WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 12 – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 13 – NASHVILLE TO KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
Leaving today for Kumamoto, Japan via Chicago, Shanghai, Fukuoka and then a 2 hour bus ride to Kumamoto. It is the 23rd Anniversary of Country Gold – where have all the years gone?
My group this year includes Billy Yates, Ray Scott and Amber Hayes. As we have done for the past two years, all the entertainers are using one band and we have 5 great musicians with us. Renae from Cowboy Crush is along playing fiddle and she is so much fun to travel with.
It will take about 30 hours of travel to reach our hotel in Kumamoto. To make matters even worse, we had to be at the airport at 4:30 am this morning. I actually went to bed at 10:30 pm and got up at 2:30 am. About 12:30 am, Zoe crawled into bed with me. So I had to tiptoe around getting dressed this morning so I didn’t wake her. Sure will miss her and Zac these next 2 weeks.
First thing I did was turn on my blackberry. No email. Not possible! Knew there was something wrong so I spent all the time I could trying to get it back up and running. I called T-Mobile because they have such great customer service. I got a voice recording saying it was “after hours” and they would open at 6 am! Did not know they had discontinued their 24 hour service. The merger isn’t even complete yet and already they have taken on the bad habits of AT&T. L
I deleted my email account and took the battery out and a few emails came through. It seems this always happens when I am going on a long trip. Of course that means it happens once a month.
Frank, my great taxi driver picked up me and Amber (she lives next door to me). It was incredibly foggy and I was a little worried about being able to fly. Everyone was on time and we got the “nice” lady at the ticket counter. She even checked our bags all the way through to Fukuoka for us. I was concerned because our United ticket only gets us roundtrip Shanghai and we have a different ticket for China Eastern Air. My travel agent assured me that United has a baggage agreement with China Eastern and I was happy to learn he is correct.
We had time for a quick breakfast at Noshville and then boarded the flight on time. It was pretty weird taking off in the fog. I couldn’t see anything but a few runway lights. But the flight was smooth and actually landed on time. The guys had to gate check their guitars because it was one of the tiny jets. We had about an hour and a half before our next flight so I headed for the Lounge and a telephone to call T-Mobile. Found out that there is a “worldwide” (not just “nationwide) outage of Blackberry devices this week. Crazy! The said that RIM is working on the problem but they had no idea when it would be corrected. Nice. I was able to answer some emails on my laptop and save the ones I didn’t get answered so I could respond offline and send when we land. WHEN are they going to put wireless on the international flights???
I was very pleased to learn that I had been upgraded to First Class because of my “Global” status with United. The flight boarded on time and it is one of the reconfigured aircraft. I looked up to see Ray and one of the musicians carrying their guitars back up the aisle and giving it to the flight attendant. Apparently, they would not fit in the overhead or the closet on these “newly configured” aircraft. They are in soft cases so I am very concerned that they will be broken but nothing we could do. I overheard them discussing where they were going to check them too and realized they were considering only checking to Shanghai and picking up there. THAT would have been a disaster. They would have had to go to baggage claim, pick up the guitars, go to the check-in counter, check the guitars, and then clear Immigration and Passport Control and Security to get back to the gate. Not only was there not enough time to do that, but they have “single-entry visas” on their passports which do not allow them entry until October 17th AND once they are stamped, they can’t enter China again. We would have been so screwed. So, I made sure they were checking the guitars all the way to Fukuoka. Now, will they arrive in “pieces” or will they just never see them again. Sure hope I’m pleasantly surprised again upon arrival in Fukuoka.
As I was getting settled in my seat, two guys boarded and took the seats across the aisle to my right. They were wearing shorts and “matching” Hawaiian print shirts. Their first comment was “Wowwee, can you believe these seats?” It was obvious they were “partners” and they kept snapping photos of each other. At first it was cute and then it became a little annoying having the flash go off every few minutes right in my face. Plus, how many photos can you take of a person sitting in an airplane seat? They were in the center, not near a window and the plane wasn’t moving. After we took off, they started drinking wine but every sip required clinking their glasses together and toasting each other. After the meal – oops there went the flash again! – they changed into bright blue floral pajamas – matching, of course. They have been more entertaining than the movies.
