Jack Johnson and I : A Decade From First Listen to Seeing Him in Concert

All the light above it too

Written by Madison Drew Daniels

I didn’t know I liked music until I listened to Jack Johnson’s 2005 album In Between Dreams. That yellow-silhouetted album was in a pile of CDs by my computer when I was 14. During my teenage years, I was possessed by the soul of a beach bum surfer stuck in the desert of Utah. As cringe-worthy as it is to think back on, I wore a shell choker and wore board shorts to school every day. Jack Johnson was the soundtrack to my life I didn’t know I needed.

Little did I know that by the time I discovered him, he’d already released two previous albums. So with very little effort on my part, I was awash in melodic acoustic tunes that were as mellow and chill as I tried to be. But over 10 years have gone by and Johnson’s easy-going baritone voice still accompanies me in my daily walk.

Now that I’m a little older, a little more well read, and much more awake to the world at large, Johnson’s songs still speak to me. In them, I find a kindred soul who wishes the world would slow down, who questions the consumer culture we’re inundated with, and who enjoys his friends and family more than anything. I’m not sure there is another musician whose music, personal life, and charity work I resonate with more.

So this may come as a surprise when I confess that until his 2018 All the Light Above It Too tour, I have never seen Johnson perform live. I know–heap on the hate and tell me I’m not a true fan. Honestly, I’ve never been much of a concert goer. And I’m not actually sure I remember the last time Johnson tour visited Utah. So *shrug*, I have no defense.

But that old me doesn’t exist anymore because All the Light Above It Too came to Salt Lake City this year! I purchased tickets the hour after the SLC visit was announced and waited all summer for the concert. And arrive it did.

Live Chill Vibes

I was struck, upon arriving at the venue, at the spread of age among attendees. There were old people, teenagers, and every other age in between. There were whole families with members from every generation stretched out on blankets. After making friends with the dude next to me 20 years my senior, he remarked that Johnson’s intergenerational appeal is a testament to not just his quality as a musician, but as a songwriter. I couldn’t agree more as I had brought my dad as my plus-1.

My dad and I discussed Johnson’s style on our drive to the venue. Here’s what we settled on: Johnson’s music is more about mood, lyrics, and his own passion as a father and husband than it is about the music. Yes, he’s got some really great melodies and really catchy songs, but it’s my impression that the guitar is a tool for self-expression–a vessel to amplify his predominately chill mood and spread good feelings in a style that has mass appeal.

And oh my gosh is Johnson a relatable guy. He came out on stage in his traditional jeans and t-shirt, played a few songs then apparently started taking requests from those much closer to me. Almost every time he took the request with the caveat that he might forget some lyrics. And forget some he did, but with a chuckle and knowing grin, Johnson sang on.

Compared to the overly stylized and digitally enhanced live-music pop-culture is swimming in, the fact that Jack Johnson can forget lyrics and have the audience know is a breath of fresh air. I had seen Steve Aoki in Salt Lake a few months earlier. It is impossible for him to forget lyrics because everything about his music is digital. Half the time I’m not sure those DJs are actually doing anything up on that stage other than pretending to press buttons and sliders.

And while I’m on the topic of digitally enhanced music, did you know there is virtually no difference in Jack Johnson in a studio and Jack Johnson live? I’ve heard enough to know that there are a handful of musicians who are brilliant in a studio but down-right rubbish live. Johnson is in a small group of performers who are just as good if not better live.

At a Jack Johnson concert, you don’t get a larger than life stylized pastiche superstar–you get Jack Johnson himself. If he misses a lyric–we know. If he adds to a song–we know. Or if he doesn’t want to sing one of his songs because he thinks it sucks–we know. There is no backup track playing in the background(at least to my knowledge), no fireworks, no costume changes, no make-up, and no bullshit. It’s just him and his band on that stage up there which is brilliant. It’s a shame this sort of minimal music focused performance is considered old-fashioned these days.

By the end of the night, after hearing music about friends and family, Johnson had lulled the audience into a sufficiently chummy mood. Strangers were sharing their home-rolled blunts and mildly buzzed couples were swaying in their romantic dance. I learned to be content with enough.

Johnson has a song titled Is One Moon Enough? We have one moon in the sky for us all to share and we each to get to enjoy it as if it belonged to us. The best things in this world–the sun on my skin, the company of those I love, the joy of crisp air in my lungs–are given to me without money and without price. I don’t need to do anything other than show up and be present to enjoy them.

So how would I rate my first Jack Johnson concert among the handful of other concerts I’ve attended? Hands down best concert of the summer.


And none of this is to mention Jack Johnson’s incredible non-profit work. Mixing activism, passion, and music have been a hallmark of Johnson’s career since the beginning. The world could use more musicians like him who use their significant voice to spread good and enact change in the world. For more on Johnson’s charity efforts visit allatonce.org.