WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY, APRIL 16-17, 2008: Today we left Nashville for Kumamoto, Japan for the 15th Annual Country Sunshine Concert. Hard to believe I’ve been working with the event for 15 years. Kumamoto is like a second home to me since I’ve been there 20 times every October, 15 times every Spring and once just for business. Charlie Nagatani and his family feel like my own family. “We” is new up-and-coming female Ashley Monroe and her musicians/crew – total of 8 people including me….very small group compared to some of my tours. I have traveled the world with two of her musicians. Her sound tech and one other musician went to Iraq with Josh Gracin for me over the 4th of July last year. I wasn’t able to go with them but they are still talking about how the tour changed their lives. A very good feeling! Everyone was on time for check-in at the airport and my friends at NWA made it quick and painless. We actually had less luggage than I anticipated, so no excess charges. I hope the international flights don’t change to one piece of checked in the future. Will be impossible to comply with that because of the musical instruments. We had about an hour before boarding and Ashley and I sneaked a 15 minute massage. Hoping that helps with some of the tension I constantly carry around in my neck and shoulders. It was actually a pretty good massage for a 15 minute “chair” version. I stopped by the Delta Crown Room to say hello to a friend who works there and then it was time to board. Only an hour and a half flight to Detroit and no turbulence. It did feel strange when we took off though because I’ve been flying the little planes between Nashville and DC for the past few weeks. And, everyone KNOWS how much I love to fly commercially. The man sitting next to me coughed and blew his nose the entire trip. I brought out my trusty Zicam Swabs and am hoping they worked. Landed in Detroit and had almost 2 hours before boarding. Ashley and her guys went to find something to eat and I hit the World Club to try and answer the 84 emails that came in during the flight to Detroit. Have several projects at “deadline”, so not working while I’m traveling is never an option. Flight to Osaka left pretty much on time. I’m happy because there is no one sitting in the seat beside me. That rarely happens. This flight is 14 hours. Then we have another one hour flight to Fukuoka and a 2 hour bus ride to Kumamoto. Should be in my hotel room by midnight Thursday night. From the time I left Nashvile until I get into the hotel room, almost 30 hours will have passed. That’s a long day – only it’s two days. Flight to Osaka was fine until the last 4 hours. I started feeling very nauseous. Went into the toilet, put the lid down and just sat there for almost the entire 4 hours, praying I wouldn’t throw up. I took enough Phenagren to knock me out for a week. Must have worked. When we got off the plane, Ashley was going through the same thing. We couldn’t think of anything that we both ate that might have caused it. Then, it hit me — we both had a massage and as you know, you MUST drink lots of water after a massage or it will make you nauseous. Neither of us drank the amount we should have and that’s why we are paying for our mistake! The flight attendants did not give my group their Immigration and Customs forms, so we spent about 30 minutes filling those out. Then picked up all our luggage and went through Customs. Charlie and Shoji were waiting for us and we went to the ANA counter to re-check everything. Once we got checked in again and headed for the gate, I thought it was strange that we went downstairs to a gate area that I had never seen before. They put us on a bus (which isn’t unusual in Japan) and we pulled up to a TURBO-PROP. After the hair-raising experience I had last week (which included me promising to NEVER fly again if I lived through that one), I was not happy. I flew back from DC in horrible weather and when the pilot landed, he got 6 feet from touching down and shot back up again. So, we landed TWICE in bad weather! It was raining in Japan, so we had lots of turbulence on this flight, too. Fortunately, I had so much phenagren in me, I really didn’t care. J Flight took a little over an hour and we landed in Fukuoka. Charlie’s son and Mr. Tanaka were waiting for us with a really nice bus. Ashley and I slept the entire bus ride to the hotel.Hotel had everything ready for us to check in. I realized I had a migraine the minute I walked into the lobby. Oh well! An even bigger disaster is the fact that I forgot my convertor that changes my 3 prong computer plug to the two prong outlet. Current is the same but none of the outlets here accept three prong. I always bring 2-3 converters with me and walked out without any this time. Think my mind must have been somewhere else when I packed.So, it is a little after 1 a.m. here and I am being forced to go to bed. I only have a little bit of battery power left and also forgot to bring my extra battery. Another thing I never forget!Busy day tomorrow. Will buy a plug so I can email a longer report.Jude
