PHOTOS (Courtesy of Kensuke Shibata)
WEDNESDAY AND THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14TH AND 15TH – COUNTRY GOLD FESTIVAL IN KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
Had to be at the airport this morning at 4:30 am which meant I had to get up at 3 am. Last night I had to attend the IEBA Conference in Nashville so I didn’t get home until around 10 pm. By the time I finished working, I got in bed at midnight for 2 hours of sleep. L But the awesome surprise at IEBA was, I won “International Buyer of the Year”. Honestly, I was praying the entire ceremony that I wouldn’t win because I absolutely hate to make speeches. I was so nervous all evening just anticipating that I would totally screw up if I had to speak. By dear friend, Ben Slaght, was there with me and coached me through the evening. It is truly a highlight of my career to receive this recognition from such a prestigious organization of my peers.
Everyone was on time this morning and Delta got us all checked in without a glitch. Bucky Covington, Kristen Kelly and Tony Booth are performing and we have 5 musicians with them who will be backing them. Tony is flying out of Houston and meeting us in Atlanta. I have worked with 3 of the musicians previously – “Ducky” who went to Mexico with Bucky a few years ago and Renae and Carco. Carco is a monster pedal steel player and I use Renae every chance I get because she is fantastic on the fiddle. Carco and Renae were both at Country Gold last year. Also on the trip is my dear friend Johnny Garcia who has also traveled the world with me numerous times. It is going to be a fun trip.
After Country Gold, everyone but Tony is going to Korea for a week of performances for the troops. I would have loved to take Tony as well but the troops are so young, they don’t remember his music. If you don’t recognize his name, google him because you will remember his hits from years ago.
I took Kristen in the Delta Lounge for a few minutes and then it was time to board. I think we all slept from the time we sat down until we landed. We had about 2 hours in Atlanta and I spent that entire time answering as many emails in the Lounge as possible. Tony arrived on time and is a sweetheart. When we got in line to board the flight, my first thought upon looking out the window and seeing the plane was that there must be a mistake. The plane looked tiny! Well, it IS tiny. I’ve taken this flight from Atlanta to Narita numerous times this year alone and never been on an aircraft this old and this small. They also don’t have WiFi! I asked “why” when all my other flights have. The flight attendant said that this aircraft hasn’t passed the “bird” test…..evidently there is a test that planes have to take regarding bird strikes and WiFi. Okay – my dear pilot friends reading this Road Report – what’s your explanation for that?
I watched “Max” which is a movie about a military dog. My granddaughter Zoe wanted to see it when it was at the movies but Zac didn’t want too. We opted for me ordering her the DVD. She is supposed to receive the DVD at the end of this month. It was a really great movie and brought back so many memories of my time in Iraq and Afghanistan. I am going to make time to watch it with Zoe because it’s a little over her head. I want to be able to explain the parts to her that she doesn’t understand.
After dinner – which was actually pretty good – I slept for 4 hours! When I woke up, the buttons to raise and lower my seat wouldn’t work. So the seat was stuck in a flat position! The flight attendant was able to forcibly move the seat into an upright position but now it won’t go back down. Guess I’m up for the rest of the flight! Delta had better get ready to throw some miles my way!
As most of you know, I started the Country Gold Festival with Charlie Nagatani in 1989 – 27 years ago! Charlie struggles every year to find funding to keep it going and somehow manages to do so. After the 25th Concert in 2013, he told me that he had lost his major sponsor and wouldn’t be able to hold Country Gold any longer. It was one of the saddest days in my life. Then several months later, he found the money and held the event again last year. It was the first time in 26 years that I was not able to attend. I had booked a 3 week tour for the Bellamys in Australia and couldn’t find flights that would get me to Japan to attend. Lindsey went and did a great job. But, my heart was definitely breaking that weekend. So glad I’m able to go back this year.
A few weeks ago, Mt. Aso – the volcano that we tour every year – erupted. It erupts every so often but this was a “big” one. It was all over YouTube. J It is still closed so we won’t be able to tour it at all this year.
We landed a little late and only two people in the group had filled out the forms necessary for Immigration. They had to stop at a table and fill everything out. I went on through and got carts ready to pick up the luggage/gear. Luggage started coming out but I noticed that none of the bags were coming around on the belt. I walked around to the other side and two Japanese men were taking ALL the bags off the belt and sitting them on the floor! Half our things were sitting there. When everyone finally made it through, we gathered everything and then realized they had not filled out the forms necessary for Customs. So, back to another table to fill those out. Shoji was waiting for us outside Customs and walked us over to another terminal to “check our bags in again” with ANA. ANA has changed their partnership and now associate with United. Thankfully, I am still Priority on United and we were able to check everyone in together. It was really nice not to have to go outside and take a shuttle bus to another terminal to check in. First time that has happened in Narita!