The meal was incredible. Did I say that about airplane food? Appetizer was a little mini crab cake and a skewer or beef, then a tiny cup of mushroom soup and a wonderful salad with raspberries, nuts and blue cheese. I had the Mahi Mahi – grilled with steamed spinach and a sweet potato soufflé. No dessert or cheese for me. I watched “Mr. Popper’s Penguins” with Jim Carey and it was pretty good. Much better than “The Beaver” that I watched last international flight.
Got my laptop out to answer emails and it started doing the same thing it did on the last international flight – the display turns off and it goes into sleep mode. I have to do a hard shut down to get it back on. I sent it into Panasonic after my last trip and they replaced the main board so basically I have a new computer. I have no idea what is going on with it but I am sitting her typing this and having to keep turning it back on every few minutes. I am just not having any luck with my “devices” today.
This is a 13 hour flight, so I’m going to try to take a “nap” and then work some more. Can only do so much though without access to the internet, darn it. And the plug for the computer is one of those special ones that require an adapter, so I only have so much battery life.
I did sleep for about 3 hours off and on – the partners across from me had way too much wine and were very loud. Finally got up and watched two more movies – one was something like “The Music Never Stops” based on a true story and it was great. Then I got desperate and watched the “guy” movie “Hangover II”. It was “cute”. Twelve hours after we took off, they served a “snack” and renewed my belief that airplane food is poisonous. J The chicken had a really funky taste, so I only ate the fruit. I noticed that one of my guys across the aisle had changed into what appeared to be only his boxer shorts. Very attractive. J They both changed back into their floral Hawaiian shirts for landing. As we were landing, I noticed a regular U.S. plug on another part of my seat. Sure wish I had seen it earlier. I could have gotten so much work done. L
As we were getting off the plane, the flight attendant announced that everyone making a connecting flight had to pick up bags and recheck them. I knew that couldn’t be true and assumed she meant for everyone connecting to domestic flights in China…not international flights to Japan. Nope! We all had to fill out arrival cards (for WHAT??), go through Immigration, pick up bags, go through Customs, hike about a mile with the luggage carts to another terminal, check in the bags (where they did not honor my frequent flyer status and only allowed me to check 2 bags free!), fill out a departure card, go through passport control, go through customs and go through security. The air conditioning was not on and we were all soaked with sweat when we finally got to the gate area. Thankfully our layover was 6 hours! I was having a panic attack when we came in because the agent wanted to stamp our China Visas. As I mentioned, those are for one time entry and if he had stamped them, we could not have gotten back into China for our concert! I will never, ever route through China again. Last year we went through Korea and all we did was walk from one gate to the next – no bags to pick up! I don’t know of any country except China that makes passengers do this.
I was going to the Lounge to try and check my email but the information the agent gave me sent me to #22. I went there and they told me I had to go somewhere else. I hiked back and forth throughout the terminal for about a half an hour and finally went back into the first Lounge that refused me entry and insisted on being admitted. It worked. When I finally got my email open, had an email from the promoter in China saying our hotel rooms had been canceled because some important Government Officials were in town and needed the rooms. She wanted to put us in a 3 Star Hotel instead of the 4 Star she had us booked into originally – which is what our contract requires. I told her “no way”. Hopefully she will come up with a solution and if not, we may be flying back to Nashville on Monday instead of to Xi’an, China.
Blackberry email was still not working but I had a feeling it was blocked by the Chinese.
Our flight to Fukuoka was 1 ½ hours and they served a “meal” or something that was supposed to be a meal. I would literally starve if I had to spend much time on mainland China. Have never had anything “edible” in China. Now Hong Kong is another matter altogether.