FRIDAY, APRIL 18TH, 2008 Didn’t get in bed until 2:30 am and got up at 6:30 am. Actually woke up at 4:20 am and thought I had overslept. That happened to just about everyone in the group. You sleep this really “dead sound” sleep with a full lifetime of dreams and wake up only to find you’ve slept one hour! Got up and went jogging. Wind is blowing and it’s chilly – more so than I can ever remember in April. It rained and all the cherry blossoms have dropped off the trees. L After my 5 mile run, I stopped and got a cup of hot coffee from a vending machine (yes, they have rows of hot drinks and rows of cold drinks) because it’s actually better than anything at Starbucks (which wasn’t open that early!). Then I went into a couple of 7-11’s to look for the plug adapter. Really didn’t expect to find it until an electronics store opened, but I actually found something that would work. My life just got much better. As I was paying, 3 Japanese guys walked past me. One evidently spoke English as he said “Good Morning”. I answered him and one of the guys with him was watching me and tripped over a rug in the front of the door. He went all the way down – face down – on the sidewalk! I was so embarrassed for him but his friend who spoke English only said, “My Fliend had too much to dlink rast night”! Came back to my room, showered, gave wake-up calls, and answered as many emails as possible before meeting everyone in the lobby. Our first stop was a visit with the Mayor of Kumamoto. It’s the same Mayor they had last year and he is terrific. Very personable and an extremely good looking Japanese man. Can’t tell how old he is because when they are 70, they still look 30. Wish I knew their secret. I was impressed that even though he has a large delegation in Kumamoto for the grand opening of part of the Kumamoto Castle on Sunday, he still took time to visit with us. We all gave speeches, exchanged gifts and took photos. After the visit with the Mayor, we went to the Kumamoto Castle. Ever since I’ve been coming here, it’s been under some sort of “renovation”. Finally, this Sunday, the new area will be unveiled. We saw the outside but were not allowed to go inside. The castle has about 5 floors with display cases and as many times as I’ve been here, I can give the “tour”. They did change a few of the display cases on me and I’m sure the items were relocated to the new building. There is a spectacular view of the entire city of Kumamoto from the top of the castle. And, on a clear day, you can even see Mt. Aso – the active volcano where we hold Country Gold each year. Speaking of volcano, did everyone hear that Nashville had an earthquake last night. Unbelievable. I come to Japan and Nashville gets the earthquake. Last year for this event, I had just gotten into my room when an earthquake hit. Guess I jinxed Nashville this time and kept us safe. After visiting the castle, we went to a restaurant and had a typical Japanese lunch. I had sushi, shashimi, udon soup, and tempura. Everyone tried something different. After the lunch, we visited the Coca-Cola Bottling Company. Our interpreter – Tim (who is Canadian but has lived here 18 years) met up with us. Coca-Cola is the major sponsor of Country Gold and Country Sunshine. Again, we made speeches, took photos, and exchanged gifts. Charlie, Ashley and I were given beautiful bouquets of flowers as well. Too bad we can’t take them home. After that, we were treated to a tour of the plant. Almost everything is automated but they do still employ 86 people. They bottle tea, Coke Zero, and coffee here at this plant. As many times as I have seen the process, I still find it fascinating. We left the Coke plant and went to Suzenghi Park. Showed them the two shrines and replica of Mt. Aso and fed the fish. Lots of photo ops at the park. There was also lots of shops and everyone was able to do some souvenir shopping. Everyone was pretty tired by 5 pm and came back to the hotel to take a nap. I had to answer emails and one of the guys said he couldn’t sleep and walked around the entire time. We all met in the lobby at 7:45 and walked over to Charlie’s nightclub for the Welcome Party. Charlie invites all the sponsors and VIP’s and he and his band perform one set. Then the guest artist gets up and performs a couple of songs. It’s just a fun time. Only bad part is everyone is allowed to smoke in the club. I could barely breathe by the time we left. Ashley left when I did but we left the boys there to enjoy the party. Have been in my room answering emails and working and it’s now 3 am. Guess I’d better try to grab a few hours sleep. Tomorrow is sound check and show day. Then we fly home on Sunday. Very quick trip! Ashley and her guys are so impressed with Japan and the people of the country. Everything is extremely clean and everyone is incredibly nice. One of the reasons this is one of my best events. They are still having a hard time realizing they are actually “in Japan” but it has been an amazing experience for them. They are all really nice and has made my job more like “fun” than “work”. Jude
