Into The Green

They’ve still got their monster reggae grooves after a decade together. But the members of The Green possess something far more important these days: growing families.

Take just about any checklist of things associated with the color green and you’ll be surprised how favorably it compares to the six hardworking musicians who make up The Green.

Natural, infectious energy? Check. Loads of creativity? Check. Steady growth? Check. Long-term stability with blessings of satisfying prosperity? Check and check.

At one time, about the only missing check mark for these pillars in the roots-reggae-smooth lovers’ rock scene might have been in the fertility department. But that issue was finally put to rest a few years ago with the sudden greening of their families. So, big check.

Led by guitarists-vocalists JP Kennedy (foreground) and Zion Thompson (background), The Green continues to perform before packed crowds in support of the group’s latest album, Brand New Eyes.

Since then, these good-natured local boys who first coalesced back in the late 2000s and who today, as 30-somethings, are still energizing crowds, lighting up stages and kicking major butt with their monster grooves, have been carrying around their fatherhood badges with as much pride as any Nā Hōkū Hanohano Award they’ve earned. And while their papa responsibilities often leave them more exhausted than their tours do, they wouldn’t want it any other way.

Call it The Coming-of-age Green Effect.

“We’re all dads now, so we’re busy with our kids,” explains guitarist-vocalist Zion Thompson. “When the pandemic happened in 2020, three of us in the band had daughters. In my case, I had my girl Bowie, named after David Bowie. It’s why I’m up early and up late with no sleep.”

With drummer Jordan Espinoza and bassist Brad Watanabe laying the foundation for The Green’s sound, singer Caleb Keolanui is free to impress audiences with his vocal range and soulful stylings.

He pauses momentarily to catch his breath and possibly a few imperceptible winks of shut-eye before adding, “I thought touring was hard, but this is way more nuts.”

In embracing fatherhood, members of The Green have grown to accept a more matured view of life in the spotlight while also placing an even greater emphasis on their individual and collective family units.

“In the band’s first five or six years, Caleb (Keolanui, lead vocalist) and our original drummer Leslie Ludiazo had daughters, but that was it. The rest of us didn’t have kids,” explains Thompson. “But our focus has changed now that we have families. You start to feel different about why you’re out there (on stage) — that it’s not for me anymore, you know? It’s like I’m not here just to mess around, but I’m out here to make money and build this business and build this brand. Now, we do it because we all have families to support,” he says, adding that the number of children among current band members totals 19.

Zion Thompson shows off his chops on the guitar.

“With The Green, everybody’s family is the priority.”

Nothing illustrates this feeling of tribal unity better than how the band rallies around each other — whether in difficult times (as members did earlier this month during a concert and fundraiser for current drummer Jordan Espinoza’s wife, Anjuli, who’s battling cancer) or in joyous ones (as when keyboardist-vocalist Ikaika Antone received the good news that he was about to become a daddy).

“Look at our latest album, Brand New Eyes (released last November),” notes Thompson. “Everything about that album pertains to family stuff. We all have brand-new eyes and it’s all based on our new outlook on life as fathers.

Family remains the priority for The Green’s members: (from left) Jordan Espinoza, JP Kennedy, Brad Watanabe, Caleb Keolanui, Ikaika Antone and Zion Thompson.

“Take the song Young Man. Ikaika wrote that about the struggles of trying to have a child and the ups and downs of going through that with his wife,” Thompson continues. “So, I remember the day when he finally got the call. We were on tour and he was in the hallway and he was FaceTiming his wife and I kind of noticed that she was crying, but she also looked happy. I busted out my phone to start taking pictures when she told him, ‘I’m pregnant.’ And Kaiks just started crying.

“It’s been such a long road for them and we all knew about it,” he adds. “I still have those pictures on my phone of him when he found out … I thought it was such a special moment.”

Perhaps the shared closeness shouldn’t be all that surprising given the members’ common roots. Keolanui and guitarist-vocalist JP Kennedy are cousins and former members of the reggae band Next G, and both come from a family of musicians (their uncle, in fact, is Danny Kennedy of Mana‘o Co. fame). And although Thompson, Antone and bassist-vocalist Brad Watanabe aren’t blood relatives, they do hail from the same community (Kailua) and, in the case of Thompson and Antone, had already evolved into close friends after previously joining forces in the group Stir Crazy.

In recalling how The Green finally came together to combine their vocal prowess (highlighted by the golden-throated Keolanui) and exceptional musicianship with their strong songwriting abilities, Thompson explains that things happened quickly once their prior bands began to “fizzle out.”

“We were just sitting there at JP’s house with all this music we had been recording and we were like, ‘What are we going to do now?’” remembers Thompson. “And right there, the band just kind of formed.”

One of their first decisions was to come up with a suitable name. Thompson can’t recall if it was Kennedy or Watanabe who first suggested The Green, but he does recollect the name initially being tossed out “half in jest.”

Ultimately, the name stuck because it resonated with the members despite the color not having any particular meaning to them.

“It’s obvious because we’re a reggae band that people will think it (means) one thing, but for us, it’s not that,” he explains. “It could be anything and doesn’t necessarily need to mean one thing or require a specific definition. It’s just us … (it) felt right.”

Hungry to strike a chord with reggae fans both near and far, The Green — which had already released its breakthrough single Love I — immediately joined up with fellow local musician Anuhea on her stateside Right Love Tour in 2010. But the band soon learned that gaining the attention of the masses would be a work in progress.

“When we were starting out, there weren’t a lot of touring reggae bands, so it was usually just Hawai‘i transplants at our shows,” says Thompson, who at 39 is the oldest member of the band. “But the first time we went to New Orleans, we played at a spot called the Republic, and there was nobody there — I mean literally no one.”

Undeterred, the band kept plugging away and soon the crowds started coming to experience The Green vibe, thanks in part to the willingness of college newspapers and radio stations to promote its music. Today, the group has five studio albums under its belt, a large following that stretches across the globe and a thriving touring schedule. Last month, it performed at the Reggae Rise Up Festival in St. Petersburg, Florida, and in February, it staged a West Coast swing “through eight or nine states” that included packed shows in Nevada, Colorado and Utah.

Proving the band has no let-up, the members intend to play on with more road dates next month. Up first is the California Roots Music Festival on May 29 in Monterey, and the group will follow that performance up the very next day with an appearance at the Arise Music Festival in Loveland, Colorado.

Best of all, The Green intends to hold a couple of shows in the islands in the near future, although the dates and locations have yet to be determined.

“Unless something goes wrong, we’ll do one show here (on O‘ahu) and one on the outer islands,” promises Thompson.

In summing up his thoughts on how the band has flourished in its decade together, Thompson would only say this: “We’re blessed — we’ve always felt that way. From the get-go, Hawai‘i has had our back, and we had great timing when we released our music as far as what came out that year. Our very first album did well, and I just thought there weren’t a lot of heavy-hitting albums in the reggae genre that came out that same year, so we kind of got lucky. Things just aligned and a lot of things just worked out for us.

“But we’ve worked hard and the touring has been a huge part of teaching us how to be together and I wouldn’t trade any of that for the world.”

Nor would his fellow band members, all of whom intend to remain a part of The Green scene for a very, very long time.

As Thompson puts it, “We’re not going to stop. This thing that we have just works. It’s family.”