We landed and this time we had our arrival cards completed. As we were getting off, one of the flight attendants handed me my book from the back of my seat. I explained that I didn’t want it and left it intentionally. Then as we were going through Passport Control, another agent came running up with it! That’s Japan for you…impossible to have anything stolen. J All our bags arrived – did I mention that United damaged the case of the soft guitar that they insisted the musician check when we left Chicago…the one they were going to take “extra special care of” so it wouldn’t get damaged? At least we have all the instruments and they were allowed to carry them on to the aircraft for the flight to Fukuoka.
As we exited baggage claim, we were given another form to complete – a Customs Card! Never had to do that before either. Charlie and all the staff were waiting for us with the bus. It was about 1 ½ hours to the hotel instead of 2 hours because there was no traffic. Rooms and Big Mac’s were waiting for us when we arrived. It is almost 3 am and I have to get up at 6 am, so going to shut it down for tonight! I’m sure I’ll think of lots of news I left out of this tomorrow.
Had some really bad news when I got to the hotel. “TAZ” — Charlie Daniels’s keyboard player since forever, was killed in an automobile accident last night. Breaks my heart.
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 14TH – SIGHTSEEING IN KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
Got my 2 ½ hours of sleep and thought I was going for a beautiful run along the river. But it was pouring rain at 6:00 am, so I had to use the “bands” in the room instead. Maybe it was God’s way of telling me to let my foot heal some more. Although I’d done several 3 mile runs this past week with no problem. Anyway, I got my workout in, showered and had a quick breakfast. Ray Scott was telling me last night that he wished he could just sleep all day today. I told him if he slept past 5:30 am, it would be a surprise. Jet lag gets everyone. When I got to the restaurant, guess who was already having breakfast? J And he was eating some of everything, most of which he had no idea what it was.
The rain continued all through our sightseeing at the Park and Castle. We ended up doing shortened versions of both because we were getting so wet. We had umbrellas but it was raining hard enough to still get us wet, especially our feet. One of the musicians slipped on a step at the park restaurant where we had lunch and went all the way down on his rear. Ray twisted his ankle coming down the steps at the castle. So far, nothing broken by anyone though. The lunch at the park was great – but typical Japanese cuisine. Amber isn’t really fond of that but she did find a couple of things she could eat. It was all “vegetarian” except for the sashimi – which was excellent. Hard to eat sushi back in the states once you’ve had the real thing in Japan.
We had about 2 hours “down” time after sightseeing before we had to go to Charlie’s nightclub for the Welcome Party. I answered emails and walked down the Ginza to get a Starbucks, hoping the caffeine would wake me up. The Welcome Party at Charlie’s nightclub is always one of the highlights of the trip. The entertainers are always comment that they have to come to Japan to hear “real” country music. Sad, but mostly true. Everyone sang a couple of songs and Charlie ended the session with the song of his life. Usually, he forgets the words when I’m in the audience but he did good this time. Saw my friends from Coca Cola and the Donut company that are long time sponsors of Country Gold. Except for the fact that everyone in the club was smoking, it was a lot of fun. I left as soon as everyone finished singing because I just can’t sit there and breathe the smoke. My eyes were itching and I was starting to lose my voice.
Have been answering emails for about 3 hours now. It’s after 1 am and time to try and get a few hours sleep. Supposed to be raining again tomorrow on our “sound check day”. We are also supposed to visit the volcano if it is “accessible” (as in, if it isn’t about to erupt). We never know until the morning of the visit if we can go or not. If not, we’ll come back into Kumamoto after sound check and just “shop”. I’d much rather we get all the rain over today and tomorrow so it will be beautiful on concert day!
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15TH – SOUND CHECK DAY AT ASPECTA, MT. ASO:
It was still raining this morning when I got up at 6 am so I did the Power 90 band workout in my room again. Supposed to be beautiful tomorrow for the concert still.
Showered and had a very quick breakfast so I could get back upstairs and Skype with Zac and Zoe. They were just eating dinner when I called them.
