WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 13TH – THURSDAY, OCTOBER 14TH: NASHVILLE TO KUMAMOTO, JAPAN VIA DETROIT, SEOUL KOREA, AND FUKUOKA JAPAN:
Leaving Nashville today with a total of 10 people for the 22nd Annual Country Gold Festival in Kumamoto, Japan. Will also be taking the first-ever Country Music concert into Shenzhen, China. Then, I am treating myself to 3 days in my favorite place in the whole world — Hong Kong. One of my dearest friends and traveling companions – Iris, the promoter from Switzerland – will meet me in Hong Kong and we will shop, shop, shop!
The entertainers include Buddy Jewell, Julie Roberts and Clinton Gregory using one group of musicians. I have toured overseas with everyone before except for Julie, one musician and one crew member. Will be a fun trip. Especially nice to be working with the drummer – Tim – again as he was in the Desert Rose Band when I managed them.
Went to bed at 1 am last night with the alarm set for 4 am. Lindsey’s babies are sick with ear infections (again) so expected to be woke up several times in that 3 hours. I was right. Got about 1 hour of sleep. She has an appointment tomorrow to schedule having tubes put in their ears. Sure hope that helps. Before the “Z’s”, I rarely caught a cold. Now I seem to have one every 2 weeks….like I caught yesterday, so flying is miserable. Fortunately my doctor hooked me up with a Z-pack a few weeks ago for the trip to Iraq and I didn’t have to take it. Have it with me, just in case.
Arrived at the airport at around 6:15 am and most of the people were already there. We were scheduled to meet at 6:30 am and only one person arrived at around 6:45 am. No problem checking in the luggage/gear and no excess charges! Always a pleasant surprise. We are flying Delta (operated by Korean Air out of Detroit). So, a short 1 ½ hour flight to Detroit and then a 14 hour flight to Seoul, 3 hour layover, and another 1 1/2 hour flight to Fukuoka, Japan to take a 2 hour bus ride to Kumamoto. Hopefully we will arrive at the hotel tonight before midnight. Then we have a staff meeting!
Flight out of Nashville was on time and I was asleep before the wheels ever lifted. Slept the entire flight. We only had about 30 minutes in Detroit before boarding our flight to Seoul, so no time to download my emails to answer them on the flight over off-line. Did lots of business in that 30 minutes we had in Detroit – all via Blackberry and mobile phone.
Boarded the plane on time and about 10 minutes after boarding, I saw a guy in an orange vest with a roll of duct tape head into the cockpit and all flight crew came out of the cockpit. Not a good sign. I know what those vests mean when they head into a cockpit as I was stranded overnight in DC this past week because of “mechanical problems”! A few minutes later, the pilot announced that there was a problem with some of the “sensors” and it was necessary to shut down the air conditioning system to hopefully fix the trouble. Of course, that didn’t work. Next attempt was to shut down the entire computer system. Fortunately that worked, but by then we were already almost an hour late departing. Then we sat and sat again. Seems we had to wait for a new flight plan to be printed out and “delivered” to the aircraft. Thirty minutes later, that came in. Then we sat and sat. Again, the pilot announced that all the new data on passenger and equipment weight and fuel had to be loaded into the computer before we could depart. Thirty minutes later, we pushed back. Good thing we have the 3 hour layover in Seoul. Delta was unable to issue boarding passes for that flight because it is on JAL. Should still make our connection.
As I said, this is the 22nd Anniversary of the Country Gold Festival. It’s much different from the first 20 years in that previously it was the biggest festival I produced. We brought 5-6 entertainers with all their bands/crew every year until last year. Bad economy is worldwide and cutbacks had to be made. I’m just thankful that the promoter – Charlie – loves country music and is able to continue this wonderful tradition.