Our flight to Fukuoka was on time and it was a really nice plane. I think the seats were bigger than on the Delta flight over today. It was a 2 hour flight and I think everyone slept the entire time. Charlie and Seiya were waiting for us when we landed. All the luggage/gear made it again and we walked a long way to where our bus was parked. Not sure why it didn’t pull up and pick us up this year. It was another 2 hour bus ride from the Fukuoka Airport to Kumamoto.
When we arrived at the hotel, the rooms were not as requested. Renae and Carco were each given a single room instead of a double room. Everyone in the group was given a smoking room except for me even though we had requested ALL non-smoking rooms. The hotel is completely sold out. It took over an hour to get that sorted out and they still are telling some of the group that they can only stay in the room one night and have to move to another room tomorrow. That is NOT going to happen!
We had a “staff” meeting with Our House and NHK-TV but it quickly fell apart as well as they did not have an interpreter. I called Seiya and asked him to please come back to the hotel and help us. Once he arrived, the meeting went pretty quickly.
I finally got I my room around 1 am and have been answering emails all this time. It’s 4 am now. The wireless completely crashed on my computer while I was working. I was able to reach Greg and he advised me to shut down my computer and start over. Thankfully, that worked.
More tomorrow. Got to get 3 hours sleep. 🙂
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 16TH – SIGHTSEEING DAY IN KUMAMOTO:
Got my 2 ½ hours of sleep and had too many important emails to answer to go jogging this morning. And it was the perfect morning for it….sunny and cool. Maybe tomorrow morning…..
Had a quick breakfast with several of the group and then met in the lobby for a 10:30 departure. However, we had one “casualty” from last night’s visit to Charlie’s club so we were late departing the hotel.
First stop on the tour was the Suizenji Park. Seiya, Charlie and I were the “tour guides” this year. It was such a beautiful day and everyone enjoyed walking around looking at the shrines, lake (feeding the HUGE fish), and replica of Mt. Fuji. At noon, we stopped in one of the restaurants for our traditional Japanese lunch. Some enjoyed this more than others. The only part that isn’t a lot of fun for me is sitting on the floor on a cushion to eat. Our legs are just too long to accommodate that style of eating. The food was excellent and other than the rice and noodles, was carb free – lots of Japanese veggies and fish. The dessert was some sort of crushed up grapes that was terrific.
The group had about 45 minutes to shop at the park after lunch before heading to Kumamoto Castle for sightseeing. It’s an old Shogun Warrior Castle with lots of history. We left the park at around 3:00 pm and everyone had “free time” to nap or shop. I worked and then walked around the shopping area looking for a “toy shop”. Found a few toys in the Department Stores but nothing I was looking for – Pokemon stuffed animals! I grabbed a quick bowl of Udon and then met everyone at Charlie’s nightclub for the Welcome Party. Charlie sang two songs – including the “song of his life” – and then had Yumi come up and sing a couple of songs. Tony, Kristen, and Bucky each sang two songs and the fans loved them. Kristen sang “Me and Bobby McGee” as one of her two songs and a Japanese man was going crazy for that song. I got him on video. J
Several people left Charlie’s club when I left (mostly because of the cigarette smoke!). I walked back to the hotel and have been working non-stop since 9:30 pm. It’s now almost 2 am so I’ll try to close down and get another couple of hours sleep before getting up early to work some more!
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 17TH – SOUND CHECK DAY AT ASPECTA:
Was able to get up and go for a 3 mile jog this morning. Weather was absolutely gorgeous once again.
We left for the venue at 11:30 am this morning. No casualties today. Took the group up the “scenic” ride which includes a one-lane road with two lane traffic and steep drops off the side of the mountain. But the scenery is breathtaking.
Yumi was finishing her sound check when we arrived and our group was able to get on the stage by around 1:15 pm. Tony Booth was the first to sound check. He had intended on playing acoustic guitar but made the decision to switch to a bass. The one he played for sound check was a 5 string but Charlie was able to locate a 4 string for him for the show tomorrow. Since Tony and Kristen have never performed with these musicians, they were actually rehearsing their sets rather than doing a sound check. As anticipated, there were lots of glitches and it took longer than we thought for each artist.
The view of Mt. Aso on the drive up and from the stage was one of “lots of smoke” coming out of the crater. Later in the evening when the temperature dropped significantly, the smoke turned very black rather than the gray smoke that had been spewing all day. Photos are posted on Facebook.
We were back at the hotel by around 8 pm and my dear friend Hiromi came by to escort us to dinner. Tony, Kristen, Johnny, and I went with her and Hasimoto (our interpreter) to the sushi bar that they had tried to find last night. As you might guess, it was excellent. My body isn’t accustomed to eating rice, so I was full long before I finished what I had ordered. Asking them to make my sushi without rice in Japan is not an option. Ha!
Got back to the hotel at around 10 pm and I’ve been catching up on emails and work. It’s 1:30 am here and I’m going to bed very soon. Have to depart to the venue at 10 am tomorrow. Going to be another beautiful day with perfect weather!
