Today we departed the U.S. for Japan. The group this year consists of Brad Paisley, The Wilkinsons, Chalee Tennison, The Derailers, Claire Lynch, two TV crews, a reporter, a photographer, and my “staff”. We had 58 people total but lost 2 the night before we departed — travel agent (whose mother-in-law was hospitalized) and an agent from the William Morris Agency who had to cover someone else’s territory due to a heart attack.
Check in went smoothly at the Nashville airport and the flight left on time. We arrived Cinncinnati with no problems and then flew to Portland. Everyone in the group connected in Portland and I didn’t lose a single person! Flew from Portland to Nagoya, again with no problems. Even the flight attendants were relatively “civil” compared to the Northwest cronies.
It was the end of “smooth sailing” once we hit Japan. We landed over 30 minutes late and our connection time was already very tight. We had to clear immigration, pick up all our luggage and equipment and then re-check it. We were flying All Nippon Airlines from Nagoya to Fukuoka and they had set up a special “re-check” counter outside of Customs for us to re-check our luggage/equipment. Much more covenient than having to take everything via buses to the next terminal. However, they insisted on checking each person in individually which would have been fine except they couldn’t read their “English” names. I had to get behind the counter and pull boarding passes for everyone. They usually just give me all the boarding passes and I pass them out to everyone. They also insisted on tearing off all our luggage tags — although everything was tagged for Fukuoka — and putting on new tags for Fukuoka — go figure! We then had to take bus to the next terminal. I was the last to arrive and found Brad Paisley’s manager in a panic because his bag had been left on one of the shuttle buses. We had to wait for all the buses to come back around to find it. Fortunately NO ONE steals in Japan and it eventually showed up. Brad’s production manager had changed the routing on his airline ticket and did not have his ticket for the flight to Fukuoka as our travel agent had tried to deliver it to the hotel the night before we left and the messenger took it to the wrong hotel. ANA was refusing to let him board even though we had secured another boarding pass. Finally got that settled and had to absolutely SPRINT for the plane. Somehow this always happens in Nagoya.
But, we made it and landed in Fukuoka where we waited and waited for our luggage and equipment to come out. It never did. Finally, they told us that it was at the baggage terminal and we had to go identify it and they would load it straight on to the truck for us. This cost us another hour getting this settled. Keep in mind that we left the Nashville airport over 24 hours ago! Finally found everything and the buses rolled only to be told that we had “left” the President of All Nippon at the terminal and had to go back for him. Another 30 minute delay. Thank God we have such a great group of understanding folks this year.
Finally made it to the hotel — now 30 hours since we left Nashville. Everything was ready for us — room keys, McDonalds burgers, Kumamoto info — everything except the rooming lists they always provide with the room keys. Lindsey, Penny and I had to go stick rooming lists under everyone’s doors. Talk about tired by then, but we still had to attend a Production Meeting. It’s now 1 am in Japan — 10 am in Nashville. Definitely time for me to close.
Here’s a photo of Steve Wilkinson checking in at the Nashville Airport. We were going to get some great shots of everyone when we landed but we were scrambling so hard to make the flight that no one had time.
More tomorrow and better photos.
Absolutely perfect weather today. Was over my flu enough to get up and run 5 miles at 6 am. Definitely helped.
First on the agenda to day was the Press Conference for the artists at the Governor’s Office. It was especially sad for many of us because the Governor who has been with us for many years passed away this year. Everyone who met Governor George, loved him. When the artists presented him gifts during previous press conferences, if it was an item that could be worn, he immediately put it on. (Thankfully no one ever gave him pants!). He also showed up at the Festival with the clothing on in support of country music.
Today we met with the Deputy Governor as the Governor was out of town. He was extremely nice and promised to support Charlie and Country Music. We will meet the Governor at the show on Sunday and believe it or not, it’s a female (and in Japan, yet!!!). Former Governor George’s widow attended and we presented her with a plaque in memory of her wonderful husband.
From the Governor’s Office, we visited Suizenji Park. I have to say that this particular group of artists were much more impressed with all the “sightseeing” activities and much more inquisitive as a whole than any group I’ve brought over here in my 12 years of doing this. They had a wonderful time and we got some great photos. Everyone bought their “fortune” in front of the temple. If you get a bad fortune, you take it and tie in on some trees nearby. Amanda Wilkson did not get a good fortune and tied hers off. Hopefully it will pass to someone else.
We had lunch at a Sumo Wrestler Restaurant where we learned that the former owner had just passed away last month. He was the one who founded the restaurant. He had dreams of becoming a Sumo Wrestler but did not make it. Instead he opened the restaurant. We had a great, traditional, Japanese meal and everyone took their shoes off and sat on the floor. Even the non-sushi eaters tried everything. After the meal, they had men wade out into the moat, scoop up a fish and fling it to the sushi chef. He immediately chopped of the head and tail, cut it up into four pieces and then each table was given a basket. He threw the fish to the tables and if you caught it in your basket, they came around and cut it up and you ate it — about 60 seconds from swimming around in the water to your stomach. That’s fresh!!!! Almost everyone caught their fish except one of the Derailers. It got caught in an artificial tree. He was not going to be defeated and stood on his table and shook the limb until it fell out into his basket. Quite a show.
We visited the Kumamoto Castle next which is an old Shogun Warrior Castle dating back to the 16th Century. The first five floors are a museum filled with amazing artifacts. The top floor is open and affords a spectacular view of all of Kumamoto. It was hazy, but you could almost make out Mt. Aso (the volcano where everyone will perform on Sunday) in the distance.
