WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY, OCTOBER 16-17, 2013 – NASHVILLE TO KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
Leaving Nashville today for the 25th Anniversary of the Country Gold Concert at Aspecta, Mt. Aso, Kumamoto, Japan. It’s still hard for me to believe I started this festival with my dearest friend – Charlie Nagatani – 25 years ago. I don’t “feel” any older. J
This year Aaron Tippin and his band are headlining. Then we have Daryle Singletary, Anita Cochran and Robyn Young performing with Daryle’s musicians. It’s going to be a great concert for the Japanese country music fans. Charlie says this is the last year of the event which truly breaks my heart. This one will be very hard to let go of. Of course, he said that after 20 years, too, but I believe this may very well be the last hurrah. Aaron and his musicians will go to Korea for shows after the Japan concert. It’s been two years since Korea has received celebrity musical entertainment so this is an important trip. Just hope we don’t get a message tomorrow when we land in Japan telling us to return to Nashville because of the whole budget deadline MESS.
Aaron’s group arrived at the airport about an hour early so we started checking them in while waiting for all the others to arrive. Both my Delta agents – Ted and Dennie – were off today but we got a really great person – Don. Check in went so smooth and we headed for security. I have the TSA Pre-Check clearance which means I don’t have to take anything out of my bag. So, so nice! Once I got on the other side of security, found out there was a little problem. One of Daryle’s musicians had taken his Japan Work Visa out of his passport and left it at home. There was no way we could get him into the country because the minute they scanned his passport, it would red flag him. Everyone’s visa was stapled into their passports but he had gone to Norway a couple of weeks ago with Daryle and the customs officials there had removed it! He called his wife and someone drove it to the airport to him. He arrived at the gate as everyone was boarding. I was sweating that one out.
I used the time before the flight to Detroit to check my emails and make calls. Flight boarded on time and landed on time – although not easily. It was really turbulent. The plane only had one seat in the row by the windows where Aaron and I were sitting. He said it was times like that when we hit turbulence that he was glad he wasn’t sitting with me so I couldn’t squeeze his arm. I do have a habit of that…..no one likes to sit by me because of that.
Had about an hour and a half to go into the Delta Lounge and “work”. Emails aren’t too bad probably because I have my “away” message on. Our plane to Nagoya is a double decker and as much as I’ve flown with Aaron, he’s never flown on one. He is studying to be a flight instructor and his oldest son is supposed to get his pilot’s license in a few weeks. He was taking video and sending it back to him. So sweet. J
We are upstairs and when we got on, there were two men already on the plane sitting in the first seats closest to the pilots. One offered to put my bag in the overhead for me. I fly so much, it was easy to tell they are the sky marshalls…I know all the “signs” to look for and am always happy to see them “secretly” flying with us.
I watched the best movie with Sandra Bullock called “The Heat”. Not a very “deep movie” but highly entertaining. Have been able to stay on my Adkins diet easily and lost 1 more pound this morning…that’s 12 pounds total in 2 months. I’d love for it to go faster, but at least I’m still losing. I want to lose 8 more for a total of 20 pounds. And I FEEL so much better. Not having caffeine is no longer an issue. My body has tricked itself into believing that de-caf is the same thing.
Really not sleepy yet so going to try and do some work and then take a nap. Actually slept for about 4 hours and then watched another movie. It was called “Mud” and was good but we landed before I got to finish watching it. I gave the Sky Marshalls and challenge coin and one of my little “goodies”. The guy said “So you knew”? I just laughed and told him I fly overseas every month and thanked him. He gave me his pin as he was leaving the plane.
Had to pick up our bags and re-check them at ANA which is where I got into a fight with the ticket counter. We are on a HUGE aircraft but they refuse to let the people who carried on their guitars carry them on for this short flight. They were insisting that they check the guitars but then they wanted them to pay extra for them as well! I flatly refused. Shoji was going to pay them but I called Seiya and told him to tell Shoji not to do it. In the end, Shoji flashed his ANA credit card at them and everyone started bowing to him. We didn’t pay anything but did have to check the instruments. The overhead bins were huge and empty on the flight. ANA sucks!