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 18TH – COUNTRY GOLD CONCERT AT ASPECTA:
Woke up to another perfectly beautiful day. Not enough time to jog but got in a pretty decent workout with my “bands”. We departed for the venue at 10 am and then it was non-stop work.
The day began with Press Interviews while Charlie was performing. The Fukuoka Consul came over to give a speech. She’s a terrific lady and remembered me from when we met several years ago. We started rotation of the autograph signing and the performances. Tony had a great performance and the audience loved his traditional country sound. The Governor and Mayor made speeches and then there was a “sponsor” presentation.
Kristen was next up and boy can that girl SING. The audience loved her as well. She went out to sign autographs after her performance and I walked around the venue to check out the booths and the “crowd”.
Bucky was the last on stage and gave a wonderful, high energy performance. Near the end of his set, Bucky climbed down some scaffolding stairs and went out into the audience. They went crazy!
I think the festival offered the right blend of something for everyone – tradition country, beautiful female with a strong vocal, and high energy entertaining male. Everyone joined Charlie on stage for the finale – “You Are My Sunshine” and then went downstairs for the “Campai” (toast).
Everyone who attends this festival, still says it’s the best out of all the ones they have performed at for me.
After several days of “non-stop sushi eating”, the group was ready for a change. I swallowed my pride and took them to Angelo’s for the best Italian food maybe in the world. A couple of years ago, I had gotten very angry at Angelo because we had reservations for 25 people but the service was horrible. It was horrible because they served the few Japanese in the restaurant before they would serve us. He apologized and the food was as amazing as ever. We even let him take his customary “Polaroid” after the meal. J Hiromi had met us at the hotel and walked to the restaurant with us. She’s been such a great help!
Several of the guys walked over to Charlie’s club for a few minutes but most of us just came back to pack and get in bet early. We have to be in the lobby at 6:15 am for a 6:30 am departure. We’ll be in Korea around noon tomorrow!
It was so wonderful to see all my special friends in Kumamoto again. I’m not going to list them because I’m sure to forget someone!
Last night I went to bed at around 1:30 am and set the alarm for 6 am. I woke up and thought I had turned the alarm off and jumped out of bed to get in the shower. When I looked at the clock, it was 2:33 am! Not going to do that again tonight!
MONDAY, OCTOBER 19TH – JAPAN TO KOREA:
Forgot to mention that of course, Charlie and the Cannonballs opened the concert as usual. Yumi Godsey also performed. Yumi was in Charlie’s band a long, long time ago.
We met in the lobby at 6:15 pm and Hiromi, Charlie, and Toshiko all came to say good-bye. Shoji and Seiya rode with us to the airport in Fukuoka. It should have taken us 2 hours but we hit rush hour traffic a few miles from the airport and it really slowed us down.
We are on Korean Air from Fukuoka to Seoul and they are “supposed” to partner with Delta. However, when we checked in, they would not allow everyone to check a second bag free of charge. I argued with them. Seiya argued with them. They would not budge. So, I took a picture of the man’s “badge” who was giving us such a hard time and told him I would be contacting Delta Airlines. He was not very happy about that.
Most of us went upstairs and had breakfast before heading to the gate. The plane was a really nice aircraft. Usually is when the flight is only a little over an hour! It was a very smooth flight and we landed on time. All our equipment and luggage arrived and Joanne met us with a really nice, new bus for the 1 hour drive to Yongsan Army Garrison in Seoul.
I have spent a lot of time at Yongsan for more than 2 decades but haven’t been here in many years. We arrived a little after 2 pm and our first stop before checking into the Dragon Hill Lodge was to go get processed for our CAC cards. THAT was an ordeal. We had to take a number and there was 14 people ahead of us. A sign said each card takes 20 minutes to process. There were only two people working there and they closed at 4 pm. When I was finally called back, one of the two staff members got up and made coffee, stood and drank a cup and then left for a bathroom break for about 10 minutes. As soon as the other staff member finished with me, she did the same. That is why it was taking 20 minutes per person.
Once I got my card, I walked across the street and got everyone checked in at Dragon Hill Lodge. Boy, talk about wonderful memories from this place. And so many of you who will be reading this were here with me at some time throughout the years! It’s changed a little but not drastically….same restaurants and shops.
I got everyone checked in and the group was just finishing up with the CAC card processing. We were all starving because we missed lunch and some of the group missed breakfast and lunch. Kristen, Johnny and I went down to the Green Street Restaurant and ate and then met up with Jadan and walked over to Itaewon. They were just “overwhelmed” with all the shops. Kristen bought a couple of pairs of earrings and a beautiful leather jacket – both incredible deals, of course. Johnny is going to try to have a suit made when we get to Osan and I take him to Mr. Oh’s….my tailor there. I know he is still there because I saw his shop when I was there in August.
We were back in the Dragon Hill Lodge by 8:30 pm. Working away in anticipation of the office opening in a few minutes now!
We have AFN Radio early tomorrow morning and then sound check and performance.