Dinner was arranged at various restaurants. Several of us went to a sushi bar where the sushi revolves in front of you and you pull off the plate that you want. You pay according to the color of the plate. It was very inexpensive and absolutely delicious. Our TV crew from the Collective ventured out on their own and ended up in a little family owned restaurant with only 7 seats. They were served the Kumamoto delicacy — raw horse. They had it served 4 different ways and also ate some sushi. Said they loved it. Yuck. Can’t do that one!
The Welcome Party at Charlie’s club was the highlight of the day. After Charlie and his band performed, each artist got on stage to do 2 songs. It was the ultimate jam session. I think the artists were especially excited to know that the people of Japan LOVE traditional country music. Brad Paisley finished off the show and presented Charlie with a $2,000 guitar as a gift from the company which endorses him.
I know that this group is the most excited and interested that I have ever brought over here in my 12 years of doing this. What a pleasure it is to work with them and see their excitement over all the new experiences every day.
Tomorrow is sightseeing at the volcano if it is not on “alert” which happens very frequently. We are rarely allowed to go up and look over into the crater because of the sulfuric smoke but keeping our fingers crossed for tomorrow. We also do sound check then back to town for Charlie’s nightclub.
Bus call was 8:30 am and we only had one “casualty” from Charlie’s nightclub the previous evening. All the drinks are free and some musicians just don’t know when to call it quits. Won’t give any names, but one fellow never made it up to sound check today and one heaved all the way up the mountain.
Several of them took a taxi back to the hotel last night. When they arrived, one guy who is a very important member of the Nashville community, threw the taxi door open and started running down the alley. (The others thought he was trying to get out of paying the fare!). He tripped over a chain and went flat on his back. The guys left in the taxi were laughing so hard they couldn’t get out and one rather LARGE player had to be pulled out. They ran over to see if the one who had fallen was okay and he was lying on his back trying to light a cigarette! He was pretty sheepish today….
One group went up to the “active” volcano while the other group did a sound check. Not only did everything run as smooth as could be, we even finished up early — unheard of with a festival, huh? The stage is beautiful this year with a new black backdrop and lights — we’ve never had lights before because the concert ends just at dusk. It’s so nice this year.
I keep forgetting to mention that Claire Lynch has a herniated disk in her back and must have surgery as soon as she returns to the U.S. What a trooper she has been this entire trip — that, or I want some of the drugs the doctor gave her to get her through this!
Still holding to my statement that this is the best group of artists “overall” that have ever come to Country Gold. We’ll see if that’s still true after the show tomorrow night.
Jude As you can see, I’m very late with the final day report. My computer froze after the concert and crashed! Talk about a panic attack. Finally got Dell on the phone the next morning and got it up and going again. Don’t know how long it will last!
Woke up on Sunday, concert day, to beautiful weather. Could not have been any nicer! Got to the venue and already had a huge crowd waiting for the show to begin. The concert went perfectly. Charlie and the Cannonballs opened, followed by the Derailers — who absolutely blew everyone away. They sold all the merchandise they brought with them and even went into their dressing rooms and got some extra neckties and sold those. They could have sold the clothes they were wearing! Claire Lynch was next and the Japanese love Bluegrass. Chalee Tennison and the Wilkinsons were equally well-received. They loved the harmonies of the Wilkinsons. Brad Paisley was a “true” headliner! He learned several sentences in Japanese (called one of his musicians a Nerd and said he was looking for a girlfriend. ‘Course the musician didn’t know that’s what he said!). He threw out guitar picks to the crowd and they went wild.
First year the Finale has actually “worked”. The song was “Ya’ll Come” and it went so smooth it was frightening. Had a huge fireworks display to close the evening and a “Kampai” (toast) at the end of the night.
The new Governor (female) came to the concert and she was absolutely lovely. Brought her cowboy hat and boots and made her speech in these. Am attaching a photo of her, Brad, and Charlie.
The most touching part of the entire trip is a wonderful, sad story. A Downs Syndrome boy has attended every concert (11 of them!) since 1989. He always came backstage in his wheelchair and the artists signed autographs for him after the concert. When he was 20 years old, the doctors gave him 6 months to live. He lived to be 30 — passing away last month. His mother called Charlie to come sing “My Name is Goodtime Charlie” at his funeral. His mother said it was his love of country music that added the years to his life. I went out into the crowd and his mother and grandmother were there with his wheelchair, his ashes, his photo, and all his autographed Country Gold Programs from the very beginning.
We went to a wonderful Italian Restaurant on Saturday and Sunday night. I found it about 7 years ago and always return there each year. The owner is Japanese/Italian and speaks very little English. The menu is printed totally in Japanese and he tries to “interpret”! It’s like playing charades! We guess words that “sound like” whatever he is saying. I think I won but only because I’m more familiar with the menu.
Today everyone flew home and I just arrived in Hong Kong. No major problems except that we had to pick up 64 pieces of luggage in Nagoya and take a tiny airport bus with no bays to the next terminal. But, we made it and everyone still had some shopping time to spare before their flight.
It was absolutely the most wonderful group of artists we have taken to Japan in 12 years. And, everyone on the trip could not have been more complimentary. Brad Paisley was really disappointed that he was missing the 75th Grand Ole Opry Celebration. But, he said there was no place in the world he would rather have been than right there in Japan. He said when the Derailers took the stage (HE LOVES THEIR MUSIC!), he realized that it was 11 pm at on Saturday night in Nashville and the two best country music events in the entire world were taking place — the Grand Ole Opry and Country Gold. He could not have given us a higher compliment!
I think we should just take the exact same group back next year. When you reach perfection — why change it?
Going to bed so I can shop, shop, shop tomorrow!