We had about an hour layover before our flight to Fukuoka. I think everyone slept on the that flight. Landed on time and all our luggage/gear arrived with us. Charlie and Seiya met us and a lot of Japanese country music fans were at the airport as well. It was a very quiet two hour bus ride to the hotel….only sounds of snoring. J
Got everyone checked in and they had McDonald’s cheeseburgers and Big Macs waiting for everyone. Once I got my bags into my room, Penny and I had to go back downstairs and have a short meeting with NHK TV. Came back up and unpacked and answered emails. It’s 3 am now and I’m going to try and sleep for about 3 hours and then go jogging….Maybe….
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 18TH – SIGHTSEEING IN KUMAMOTO:
Slept for 2 ½ hours and got up and went jogging on a beautiful path down by the river. Weather was perfect, too. The only thing that has changed are the people on bicycles. They no longer ring their bells when they are passing you and I almost got hit 3 times. Of course, it is a much “younger” generation riding them now.
Had breakfast with Aaron, Robyn, and Lendell and then showered and got ready for the day. Colonel Crate and his wife Alice (who I had never met and is LOVELY!) met us in the lobby to go sightseeing and take photos for me. As usual, we started out at the Suizenji Park. I think everyone in the group was impressed with how beautiful it is. There were some Samurai warriors there doing a demonstration. They must have been 80 years old and they were throwing each other around like kids! We had the traditional Japanese lunch at the park with everyone sitting on the floor. Unfortunately, there was nothing on my Atkins diet that I could eat. But, I had an Atkins bar and some beef jerky in my fanny pack, so that was lunch. Everyone had time to do a little souvenir shopping right after lunch and then we made our way to the Shogun Warrior Castle. I’ve been to the park and Castle 36 times now, so I can “give” the tours!
We finished in time for the group to either take naps or shop. I went out to look for “cheese and decaf” coffee and scored on both. Was also scoping out where I can eat dinner and not cheat on my diet. Don’t think it’s going to be a problem. I’m back in my room trying to catch up on “work” now.
Called Aaron at 5:00 pm and he and I and Shaun walked down the Ginza to look for “food”. Aaron decided he didn’t want to eat at the Shabu-Shabu restaurant I suggested when he found out he has to cook his own dinner. J We ate at Freshness Burger – where I’ve eaten before. He and Shaun had really great “greasy” hamburgers. I thought I was having one without the bread that had an egg on it as well. Turned out to be some mystery meat that they were calling bacon…there was no hamburger meat at all. Probably my fault for asking if I could have it without the bread. They never understood what I was saying so they must have just taken the beef off. It was still good. It has started raining by the time we came out of the restaurant and prediction is it will rain through early Sunday morning. L
Aaron and Shaun went “shopping” for about 45 minutes and I walked back to the hotel to walk the rest of the group over to Charlie’s club for the Welcome Party. I have to say, all the U.S. artists were blown away. Charlie and his band play really great “traditional” country music. Everyone commented on how they had to come all the way to Japan to hear “real, traditional, country music”. Each artist performed 2 songs and then Aaron and Robyn did a short interview with NHK. I would have loved to stayed a little longer but it is a “smoking” club and my chest was already feeling congested. Hope I didn’t stay long enough for it to make me sick this time. L
I met Hiromi (my friend since the beginning) back at the hotel and gave her some gifts I had brought for her. We talked for a while and then I came back to my room to answer emails. At 10:30 pm, I was falling asleep at the computer. I set my alarm for 12:30 am and took a “nap”. I knew that Nashville would be starting to work at 11 pm my time, so I had to get back up and check emails.
It’s almost 2 am, so I’m closing down and getting some more sleep before getting up early to answer emails before Nashville closes. It’s hard to stay in touch in a timely manner when I’m 14 hours ahead of Nashville time.
Hopefully the rain will move out and we’ll be able to go to the volcano tomorrow after sound check!
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 19TH – SOUND CHECK AT ASPECTA:
Got up at 6 am and couldn’t tell if it was still raining. The streets looked very wet but I didn’t feel any rain when I stuck my hand out the window. Decided to play it safe and do my “weight training” with my “bands” in my room. Got in a really good workout with those.
