd that he wrote Beyonce's “;Irreplaceable”; and Rihanna's “;Take a Bow,”; along with “;Let Me Love You,”; one of the first tracks to launch his songwriting career. He finished with “;Closer,”; followed by “;Can We Chill”; as an encore. Visit my blog for additional coverage of the show.

Monday's concert capped a busy weekend in Honolulu. Ne-Yo partied at LEVEL4 on Friday, then stopped at the Mai Tai Bar to watch DJ Flip win the “;Hot Island DJ Spin-Off”; on Sunday ...

ONE OF the biggest opportunities an independent artist can get is an invitation to the annual South by Southwest Music and Media Conference.

Hundreds of bands fill out an application to make the trip to Austin, Texas, and be part of the annual event. This year, Pimpbot becomes the first Hawaii-based band to attend SXSW since HAPA.

“;It's definitely a big thing for all of us,”; said Pimpbot drummer Eric Lagrimas. “;South by Southwest is one of the most important events in the music industry ... (and) to be performing on that level, it's just ideal for what Pimpbot's been doing.”;

Being selected has got to bring a sense of validation to Fernando Pacheco, who founded the band with Rylan Yee in 2001 (Lagrimas and guitarist Tom Coleman joined the group later). Pacheco made a name for himself with Go Jimmy Go but left that group to focus on making music with Pimpbot ...

UH-MANOA students return to class on Monday, and they'll be welcomed back by KTUH-FM during “;Spread the Aloha”; at the Campus Center Courtyard. Students who bring canned goods or used clothing for donation to the Waikiki Health Center between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. will receive a free CD from SIQ Records, and live performances are planned by The Spacifics, Creed Chameleon, Meiso, Juan P and the Audible Lab Rats ...


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