It’s So Easy Being Green: An Interview with Zion Thompson
By Shelah Moody
The Green perform Sunday, May 27 at the California Roots Festival, Monterey, CA,
I first fell in love with reggae music on the island of Oahu in the late eighties.
I remember hearing Bob Marley and the Wailers–really hearing them on someone’s boom box pre-sunset on Waikiki Beach.
I remember riding with friends out to the country in Hauula where a local reggae band called Maacho and Cool Connection were
playing. I remember meeting up with the crew to see surfer band Dread Ashanti in Kaaawa, and also when Steel Pulse
opened for island stars Cecilio and Kapono at the Waikiki Shell.
I had left Oahu by the time Jawaiian, a hybrid of Jamaican and Hawaiian music that produced bands
such as Ho’Aikane, came along in the late nineties. I saw Jawaiian morph into something more powerful—the island music
movement led by artist such as Fiji, Grammy nominated artists such as J Boog and Common Kings,– Anuhea, Hirie, Leilani
Wolfram and an incredibly cool band from Kailua, HI called The Green.
On Feb, 14, 2018, I watched the members of The Green-–Caleb Keolanui (vocals),
Zion Thompson (guitar, vocals), Ikaika Antone (keys, vocals) Brad Watanabe (bass, vocals) and
Jordan Espinoza (drums) throw down easy skanking roots reggae and dancehall on the bill with Grammy nominee J Boog and
reggae revivalist Jesse Royal at the Fox Theatre in Oakland, CA. (Green member JP Kennedy, guitar and vocals could not be with
them that night as his wife was having a baby). Seeing The Green perform at this island Valentine’s Day bash was a proud
occasion for me, because Caleb and JP went to my alma mater, Henry J Kaiser high school in Hawaii Kai.
It’s been a triumphant year for The Green. Their fourth studio album, “Marching Orders,” (Easy Star Records) has taken them to the top of the Billboard’s reggae and independent release charts. The Green has also been embraced by the California Roots movement and perform at the Caliroots Festival in May.
Recently, I spoke with founding member Zion about The Green’s evolution.
IS: So, what does your name, the name The Green represent? Da kine, weed?
ZT: (Laughs) I mean, yes and no. We are really just a mish mash of a bunch of bands and guys who play music together JP and
Caleb are cousins; they played in a band when they were younger. Me, Brad and Ikaika played in a band when we were younger.
When we came together, we had all of these recordings and we put them together. We didn’t really know what to call it.
Someone in the band decided to call it The Green, to put a name on what we were recording.
IS: Do you do any songs or work around legalization?
ZT: It is a topic that we sing about for sure. But we have family and kids and we have fans who are kids who like our music;
not just 25-30-year-old stoners. We also come from a generation that does not view marijuana as a drug. It’s never been treated
that way with us. We speak the obvious truth about how we feel about it. We’ve played with some bands who smoke way more
than we do; like Fortunate Youth!
IS: What do you think of the California Roots movement and festival?
ZT: I love it, but I am biased, because the producer, Dan Sheehan, is from Hawaii. We are proud that he is part of it.
We are happy to perform there and to come back after a year and hang out even if we’re not performing. I love the festival and
I love how intimate it is. There are other festivals that we’ve done, such as the One Love Festival in Sacramento. We just
Performed there. It’s great, it’s unreal, it’s a big festival. It’s not as big, numbers wise as Caliroots but I’m sure it will be. I love
Caliroots because it has a family vibe and it’s intimate. There’s just something about it; coming back to the Bowl and playing
there year after year; seeing family and friends. We’ve watched them grow up and now they are coming with their babies. Also,
the weather in Monterey is beautiful.
IS: Do you get a contact high while playing in the Bowl at Caliroots?
ZT: (Laughs) It’s crazy! It really is a bowl! It’s a giant fucking weed bowl! Yeah! I’m excited to come back and perform.
IS: Have you played the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival?
ZT: We did Sierra Nevada a few years back; I believe we played the same night as Groundation. We’ve been lucky enough to
play there and cross that off of our bucket list. I’d like to do more summer festival touring and tap into that market more.
We tour pretty hard playing clubs and city dates.
IS: What was it like growing up in Kailua, and how did it cool contribute to your interest in reggae music?
ZT: Hawaii is immersed in reggae music. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve heard either reggae or Hawaiian music on
mainstream radio. I heard our version of reggae; and there was always Bob Marley, UB40, Steel Pulse, Gregory Isaacs and
Yellowman. Reggae is a big part of local culture and it is just loved over here. I was in a band and we played all of the high
school parties in Kailua.
IS: Do you remember the rise of Jawaiian music?