Flight was pretty much uneventful after the “duct tape” incident. J No turbulence. Food was “edible”. Movie sucked. I watched some “guy” movie about a basketball team getting together for the coach’s funeral many years after high school. Was a lot of “guy” humor. They ran out of the individual bottles of water and just quit bringing by glasses of water. I had to flag down a flight attendant and request more water. She asked if I wanted my little bottle refilled and I thought that was a better idea than a glass. When she brought it back, she didn’t bring the cap to the bottle. Duh! Slept a lot..almost through breakfast. When I woke up, they had served several of the passengers. When the flight attendant came to me, she said, “Let me see what they have left in the back”…which is not a good sign. She came back and offered me beef or pasta for breakfast. I looked around and more than half the cabin had not been served. I asked her why they were out of breakfast food in the first class cabin when it was obvious only a few passengers had been served. She was very sweet but said it was catering’s fault. She knew I was not happy to have paid for a first class ticket and receive that kind of service. When she brought my “pasta” out, it mysteriously turned out to be eggs. Said they were able to find “one more breakfast meal”. Hmmmm.
Now, here’s the part that really ticked me off. Every time I got up to go to the toilet, it was blocked off so that the pilots could use it. And it wasn’t blocked off for a few minutes, they were in there for 20-30 minutes at a time. When I finally got in one, I checked to make sure there wasn’t a shower in there! I have no idea why a man would need to be in a public toilet on an aircraft for 30 minutes. And, the bad part is, the pilots blocked it off for 45 minutes just prior to landing! Everyone was lined up waiting and most eventually had to give up and sit back down for landing. Not sure why the pilots didn’t have a little more consideration for the passengers who were obviously paying their salaries that month. It was a Delta plane but operated by Korean Air. Pilots were Americans and flight crew was about half and half.
Really glad we had a long layover in Seoul. We were unable to get boarding passes issued for the Seoul to Fukuoka, Japan flight. We had to take a shuttle to the main terminal, go through security, then try to locate a “Transfer Desk” for boarding passes. Twice the information desk gave us wrong directions. We finally arrived at the correct spot to secure the passes and the man was very helpful. One of the musicians had thrown his old boarding pass away as we went through security and it had his claim checks for his bags on the back of it. Had to send him back to dig it out of the trash so they could check him in. They probably could have done it without the claim checks but I knew he would need them when we land in Fukuoka since they match claim checks with bags before they will let you leave baggage claim.
Flight to Fukuoka is on time and it’s a Korean Air jet – much nicer than the plane we took for the LONG trip over, of course. All Korean flight crew and very sweet. Very short flight – only 1 hour and 20 minutes. EASY getting through Customs at Fukuoka. THIS is the way to route from now on.
Charlie and his staff were waiting with a nice bus for the 2 hour ride. Had the Big Macs and room key waiting for everyone when we arrived at the hotel.
Art and I had a short production meeting. Things are a little “tense” this year because Ambassador Roos will attend. Lots of “security” surrounding his visit. Sounds like a very nice man who likes country music. We have never had an Ambassador attend in the 22 year history of the event, so I like him already. J
It is after 3 am and I need to get up at 6 am. So goodnight. Jude
FRIDAY, OCTOBER 15TH – SIGHTSEEING IN KUMAMOTO, JAPAN:
When I got to my room last night, I noticed that the TV’s look different and was hoping for an English language channel. I tried several times to turn it on with the remove and finally succeeded. But the batteries were too weak to change channels. Went down to the front desk and asked if they could give me new batteries but had to argue with the desk clerk for several minutes. He finally took the remote and said he would bring it back up to my room. He knocked on the door about 10 minutes later and had the remote. He was motioning and saying something in Japanese so I tried to get him to come into the room. He was extremely reluctant to do so, and I basically “pulled” him in anyway. He handed the remote to me….still motioning and talking…and I turned the TV on. I then managed to switch to another channel….only it was the Japanese PORN channel. Of course, the remote would not move off that channel for several minutes even though I’m frantically pushing the channel button! So embarrassing.
Went to bed at 3:30 am FINALLY but got up at 6 am to jog. It was beautiful outside…warm and sunny. Ran my usual 5 miles along the river and felt so much better – even with the lack of sleep. Had a quick, very light breakfast and went over itinerary changes with Rene’. Showered, answered more email and met everyone in the lobby at 10 am.
