Today “we” left the U.S. for Japan.  “We” is myself, Penny in my office and Trick Pony, Jo-el Sonnier, Stonewall Jackson, and Ryan Holladay (12 year old bluegrass artist)….33 people total.  First stop for all of us is Kumamoto, Japan for the 17th Annual Country Gold Festival.


We all flew out of Nashville except for Jo-el’s group which flew out of Houston.  But, we all connected in Detroit for the long flight over.  Stonewall had never flown Business Class on an international flight and boy did he “LOVE” it.   He used EVERYTHING in the little amenity kit that the airline gives us.  He was sitting in front of me and I noticed that he had his hands over his ears.  I got up to see if he needed something thinking that his ears were popping.  But he said, “No.  I just hope she’s not going to talk like that the entire flight.”  There was a flight attendant speaking Japanese over the intercom system.  J


I knew I would sleep on the flight because I had only gotten 2 hours sleep the night before we departed.   I was asleep and I heard the pilot come on and say that there was a “fluid leak” and we would not be able to make it all the way to Japan but that there was an island that we were going to land on to have the plane checked out.  I didn’t know if I dreamed this or if he really said it but since I didn’t have a panic attack, I assumed I dreamed it. Then about an hour later, I heard him say, “Don’t be concerned.  We’re just circling and dumping fuel and then we will have to prepare for a crash landing because the runway is too short on the island to accommodate our aircraft.  THEN, I did bolt upright.  But everyone around me in our group was sleeping and the flight attendants were in the back chatting and working away.  So, I dreamed that announcement, too!  Gosh, I hate to fly!!!


We flew on Northwest and for once had really terrific flight attendants.  One lady named “Judith” was especially helpful to us.


We landed in Osaka and made it all the way to Immigration when one of the guys in Trick Pony realized he had left his cell phone on the plane.  He went back to retrieve it and we went down to pick up our luggage.  It took longer than ever for the luggage to come out.  Then we went upstairs to check the luggage in at the ANA counter – which doesn’t make ANY sense because the luggage is already tagged all the way through to Fukuoka – where we are going.  After doing this for 17 years, I knew to have all the ticket coupons pulled out and in alphabetical order and a count on our number of checked pieces.  Only, this year we had a new ANA representative who did NOT know how to organize things.  He lined us up in front of the scanner for our luggage and would not let us go through.  It took us longer than ever because he made each person check their own luggage individually.


Flew from Osaka to Fukuoka and then took our buses to Kumamoto.  We had a staff meeting as soon as we arrived (1 am!)  I then stayed up until 5 am answering emails! Didn’t get to run today because of NO SLEEP.




Up early for sightseeing and meeting with Deputy Government.  I have a really terrific group of entertainers on this trip.  Everyone gave the Deputy Governor a gift and he also gave them a “traditional Kumamoto” gift.  After visiting with him, we all went to the park for sightseeing and for a traditional Japanese lunch.  Everyone sits on the floor and has sushi, rice, noodles, tempura, etc;


After lunch, all the entertainers and their musicians went to the Kumamoto Castle – except for Ryan Holliday.  I took him and his bluegrass musicians to a high school where they played a few songs and answered questions.  The students had a treat for us as well.  They knew how to line dance!  And, they had made these huge cowboy hats out of poster board for themselves. It was awesome.  After the mini-concert, Ryan went outside to take a photo and got mobbed by the kids wanting autographs.  He said he felt like a “rock star”.


It had started raining when we came out (better today than Sunday!) and I sent Ryan’s group  to the castle while Liz and I went back to the hotel.  I HAD to get back in email….


Met several of the group for dinner at a sushi bar that I love.  I had 2 pieces of salmon, 2 of tuna, 2 egg and 2 shrimp handrolls.  Freshest sushi ever eaten.  And the cost of mine was less than $12!!!!


We went to Charlie’s nightclub for a “Welcome Party”.  Each artist gets up and sings 2 songs after Charlie does his set.  It was really, really fun but most of us left immediately after the “jam session”  Everyone is just really TIRED.  Of course, I’m on email until God knows how much longer!!!!






