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Jack Johnson: “The Ripple Effect”

by Josh Baron on October 01, 2013

Jack Johnson is at the top of his game these days. The singer-songwriter's latest album just debuted at #1 on the Billboard 200 and he's currently gracing the cover of the October/November issue of Relix. Our cover story on Johnson, "The Ripple Effect," deals with a number of his projects, from his work in the studio and his life on the road to running his own label and finding time to hit the waves. He's a man of many endeavors, but the one that we most admire is his charitable work. That's why--for the next three weeks--we'll be donating $5 to the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation whenever someone subscribes using the promo code "OHANA."

The Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation is a non-profit public charity founded in 2008 by Jack and Kim Johnson to promote positive and lasting change within communities by supporting organizations that focus on environmental, art and music education. The foundation has awarded grants and donations to over 300 non-profits including Notes 4 Notes, Hawaii Arts Alliance, FoodCorps, and the 5 Gyres Institute - just to name a few.

Subscriptions to Relix are available here, and you can enter our contest to win a copy of our 2005 Jack Johnson issue here. An excerpt from our current Jack Johnson cover story can be read below:


In the fall of 2002, Johnson was invited to play Neil Young’s Bridge School Benefit. “At the event, you felt such a part of the mission for them,” Kim recalls of the annual concerts, which raise funds for the school dedicated to helping physically challenged children overcome their impairments through the use of technology. “It was a special gathering—you felt like part of a family. We thought, ‘We want to do something similar.’”

This spawned the idea for the Kokua Festival, which the Johnsons founded in 2003 to fund the nonprofit Kokua Hawaii Foundation supporting environmental education in the schools and communities of Hawaii.

While music is the primary draw—Johnson always headlines and has called on friends ranging from Eddie Vedder and Dave Matthews to Willie Nelson and Taj Mahal to come play—the primary feature of the Kokua Festival is its aim to educate attendees through the environmental organizations and eco-friendly businesses present. (More than 60 were at the last one.) In addition, they highlight key elements of how they produce the event—the use of bio-diesel for generators, a bike valet, climate-neutral certification, sustainable foodware, zero waste stations and more—for patrons as examples of easy choices they can make in their daily lives.

“We realized we have this platform of the tour—we’re going around the world—let’s bring a little of the Kokua Festival with us,” says Kim of the impetus to start changing how and why Jack toured. For the In Between Dreams tour in 2005, with the help of music-based eco consultants MusicMatters (now called Effect Partners) and others, the Johnsons developed an “envirorider,” which provided eco-friendly options for artists with regard to tour production. This translated to all of the buses running on bio-diesel fuel (inspired by Willie Nelson) and a portion of individual ticket sales going toward making the shows carbon-neutral.

As they ramped up to tour again in 2008 in support of Sleep Through the Static, the Johnsons were ready to amplify the Kokua model even further. Jessica Gill—band member Zach’s wife—who graduated from UCSB with a degree in environmental studies and had already worked in a variety of areas including sustainable transportation, outreach related to water quality and organic farming research, led the charge.

“Jack and Kim wanted to create [the Kokua Festival model] on the touring scale, so [in] each city that we were traveling to, we reached out to nonprofits to invite them to partner, come out to the show, interact with fans, and then, offer direct and matching donations to support their program,” says Gill. “We’ve built on that platform and been able to grow a strong network of hundreds of nonprofits.” (They also launched the All At Once online social action network to keep fans engaged.)

The most dramatic development, however, came with the creation of the Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation in 2008, a nonprofit charity aiming “to promote positive and lasting change within communities by supporting organizations that focus on environmental, art, and music education.” Gill serves as its executive director and oversees the foundation’s endowment fund.

Here, the endowments are able to provide grants on a perpetual basis versus one- time offerings and it’s funded by Johnson’s touring profits. And, with the way that it’s structured, Johnson doesn’t ever touch the money and it goes straight into the endowment tax-free.

So to be clear: Jack Johnson doesn’t make any money from touring. (He makes the majority of his money from album sales.)

“The Johnson Ohana Charitable Foundation is actually a public charity, which means that it’s created through the donations of many individuals,” notes Kim proudly. “Anyone who’s gone to Jack’s tours—they’re creating that foundation. It might have our name on it, but it took all those people to create it.”

The model was so effective that the Johnsons restructured the Kokua Foundation around the same concept. So though the festival is on indefinite hiatus—Kim wants to focus on their youngest child until she starts elementary school and analogizes the preparation for Kokua like “planning a wedding for 8,000 people”—its mission can continue.

As of press time, the Johnsons have contributed more than $25 million between their two foundations and other nonprofits.

All of Johnson’s 2008 tour profits went into the JOCF; all of his 2010 To The Sea tour profits went into the Kokua Foundation. Each currently operates with approximately $11 million. (The difference is made up from the Johnsons’ personal donations.) Profits from his forthcoming tours in support of From Here to Now to You will be divided between the two.

For much more on the making of the record be sure to pick up the current issue of the magazine.


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