First stop was Suijenzi Park and this year we had “official guides” – two very nice, professionally trained ladies. They gave everyone the history of the park and we took lots of photos. Lunch was a traditional Japanese style meal with everyone removing their shoes and sitting on the floor to dine. Lots of “different” food this year but all excellent. My favorite new item was a grilled eggplant. Yummy!
After a little shopping at the park, we made our way to the Kumamoto Castle. View from the top was one of the best ever in my 32 trips up there – clear day and you could see all the way to Mt. Aso. We left there around 3 pm and walked to the Ginza to do some “power” shopping for Lindsey. Came back to the hotel and changed for dinner and the “Welcome Party” at Charlie’s club. Tim and I went with Rene’ to a Bam-Bam Sushi Bar. That’s where all the sushi comes out on a conveyor belt and you pick the one you want and pay according to the color of the plate. The sushi was excellent but the selection was almost non-existent. Usually there are dozens of different choices but there were only 3-4 at this place. I ended up ordering several items off the menu instead.
Met everyone back in the hotel lobby and walked over to Charlie’s bar for the “Jam Session”. Saw lots of my Japanese friends from Coca-Cola (huge supporter of Charlie and Country Gold) and the Donut Stick manufacturer. And, of course, Charlie’s wonderful wife Toshiko greeted us as we arrived.
Charlie performed for about 15 minutes, then Clinton, Julie and Buddy each did a couple of songs each. What a talented group we have this year. Fans are going to be very pleased with the show line-up. And, they are all really sweet people to work with which certainly makes my job easier.
I’m back at the hotel….still answering emails at 2 am. This time difference is killing me! Glad tomorrow is Saturday. Hope to get in bed by 3 am and jog again tomorrow. Also hope the weather is as beautiful on Sunday as it was today.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 16TH – SOUND CHECK AND VOLCANO SIGHTSEEING AT MT. ASO.
When I went jogging yesterday, saw a couple of new, interesting sights. I noticed a Japanese lady walking in front of me. She was carrying one little dog that looked like a terrier and another small terrier was running alongside her. Every few steps, the one on the group would leap up into the air and hit her on the shoulders. She would yell at him in Japanese and try to kick him away. I figured she must be really short if that dog could jump up that high. When I passed her, I realized she was the same height as me. That dog could JUMP. Reminded me of my friends the Huddleston’s dogs. I stayed at their house years ago while they were away and their Jack Russell Terrier’s would jump straight up and snatch my food out of my hands given the opportunity. J
I also happened to look to my left once at a street crossing and saw the Kumamoto Train Station. Could not believe I’ve been jogging in this city for 22 years and never knew that’s where the Railway Station is located. It didn’t look like a new building so I was really puzzled. I asked Seiya about it later and he said they had recently done some major construction work in the area and removed buildings that were in front of it. Whew. Made me feel much better.
I got up at 6 am, so had 3 hours sleep last night. Went jogging along the river again. It was a little cooler – around 55 – when I ran, but still sunny and beautiful. Wish there was a gym so I could alternate my jogs with workouts like I do at home. Supposedly there is a nice one in the hotel where we will stay in Shenzhen, China.
Had breakfast and Clinton was already in the restaurant eating. Said he was going back to bed for an hour though after he ate. Time change has everyone on a little bit of a strange schedule.
We departed to the venue on time and arrived about 1 ½ hours later. Several of the guys had stayed late at Charlie’s club last night “socializing” with everyone. I was worried that they would be sick because we took the scenic route up the mountains — climbing up a very narrow road and then back down the other side. Fortunately, we made it without any “casualties”. For the first time, sound check ran about 30 minutes late. Guess it’s because we have 3 artists using one band and they don’t normally share musicians.
I set up my “office” while sound check was taking place and got a head start of things for tomorrow. There are some changes but most of them seem for the best at the venue. The volcano was inaccessible earlier today because of the sulfuric smoke but by 2 pm when we were ready to leave, it was open. Another winding road up to the top though. There is a large gondola that tourists ride to the top and they packed us in like sardines. After I would have thought not one more person could fit, they pushed another 2 dozen or so people on board – including us. Thankfully it was a short trip to the top.