Showered and had breakfast with several of the group then we departed for Aspecta at Mt. Aso. It was still very cloudy but no rain. We took the scenic route up the mountain which means a winding single lane road used for 2 lane traffic with sheer drops over the side of the mountain. The scenery is breathtaking, though.
We arrived at Aspecta right on time and Aaron began his sound check. Aaron finished right on time, as well. Next Daryle, Anita and Robyn – in that order—had to do their sound check. Penny and I worked on getting things ready for tomorrow concerts while all the sound checks were taking place.
We were told that the volcano was closed but decided to go up and at least tour the museum. When we arrived at Mt. Aso, the crater had just been opened so everyone was able to go up and look over in it. The wind was extremely strong but there was still no rain. And, yes, Frank, I did put rocks in my pockets because I didn’t want to risk being blown over the side into the mouth of the volcano! J
For some reason, the water level was really low so we didn’t see the beautiful bright green lake at the bottom. No one spent very much time looking at it because it was so windy and cold.
We arrived back at the hotel at 5:30 pm and had to meet in the lobby at 6:15 pm to walk to Angelo’s….my favorite Italian restaurant. There were 21 one people total and we had called them at noon to warn them. They had a table set up and waiting for us. Then, after they took the orders, everything went SOUTH! Half the group got their salads and soups after only a few minutes. The rest of us waited over an hour! The waitress messed up about one out of every two orders. Finally after we had been there 2 hours, most of the group had eaten and left. Except for Jerry and I who still had not been served! He ordered pizza and I ordered eggplant. I was so embarrassed because I had recommended Angelo’s to everyone. Jerry and I left and went to McDonald’s. All I’ve had to eat today are hamburger patties – 2 at the venue and now 2 at McDonalds. I better have lost another pound after all this!
I was planning on a really early night until the saga at the restaurant. It is almost 11 pm and if I get in bed by midnight, I guess it will be an early night compared to the last two nights. It never rained again today but was very cloudy. Weather Channel says it’s clearing up and tomorrow will be a pretty day. Sure hope the Weather Channel is right for once!
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 20, 2013 – COUNTRY GOLD CONCERT AT ASPECTA, MT. ASO, KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
Woke up at 6 am to BEAUTIFUL weather. Got in a 4 mile run and then had breakfast with some of the guys. Showered and loaded up the bus for the 1 ½ hour drive to the venue. Hoping we will have a big crowd since it’s the 25th Anniversary.
So glad Penny is here to help this year. It was hard without her these past few years and would have been very stressful this year with more artists performing. She took care of getting them to their interviews and autograph signings. Mr. Richard Mei, the Cultural Affairs Officer to the U.S. Embassy at the Fukuoka Consulate, was able to attend again this year with his lovely wife. They are very nice, special people and I enjoyed chatting with them. He will be leaving next year and going to Washington, D.C. He is being replaced by Carolyn Kennedy. Not sure who she feels about “country music”. He started the concert with his speech and then Charlie and the Cannonballs performed.
While Charlie was performing, all the artists did interviews with 4 media outlets that were attending plus NHK Television. Robyn was the first one to perform from the U.S. artists and did a great job. His current single in at number 12 in the independent charts and we all keep teasing him because he has forgotten the words to it several times. He remembered them today. J As he was finishing his show, I walked out front and said hello to lots of fans. Stopped at the “Higo Meat” booth to buy me and Penny some steak and ended up standing in line for over an hour! It was definitely worth the wait. Anita had already gone on stage and sang 3 of her songs by the time I got the food.
After Anita, we had the sponsor presentation and then I presented Charlie with a Proclamation for the Tennessee House of Representatives and Certificates of Appreciation from the Mayor of Nashville, ACM, CMA and Grand Ole Opry. He was very touched. I think we got some great photos of him with these honors thanks to Colonel Chris Crate.
Daryle sang next and treated the audience to “stone cold traditional country music”. Aaron closed out the show with his high energy set of hit after hit. He brought Charlie up to sing “Kiss This” which was his last song in his encores. Then everyone went on stage to sing “You are my Sunshine” – probably the most popular U.S. song in Japan! While Aaron was signing, Charlie had pulled two chairs together and was sound asleep in the Green Room. Someone was looking for him and I told them he was in the Green Room, but when I looked in there, he was on the FLOOR! He had slept so hard that he had fallen off the chairs. Poor man has only had 1 hour of sleep each night for several nights now. Luckily, he wasn’t injured and of course, everyone who saw or heard it was laughing uncontrollably.