Today was “sound check” day.  We take 2 buses and 2 of the groups go to the venue and 2 of the groups go to the volcano (when it is accessible, which it was today).  I got in a 6 mile run along the river before we left but it was HOT and HUMID even at 6 am.  Very unusual for Kumamoto at this time of the year.  By the time we departed the hotel, it was raining again and it rained all the way to the venue. We had taken the scenic route which winds up and then back down a mountain – a small one lane road with two way traffic.  I guess I should have taken something for motion sickness like I encouraged everyone else to do.  I think the fact that it was foggy and raining so we couldn’t see anything made it worse.   I was fine once we got out of the bus, though.  The group that went to the volcano said they weren’t able to see ANYTHING, so my first group decided not to even try to go up after their sound check.


Stonewall wasn’t feeling well this morning and did not go to sound check.  I’m hoping he will be okay tomorrow.  I know he takes a lot of medication and I have a feeling that he isn’t taking it when he should be because of being 14 hours ahead of Nashville time.  I had talked to his wife before we left Nashville and told her to talk to his doctor about what time of the day he should be taking it over here.  His son is with him and hopefully monitoring this.


Sound check ran smoothly thanks to my production manager – Scott Olson – and Tim Curnew – a Canadian living in Kumamoto who helps us out every year.


We were back at the hotel by 6 pm and almost everyone went over to Angelo’s for Italian food for dinner.  Because we were such a huge group, it took over two hours for everyone to get their food.  Felt like I was back at a restaurant in Europe where they spend 3-4 hours at each meal!  A few people went to Charlie’s club but most of us came back to the hotel to get an early night and be ready for the big show tomorrow.






Wok up to a gorgeous day….much cooler and lots of sunshine.  Perfect day for a country music festival at the base of an active volcano.  Everyone was up and ready to go long before departure time (jet lag still hanging on!).  When we arrived at the venue, there were already several thousand people sitting on the ground in front of the stage.  The stage is 3 stories high and the length of a football field…at one time it was the world’s largest outdoor stage.  Not sure if that is still true. There is a dance floor built in front of the stage for all the linedancers.


We, of course, started right on time with speeches from Charlie and his performance with the Cannonballs.  Everyone else either walked around and looked at the booths set up by the food and clothing vendors or hung out in the Green Room and chatted.  After getting all the “signs” hung and everything coordinated with Penny and Liz, I walked around to say hello to some of the many friends I have made throughout the 17 years I’ve been coming to Kumamoto.  Took a great shot of a little dog wearing a tiny cowboy hat.  Montana Beef is a huge sponsor because Montana is the “Sister State” of Kumamoto Prefecture.  But, with the “ban” on U.S. Beef, they are unable to import any of their products for the festival.  But they brought “Miss Rodeo” with them and she was lovely.


Ryan Holladay performed after Charlie and the dancers kept right on dancing throughout the blue grass tunes!  Then Jo-el Sonnier went on stage and performed a mix his Cajun/Country tunes.  We threw beads out to the audience and they loved it.


The Governor (female) and the Counselor from Fukuoka (female) came about halfway through the show and made their speeches.  How about that – two females “in charge” in JAPAN!  Times the are a’changin’!  Both are absolutely lovely women – inside and out – and very supportive of Charlie and Country Gold.


Stonewall Jackson took the stage and captivated the audience with his legendary tunes.  Then Trick Pony rocked the place.  Everyone was standing as close to the front of the stage as possible while they were performing. Everyone went back on stage for the ‘FINALE’ and fireworks and we ended EXACTLY on time to the second… often does that happen in the U.S. at a festival of this magnitude????


We all went to the Green Room for a “campai” (toast) and then loaded the buses for the ride back to Kumamoto City.  Every year, the buses are packed and the artists are pushing to leave as quickly as possible.  This year, I couldn’t get anyone to get on the bus so we could leave!  I went out to dinner with Keiko, Koji, and Keita so we could discuss this year’s event and plans for next year.  Then upstairs to pack.   Everyone except me and Trick Pony have to depart at 6:45 am for the flight back to the States.  We go to Korea for 5 shows for the U.S. Army.