ZT: Yeah, that was starting before I was even around, with bands like Ho’Aikane. I heard they were one of the first (Hawaii)
reggae bands to go to Jamaica. They are one of the bands who influenced not only me, but the sound as a whole. They had a big
influence on the style and the flow of the music.
IS: Do you remember a reggae singer named Butch Helemano?
ZT: Of course! Butch is a legend in Hawaii reggae. Also, Marty Dread is one of those original musicians from back in the day.
Nowadays, everyone plays reggae, sort of. Back in the day, there were only a handful of people and a few underground
musicians who played reggae. Now, a lot of reggae musicians play Hawaiian music and a lot of Hawaiian musicians play
reggae or at least listen to it. Most of us in the Green, we love Hawaiian music and we play it, too. We are blessed to have won
four Na Hoku Hanohano awards.
IS: What was the vibe like for the Green on stage as you were playing the Valentine’s Day concert at the Fox Theatre in
ZT: It was great! We played a lot of songs from our new album. We opened with “Marching Orders,” which has an upbeat,
dancehall vibe. The Fox Theatre is one of my favorite places. There are only a couple of venues in the U.S. that I’ve always
wanted to play but we haven’t done. We haven’t done the Gorge in Washington, but we’ve played the Red Rocks Theatre in
Colorado, one of my all-time favorites. I’ve always loved the Fox Theatre. It was special for us to be there that night and end our
tour there. It was a big deal; the last show of the tour is always fun no matter who you’re with. We got to end the tour with J
Boog and Hot Rain, who are family. Hot Rain is from Hawaii, also, and we ran in the same circles during our high school days.
The closest thing that you can get to a Green band member is a Hot Rain band member. We still work with their drummer,
Leslie Ludiazo, who is Hot Rain’s musical director and an original member of our band. We are really proud of what they have
accomplished. I mean, J Boog— we all look up to him so much. Since it was Valentine’s Day, we got to end our show with a
romantic song called “Chocolates and Roses.” We used to bring Boog out on that song just for fun.
IS: Did the Green play the Honolulu hotel circuit?
ZT: Not as much, because reggae bands like us don’t really do the hotel circuit; it’s more like Hawaiian music or solo
entertainers. The Green used to play at this place called the Shack Waikiki. It was a hub concert spot in Honolulu where we
would just rage. It was kinda grimy, kinda dingy, but nice at the same time. Waikiki night life at its finest. That was big time
for us. Now, the Shack is gone and the Republik is a big venue for local artists. It’s an important place where everyone plays.
Touring acts will also come through and play there. There was always somewhere for reggae bands to play. If a club or bar was
shut down, the whole community of bands and friends and fans would move to wherever the next spot was. It went on like
that for years.
We love it when touring bands come to Hawaii. We can take them out, go on a boat surf, swim or barbecue on the beach.
A lot of times, touring artists would not bring their bands and they would need a band to back them up and sing some simple
harmonies. A lot of musicians here do back up for touring singers before they become solo.
IS: Who are some of your guitar influences?
ZT: Originally, Stevie Ray Vaughn and Jimi Hendrix; the older, blusier guys. I love the Hawaiian guitar players, too. Nowadays, I spend a lot of time on Instagram looking at food, golf and guitars players.
IS: Ok, now, let’s play a “This or That,” a game I saw on the Oscars Red Carpet telecast. It starts with cake or pie.
IS: Beyoncé or Rihanna?
IS: Text or call?
ZT: It all depends on the person and the situation.
IS: Sneakers or slippas
ZT: It’s either slippas or barefoot!
IS: Oakland or San Francisco?
ZT: Shoot, I don’t even care, I’m from Hawaii!
IS: What’s in the works for the Green this summer?
ZT: We are doing a run late spring with Raging Fyah and Iya Terra. I’ve never toured with either of them, but I’m a big
Raging fan. I’m excited. This summer, our lead singer, Caleb is expecting twins! We will also be a bit busy raising our families
Catch the Green on tour: Click to purchase Marching Orders
Apr 20 – KCCN Bash – Honolulu, HI
Apr 27 – E Komo Mai (Parking Lot) – Hilo, HI
Apr 28 – King Kamehameha Hotel – Kailua Kona, HI
May 05 – Maui Arts & Cultural Center – Kahului, HI
May 16 – Warehouse Live – Houston, TX
May 18 – Hangout Music Festival – Gulf Shores, AL
May 19 – House Of Blues – New Orleans, LA
May 20 – House Of Rock – Corpus Christi, TX
May 22 – The Rock – Tucson, AZ
May 23 – Hard Rock Hotel – Las Vegas, NV
May 25 – Majestic Ventura Theatre – Ventura, CA
May 26 – Cornerstone Berkeley – Berkeley, CA
May 27 – California Roots Festival – Monterey, CA.
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