We left for the venue on time and there were no “casualties” from the night before. Took the scenic route and it was beautiful but very foggy. Stage was set up and ready for us when we arrived. Sound check was very simple, especially considering that we didn’t bring a sound tech with us from the U.S. I think it actually went a lot quicker and smoother without one. Seiya and I hung up dressing room signs and other signs while the group was sound checking. Then everyone had a quick lunch and we had to make a decision on whether we should try to go to the volcano or not. A call to the office at the crater confirmed that it was raining and fogged in. Visibility was zero, so even if we went, we would not be able to see anything. Everyone opted to come back to the hotel and get in some shopping.
Amber and I walked over to the Ginza and I purchased some mascara that Lindsey wanted. Had to restrain myself from purchasing lots of really cute baby clothes because they will be so much cheaper in China. I took her into my favorite department store – Parco – and she scored. She’s only about 5 feet tall maybe, so all the clothes fit her. She got two great outfits for really reasonable prices. I was the tallest person in the store with flats on and all the Japanese were wearing 3-4 inch heels. Nothing fits me here, especially the shoes. I’d have to buy men’s shoes!
While she was trying on clothes, I was standing next to a couple and the girl was trying on a sweater. I told her it looked cute and looked at the guy for confirmation. He didn’t speak English but said “cute”. I told him he needed to guy it for her and he looked shocked … actually I “acted” out that he should buy it for her. About 5 minutes later, he was standing in line waiting to pay for the sweater. I gave him the “thumbs up” sign. I’m sure I corrupted that young Japanese girl. J
Amber paid with a credit card and the sales clerk – who also didn’t speak English – kept holding up her fingers and counting to 4. We thought she wanted a PIN and told her we don’t have one. She kept counting on her fingers and would not complete the sale. I finally called Seiya to interpret for us. Evidently, you have a choice of making the entire payment or having the amount billed in 2, 3 or 4 separate payments. Very strange.
We went to dinner at Angelo – my favorite Italian Restaurant and was not disappointed. I had their special mushroom soup and spaghetti aglioli. My friend Hiromi also joined us for dinner.
Back in the room by 9 pm and going to try and be in bed by 10 pm tonight. My 2 and 3 hours of sleep a night is catching up with me.
Sunday, October 16th – 23rd Annual Country Gold Concert – Aspecta, Mt. Aso:
Made it in bed by 10:30 pm but woke up several times before I had to get up. Got in a long Skype call before my morning jog. Weather was beautiful and perfect. Didn’t see any other joggers out though which was unusual. Will go again tomorrow morning before we leave for China.
We left the hotel at 10 am for the drive up to Aspecta. Once we arrived, it was pretty much non-stop all day long. Arrived about 11:30 am and interviews started shortly thereafter and lasted until around 2 pm. Then the artists signed autographs for over an hour. A meeting with the sponsors was next on the agenda and then it was “show time” for my group.
The concert kicked off with Charlie and the Cannonballs as he has done for the last 22 years! A Japanese female singer named “Olive” was next followed by “Junction 87”. Allison Brown was on tour in Japan and she performed for the event as well. Then there were sponsor plaque presentations and Ray Scott kicked off our group’s shows. He did a great job and audience loved him. Amber was next and being the only female in our group, she was the “darling” of the event. Billy closed out the show and have to say it was a fantastic lineup of talent. The audience and promoter and staff thought so too. Everything ran like clockwork and we finished exactly on time. The “Finale” with everyone was a bit of a cluster as it always is….no one knew how to end it but fortunately Billy jumped in and got it closed out. I was really surprised that there were not fireworks this year. First time without them, I think.
We had our Kampi (toast) in the Green Room then took the bus back to the hotel. I think most of the group went over to Charlie’s nightclub. I never go there on Saturday or Sunday night because it is packed with people from the festival – all who smoke. L
I walked down the Ginza and found a little hole in the wall restaurant where I could be a bowl of Udon noodles and some sushi. This will be the last edible food I’ll have (other than breakfast tomorrow morning at the hotel and lunch at the airport) for 4 days – until I leave China and arrive Hong Kong.
Back in my room and trying to get everything packed up. We leave for the airport at 10 am tomorrow morning. Much better than the 4 am departure we usually have!