Jack Johnson | Lobero Theatre | 2/21/23

Article Contributed by L. Paul Mann | Published on Wednesday, March 1, 2023

Former Santa Barbara resident surfer and musician Jack Johnson made history on the stormy California night of Fat Tuesday, February 21st. The master of contagious acoustic pop hits played an extraordinary performance at the historic downtown Lobero Theatre as part of the venue's 150th-anniversary celebration. Johnson, a huge draw, especially in Santa Barbara, quickly sold out two nights at the 4500-seat Santa Barbara County Bowl last summer. So, the surprise concert at the tiny 600-seat Lobero Theatre created a massive buzz amongst the singer's huge fan base. Hopeful concertgoers lined up as early as the night before the tickets went on sale, which were only available at the venue.

El Paseo Restaurant | Santa Barbara, CA

Many lucky ticket holders filled the historic El Paseo restaurant across the street from the venue for a festive VIP pre-party. The courtyard establishment was the perfect location to begin the night's festivities steeped in the long history of Santa Barbara. The 100-year-old restaurant was built as an annex to the original 1826 home of the Commandant of the Presidio Royale de Santa Barbara. The restaurant was a hot spot escape for early Hollywood stars and generated a rich literary history for many famous writers in the early 20th century. Concertgoers and patrons of the theater celebrated with an open bar and sumptuous appetizers while a fierce winter storm began to generate wailing winds outside.

Zach Gill | Lobero Theatre

The party participants then began to stroll back to the theater to join a large crowd of eager ticket holders slowly entering the theater, facing a strict security screening. Long-time Johnson collaborator and member of Santa Barbara-based band ALO, Zach Gill, opened the show about 15 minutes behind schedule, allowing extra time to get the audience through security. The charismatic singer and songwriter began his solo set playing piano and swapping silly hats between songs. He sat on a well-lit stage fronting an array of musical equipment ready for a full band to back Johnson’s set. Just as Gill switched to his signature accordion for another song, the power went out all across downtown Santa Barbara as a result of the fierce winds from the storm. Gill continued to play in the dark, eventually lit but patient audience members using their cell phones.

Zach Gill | Santa Barbara, CA

Then Johnson appeared onstage, joining Gill, seeming disoriented and confused by the outage. He addressed the crowd, indicating he wasn’t sure if the theater would need to be evacuated and wanted to try at least perform a few songs before that happened. What transpired was a nearly 2-hour performance that will go down in the history books with many of the special presentations at the theater during its long history

Jack Johnson joins Zach on stage after the power went out

Some of the more recent stand-out moments at the Lobero that took place in the 21st century include a 4-hour jam concert by My Morning Jacket, a show by the Smashing Pumpkins with amplifiers stacked to the ceiling of the small venue, and three nights of Neil Young and The Promise of The Real tuning up for their headline set in front of 50,000 people at the Arroyo Seco music festival in 2018. Johnson began his set with Gill, valiantly lit by two stagehands holding led flashlights on the sides of the theater. An acoustic performance is typically not possible in a 600-seat venue. However, the acoustics at the Lobero has long been praised by visiting musicians as some of the best of any concert hall.

Lobero Theatre | Santa Barbara, CA

Johnson and Gill were eventually joined onstage by bassist Merlo Podlewski playing acoustic guitar and drummer Adam Topol switching to boxes to play percussion. The frequently improvised set list included crowd-pleasers from Johnsons' extensive catalog of hits, including “Banana Pancakes,” “Better Together,” “Upside Down," and “Flake.” But the quartet also included memorable covers, including “Teach You Children” by CSN and Y as a tribute to David Crosby. Long-time local resident Crosby, who just recently passed away, was on everyone’s mind. He was scheduled to play a triumphant concert featuring special guests the following evening. February 22nd (Ash Wednesday) was the official 150th birthday of the Lobero Theatre, and the Crosby show was scheduled as the highlight of the year-long celebration. The tune brought tears to the eye of many in the audience and elicited a sing-along. As the night progressed, that atmosphere became more jovial, and the sing-along intensified, feeling and sounding much like a summer campfire. Other notable covers by the group included two Sublime tunes, “Badfish” and “Boss DJ.” Later in the set, Johnson elicited requests from the audience, many of whom had a personal connection to the performer. The singer acquiesced by playing two more covers, including “Intro to One” by Metallica and “Father and Son” by Cat Stevens.

Lobero Theatre | Santa Barbara, CA

But the crowd responded most excitedly to Johnsons' original tunes as the band stretched the set into 19 songs later in the night. Then, finally, the show ended with a sing-along encore of one of the songwriter's biggest hits, “Bubble Toes." Right on cue, the power returned, relighting the audience in the middle of the tune. It was a magical night that the audience and the musicians soon wouldn’t forget.

Jack Johnson | Lobero Theatre