After the concert, everyone gathered in the Green Room for lots of “Kampi’s” (toasts). My toast was to having a 26th Anniversary in 2014. Sure hope Charlie can keep this going. It is one of the best festivals I work with and it’s my “baby”. I started this event with him 25 years ago and it would really hurt if we had to close it down. It will all depend upon the sponsors he can secure for 2014.
All the artists were blown away with this event and the Japanese people – as are everyone who has ever been lucky enough to participate. It was truly a wonderful 25th Anniversary Celebration.
Earlier in the day, everyone wanted to go eat Chinese food tonight. I figured they would all be too tired and sure enough, by the time we arrived back at the hotel, everyone was in favor of heading to McDonald’s! Penny and I walked over to fresh burger where I had another meat patty and a wiener.
I’m going to get up and go to the airport with the group that flies home tomorrow. They have to depart the hotel at 6 am! Ouch…gotta get to bed now.
MONDAY, OCTOBER 21ST – JAPAN TO KOREA:
Boy, ever had one of those days where just nothing goes as planned. Today was it.
Got up at 5 am so I could go to the airport with the group that is flying home today. I was in the lobby by 5:30 am and one of the people that Country Gold hires to work for us each year was there – very, very drunk. He started yelling at me in front of all the artists. I told him to go somewhere and sober up and then he could talk to me. Very embarrassing.
We arrived at the airport and I was ready to do battle regarding carrying on the guitars. We decided not to “mention” them and just try to make it to the gate with them. ANA airlines argued with me that Penny was not flying First Class. They had to call the Nagoya Airport to get confirmation. Then they let her check her 3 bags! We ended up only paying $90 for Daryle’s guitar. I left with Seiya to go back to the hotel and got a text message from Penny before we got out of the parking lot. Evidently security would not let them take the guitar through. They had to take them back to the check in counter and check them in. At least they didn’t charge them but only because Shoji flashed his ANA Gold card again. Now, keep in mind that the plane is an Airbus 320….definitely big enough to fit guitars in the overheard. They only checked them to Nagoya and are going to pick them up and “hand carry” them on the flight from Nagoya to Detroit.
I went for a jog to relieve some stress and then did Facetime with Zac and Zoe. I swear they have grown since I left them! Showered, dressed, and walked over to the Ginza and got a Quarter Pounder and threw away the bread for lunch. Really getting tired of McDonald’s hamburger patties. Found a couple of postcards for Zac anc Zoe but had to go into a department store to buy them. Kumamoto is just NOT a tourist town. I should have purchased them at the Castle and Volcano but totally forgot.
We arrived at the airport almost 3 hours before our flight. The flight time had changed and we had forgotten to change the departure time from the hotel to later to accommodate it. We are on Asiana and they did accept our Military Orders which state that each person can check 4 pieces. That NEVER happens. They finally opened the check in counter and we went through with no problem. We went through Immigration and then had to wait another hour for them to open the security scanner! It’s a tiny airport and there was no where to eat anything. The guys ended up buying some “snacks” to carry on the plane.
It was a short 1 ½ hour ride – but very turbulent. The plane wasn’t even half full. We landed on time, picked up all our equipment and luggage, and met our escorts outside. Really nice men and women taking care of us. As we were walking to McDonald’s (yes, again!) one of them told me that Aaron’s sound guy who had flown in today was being detained by Immigration. Evidently there was something on his record and Korea would not let him in the country. They are very, very strict about foreigners coming into their country. Our escorts had tried everything possible, but Korean Immigration was holding fast. I’ve contacted the Korean sound company and asked them to provide an engineer.
We had about a 2 hour bus ride to Camp Casey. Lodging is at Camp Casey and I’ve been here MANY times before. When they passed out room keys, they gave one of our escorts a key to a room that was occupied.
I have been hiding in my room doing damage control and working for several hours now. Have to get up at 5 am again tomorrow. We get our CAC cards and then go to the DMZ for a tour and as an acoustic show for the guys deployed there. Hope my luck changes by tomorrow!