SATURDAY, APRIL 19TH, 2008: Ever had one of those days/nights where nothing goes right and you can’t seem to get out of the “slump”. I’m in it. Slept 3 hours and got up to jog. Had an email from a friend saying another friend of ours had passed away. Not the kind of news you want to wake up too. Had a good run and the weather is beautiful. We left for sound check on time. The venue that we always use was under renovation last year and now it is really beautiful. Almost all of the tickets are sold out. Sound check has been “painless” and I think we’ll have a great concert. I know Ashley and her guys want to do some shopping this afternoon between sound check and show time. So much for getting any rest between sound check and show call. Worked on email the entire time. Ashley and I took a taxi back over to the venue and she signed autographs for about an hour and a half prior to show time. Met a really nice couple who work for the American Consulate in Fukuoka. The venue was pretty much sold out. Only a few empty seats. Charlie performed first and the sound was pretty bad. Not sure what was going on. Ashley’s performance was flawless and sound was so much better. We all went out to dinner at my favorite Italian restaurant after the concert. Everyone was so tired, it was a pretty low-key gathering. We didn’t linger over dinner since we have to depart the hotel at 5 am tomorrow morning. OUCH! The bus that drives us around had a sign in the window that said, “Countly Sunshine”. Charlie pointed out the mistake to them and today they arrived with a new sign. This one says, “Countory Sunshine”! J Going to try and get a few hours sleep now. Jude
SUNDAY, APRIL 20TH, 2008: In bed at 12:30 am – early for me – but up at 3:30 am – typical of this trip. As I planned, I was the first one of our group in the lobby but thought it was a little strange that our Japanese promoter was not there. He is usually waiting for me. I gave wake-up calls to everyone only to find that they were all awake. Only thing missing by our 5:15 am lobby call was our Japanese staff and our bus! Our sound tech went out with Charlie’s bass player last night and had a bit too much to drink. He had been up all night. When he showed up in the lobby—on time! –, his pants were unzipped and he was talking non-stop. He reeked of alcohol, so everyone was giving him a wide berth and praying they weren’t going to be sitting by him on the flight. J I called the promoter’s son who has a cell phone and always flies with us to Osaka. He was asleep but woke Charlie up for me. Somehow, Charlie had the time of our departure wrong. He thought we needed to depart at 6:30 am instead of 5:30 am. I was going to suggest that we just take taxis (2 hour drive) but all our equipment was on the bus that we had used to ride from the show to the hotel last night. Charlie was able to get the bus there by 6:00 and since there was no traffic, the driver made it to the airport in 1 ½ hours. We are flying JAL to Osaka and usually we fly ANA. Checking in at ANA is always a nightmare and the security personnel are always rude. JAL was a breeze. Very nice staff and took us half the time we usually spend with ANA. We even had time to eat breakfast and shop. Our sound tech avoided the breakfast area entirely. He had a “sock” with him that he had been taking photos of for a friend this entire trip. I went up to him and asked him if he still had it. He confirmed that he did and I suggested he stuff it in his mouth – just teasing him. But, it actually shut him up for a while. J Our flight to Osaka was on time and JAL is so much nicer than ANA. They actually had a first class section on the aircraft….something we never have on ANA. AND, for the first time, we did not have to pick up our luggage in Osaka. It is checked all the way through. Unbelievable. Note for future tours. We did have to go to the check-in counter and get our boarding passes but still made it to the gate with time to spare. The pilot stopped by and spoke to us on his way to the aircraft which was really nice. We were ready to take off when the pilot came on the speaker and said that we were waiting for a new flight plan because Russia had just refused to allow us to fly in their air space as we were originally planned. Wonder what we did to tick Russia off today. So, we left at least a half hour late. We have a really short connection in Detroit, so I’m hoping we don’t miss our flight. The flight is relatively full. No empty seat beside me this time. But a really nice man who works for UPS and has just taken his first trip out of the country. He went to Taipei and I think he is definitely going to enjoy traveling internationally. He’s from Kentucky and a country music fan. He “learned” a lot on this flight – like do NOT leave your window shade up when everyone is trying to sleep and do not suddenly raise it in the middle of the flight when the plane is completely dark inside AND do not turn on your overhead light when people are trying to sleep. J We landed late and I rushed through Immigration and found a nice sky cap that I had used several times with Charlie Daniels. Tipped him big to pull all our luggage and gear and whisk us through Customs. When we got outside Customs to the place where the bags are re-checked, we realized we had two suitcases that weren’t ours. They had “my” red tape on them which means they belonged to someone who had been on one of my tours! Northwest paged the guy and was still paging them as we were rushing to our gate. Feel bad about that! It was someone who was staying in Detroit. I vaguely remember the name of the guy but can’t remember which group he was with. Pretty odd that he would be on a flight with us from Osaka! Our flight to Nashville was very turbulent for a while but the pilot quickly took us down from 32,000 feet to 24,000 feet and it smoothed out. Thankfully it was a big jet, not a little prop plane. Have I mentioned that I don’t like flying in the small prop or small jet planes commercially?
So, now I’m home until Thursday when I go to LA for the weekend and then next week I go to Iraq with actor/director D. B. Sweeney to screen his film for the troops. Will be nice to sleep in my own bed at least for a couple of nights. Jude