Rock 'n' roll conjures images of excess, wild parties and insistent stars in dressing rooms demanding their green M&Ms. Enter Jack Johnson: more acoustic groove than rock 'n' roll but just as big a star. Johnson's requests, however, are not for champagne and caviar but for venues that offset the carbon emissions of his crew and provide ample recycling facilities.
His music career began in Hawaii, where he taught himself guitar on days when he wasn't at the beach. He went from selling bootleg albums to selling out 20,000 seat amphitheaters, but throughout that time, Johnson always kept a place in his heart for his hometown and its beauty. Perhaps that was the catalyst for his environmentalist bent.
Watch the story on "Focus Earth" Saturday, Aug. 16, on Discovery's Planet Green network.
Johnson, 33, is one of a new breed of musicians more concerned with the environment than luxuries. Rather than piling up the Poland Spring plastic, his crew is outfitted with reusable water bottles that are refilled throughout the day.
Johnson is currently on tour through the end of August promoting his latest CD "Sleep Through the Static," released in February, an album recorded using 100 percent solar energy and printed on recycled paper.
His tour buses and trucks run on biodiesel. Tour T-shirts are made of organic cotton, and Johnson's staff recruits an army of young volunteers to help get the word out in the Village Green, a series of tents that greet fans as they enter the concert venues. Each tent is staffed by a different nonprofit that educates concert-goers about a variety of environmentally-friendly activities, from cleaning up rivers to buying organic foods to promoting peace and registering to vote.
In an effort to make the green a more interactive place, fans who visit three or more tents receive a stamp on their "Village Green Passport" and are entered to win backstage passes and to watch the show from onstage.
"We need their help," Johnson said of these volunteers. "It's nice to meet people from every town we go to and those people who sign up and decide they want to volunteer. Those are the same kids who maybe are starting an environmental club at their school. ... They're the motivated ones who decide to sign up and help with the greening efforts of the show."
Johnson, like many of his rocker friends, has enlisted the help of a company called Reverb, a nonprofit organization founded by fellow musician and Guster singer-guitarist Adam Gardner and his wife, Lauren, that helps touring acts reduce their carbon footprints.
"Reverb helps and fills that void so bands don't have to reinvent the wheel or start from scratch. We can go, 'Look this is what we've done on XYZ tour and this is how we can apply it to yours' and so it is very doable. There are a lot of ways it even saves you money," Gardner said.
This attempt at the greening of rock 'n' roll is a righteous cause to be sure, but is the message getting through to the fans? Johnson certainly hopes so. "We don't get to see the positive things or the negative things it's doing until a few years later. A lot of times you come through town and do a show, and if someone was inspired or motivated it may take them a while to start up that club or start up that new business. It takes a while to see the impact. I've met people who've definitely said that they never heard of biodiesel before and now they run their truck off it."
But even Johnson admits that it's all still about the music.
In "All at Once," a song from his latest album, Johnson sings about global warming: "Around the sun / Some say it's going to be the new hell / Some say it's still too early to tell / Some say it really ain't no myth at all."
Another song, "The Three R's" from the "Curious George" movie soundtrack, asks listeners to reduce, reuse and recycle.
"That's a powerful and very flattering thing for me, for these words I've written, to hear people singing them and to hear that is definitely really nice for me. ... It's kind of like church. We say it's like this gathering of humans coming together to share an idea."
It's an idea Johnson hopes will move out of the amphitheater and into fans' homes so that his children and theirs can enjoy the Hawaiian surf and a myriad of other natural wonders for years to come.