My group was suitably impressed with the crater and took lots of photos. Half of it was still closed off due to the sulfuric smoke but they got to see the most impressive side of it. Spent a little time letting them purchase souvenirs then drove back by the venue to pick up a Japanese band from Tokyo who will be performing tomorrow as well. Julie wanted to rehearse with the band and since we were so late leaving for the hotel, they decided to do it on the bus. It was a good plan but killed my idea of “sleeping” on the ride back. Think the Japanese band really enjoyed it.
Had less than an hour in our room before we walked over to Angelo’s for dinner. That’s my favorite restaurant in Kumamoto – Italian! That’s the place that serves this incredible mushroom soup. It comes in a copper pot and the entire top is fresh, baked bread. Once it finally cools off, it’s amazing. I really went wild and crazy this year and instead of ordering the spaghetti with olive oil, garlic, and peppers, I got spaghetti with tomatoes and egg plant. It was delicious but a huge portion (especially for Japan!). I gave half of mine to Rene’s wife who joined us for dinner. His 8 year son ate with us as well and they are both lovely people. My friend Hiromi was able to join us and bring Mr. Matsuda from NHK Tokyo with her. He’s a very sweet man and I guess he was distressed that he didn’t bring “gifts” for everyone. He stood up after dinner and said that he would do a little magic show for us instead but that he wasn’t very good at it. That was an understatement! LOL. He tried to make a cell phone disappear but it just wouldn’t cooperate. Then he had everyone hold their hands over their heads and I’m not at all sure what we were trying to accomplish. He did something and asked if we saw it. No one did. Evidently he popped his shoulder out of place when he brought his hands down and that was the magic? Anyway, it was all very sweet and he got a huge round of applause.
We split when we left the restaurant with about half the group heading to Charlie’s nightclub and the rest of us going back to the hotel. Guess where I went. Have been answering emails for hours now — even on a Saturday!
Weather is supposed to be gorgeous again tomorrow. Tonight I am going to bed before 3 am!!!
SUNDAY, OCTOBER 17TH – COUNTRY GOLD CONCERT AT ASPECTA:
So FIVE hours of sleep. I am a new person! Jogged again this morning but nothing “entertaining” along the way. It was much cooler – only around 55 when I ran. Another quick breakfast and shower then off to the venue for the concert.
Weather couldn’t be any more perfect. The crowd was about the same size as last year but there were about half as many booths around the outside perimeter.
As soon as we arrived, the artists went out front for a television interview with NHK. NHK is the “non-commercial” broadcasting company who films the concert each year for airing sometime in December. Next, the artists did radio interviews with 3 different stations. Our “magician” from last night was scheduled to record a few liners with Julie after that. When he started to record, he realized that he didn’t have a battery in his recorder. Guess his magic tricks finally worked and he made the battery disappear.
Artists had a little break after the interviews and were supposed to sign autographs from 2-3 pm. Of course, the only time they could meet the Ambassador was at 2:15 pm. So, we delayed the signing session by a few minutes. Ambassador Roos and his wife Susan were extremely nice and huge country music fans. I thanked him for being the first Ambassador to support Country Gold in 22 years! He stayed and watched most of the concert.
Artists signed autographs for a little over an hour and then it was “show time” for them. To kick off the concert, there were two “local” bands who had won a competition yesterday. Then Charlie and his Cannonballs performed followed by the band from Fukuoka and then the band from Tokyo. Clinton performed first, followed by Julie with Buddy “headlining”. All three artists gave GREAT performances and the audience loved hearing their music! I walked out into the crowd for a few minutes and it had turned REALLY cold. Some man stopped me and said he met me in Nashville when he was there in 2005 with Charlie. He asked me to sign a “book” and give him my address. Then he told me in broken Japanese that he really really likes me but quickly amended that to “no, I really really love you!” I’m such a sex magnet. LOL.
The finale went a lot smoother than some we have had. J Everyone went into the Green Room for the traditional “Campai” (toast) and then we boarded the buses and headed back to downtown Kumamoto. Was back in the hotel before 9 pm. Walked over to Starbucks for a soy Machi Green Tea and then spent a couple of hours repacking. Have to condense my 3 bags down to two for the flight.
Again, hoping to get in bed by midnight since I have to get up at 4 am.