Last night Jack Johnson performed an evening concert at the 8,500 seat open-air Greek Theater at the University of California, Berkeley. The venue was filled to capacity with fans who have come to love Johnson’s easy style, culturally relevant lyrics and musical chops. Those experienced with the venue knew that parking around the theater is a virtual nightmare and arrived early enough to grab a coveted spot and line up outside the gates. Others struggled in late, willing to fork over upwards of $40 to entrepreneurial individuals selling their personal parking spots. Latecomers were then faced with the challenge of trying to get fans to shuffle over and make room on the concrete ledges that serve as seats. Unlike the reports of interpersonal and cultural conflict that lately have seemed to dominate the news cycle, fans of Jack Johnson were more of the mind that, just like his song of the same name, people are better together. Fans welcomed one and all to sit close together for an evening of inclusivity and entertainment.
The Greek Theater, with its ancient-looking, solid stone, multi-tiered seating in the shape of a bowl is designed after the Greek Theater of Epidaurus. Virtually every section provides patrons with a gradually ascending bird’s eye view that culminates in a dramatically sloped but open lawn area where patrons can spread out blankets and enjoy the show with a bit more cushion to sit on. With its open-air view of the night sky and remarkable acoustics, the theater has become a favorite venue for major names in music as well as a venue for the University of California, Berkeley graduation ceremony. Famous speakers have also orated there, including the Dalia Lama and President Theodore Roosevelt.
After Johnson’s nine solid albums, five soundtracks and countless compilation albums the set list was a combination of older favorites from albums such as In Between Dreams including the fan favorite Banana Pancakes to the latest album From Here to Now to You and the edgier song Shot Reverse Shot. From Here to Now to You sold over 117,000 copies in just the first week of its release and is the name of Johnson’s current tour.
The Canadian based band Bahamas opened up for Johnson, taking the stage just as the sun was setting and people were snacking on Indian tacos, beer, wine and water from ecofriendly cartons labeled, “Boxed Water is Better.” Lead singer Alfie Jurvanen with his easygoing, even self-deprecating style, warmed up the audience with songs from his latest album released in 2014, Bahamas Is Alfie.
When during the latter part of the concert Johnson performed the hit song, Better Together from his 2005 album In Between Dreams, for a brief period the singer quieted his own vocals and the crowd passionately sang the lyrics for him. It was a poignant moment in which the “togetherness” of the crowd was both lyrically and emotionally represented and the contrast to recent events in the news prompted a rather sad moment of comparison. Of course, the plumes of pungent marijuana smoke that drifted across the crowd may have played a part in the overall mellowness. However, even before the concert began instances of random acts of kindness and camaraderie were witnessed.
Although the nation has and likely always will experience times of cultural, racial and other motivated strife, music has the ability to bring people closer together even if only for a brief period of time in which differences are less important than a shared appreciation for an artist. At the Berkeley Greek Theater, Jack Johnson was the impetus for just such a period of time, one that lasted several hours in which it was clear that given the opportunity, people are better together.
Opinion By Alana Marie Burke