Surf’s Up with Jack Johnson at VUHL Amphitheater
Adam Flores | Senior Writer
Jack Johnson, the former professional surfer turned singer-songwriter, entertained an enthusiastic multigenerational crowd Wednesday at Veterans United Home Loans Amphitheater in Virginia Beach. The musician, actor, producer and documentary filmmaker is touring in support of his seventh studio album, “All the Light Above It Too.”
As Hurricane Maria brushed up the East Coast creating sporadic flooding throughout the Tidewater area earlier in the day before turning east on its trek over the Atlantic Ocean, Johnson instilled a sense of calm, community and good times upon the crowd with his brand of folk, soft, acoustic and surf rock meanderings.
Johnson is the son of well-known professional surfer, Jeff Johnson. Born and raised on the North Shore of Oahu, Hawaii, his surfing career was finished when a surfing accident at the prestigious Pipeline Masters competition found the then 17-year-old surfing prodigy with more than 150 stitches in his forehead and some of his teeth removed.
The multifaceted Johnson, during his formative years, also began playing guitar when he was 8 and started writing songs at 12 years old. He cites Jimi Hendrix as his all-time favorite guitarist while crediting Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Otis Redding, The Beatles, Bob Marley and a host of other artists and groups as influences on his songwriting approach and style.
The amphitheater stage was transformed into a giant tiki bar with several thousand concertgoers feeling like they were all friends enjoying a gentle breeze on a warm night with a Mai-Tai in hand amid music and storytelling from Johnson and company as the local house band. Streams of countless tiki bar lamps were strung above and from the stage out into the amphitheater overhang helping to create an all-inclusive atmosphere for everyone.
Although Johnson’s current music catalog and latest effort, “All the Light Above It Too,” provided the sonic atmosphere for the night, his music presents a new chapter in the Great American Songbook. Borrowing from Dylan and other noted musicians of the genre, Johnson’s charm and candor are reflected throughout his music as a storyteller.
The proof is within Johnson’s encore set where he featured four songs sans band. It was a short, solo set that did see his band rejoin him halfway through the encore’s fourth and final number of the evening. His sense of humor and quick wit captivated the crowd further with an inviting sense of closeness between artist and audience through his narrative.
Johnson preceded his parody song, “Willie Got Me Stoned,” by sharing a brief insight from the “Crazy” songwriter himself. “I wrote this one. This one, this guy Willie Nelson, he said that a good song is nothing but three chords and the truth. So I decided I’d write a song with three chords then I’d tell a story about one night that I spent with Willie Nelson.” Afterwards, he said, “I’m gonna keep the theme alive playing songs that I barely know the chords for.”
Reflecting on his family, Johnson said, “Sometimes I just write these songs to get out of the doghouse, sometimes I write these songs just to make my wife laugh…I started counting all the love songs and I decided this one’s for the new record. It’s called ‘Love Song #16.’ And then someone pointed out that I was off on my math and it’s actually about 18 or 19 of them. But it’s too late because it’s already printed on the record.”
The two-hour setlist included new material and old favorites by Johnson. “You Can’t Control It,” “Sunsets for Somebody Else,” “My Mind Is for Sale” and “Big Sur” were some of the feature cuts from “All the Light Above It Too.” Mixed in were fan favorites such as “Sitting, Waiting, Wishing,” “Upside Down,” “Bubble Toes,” “Banana Pancakes” and closer, “Better Together.”
Jack Johnson’s talent and attention to songcraft and storytelling made his show a relaxed, yet vibrant and memorable evening. In a time where political and national divide across America on a host of subjects seems overwhelming and inescapable, it was forgotten but for a short time as Johnson effortlessly created a feeling of unity for everyone in attendance.