Today we depart for Japan for the biggest festival I produce all year long.  It is the 20th Anniversary of the Country Gold Festival in Kumamoto.  I started this festival with Charlie Nagatani in 1989.  Where has all the time gone so quickly? This year we have Dierks Bentley, Danielle Peck, Whiskey Falls, and John Cowan Band performing as well as Charlie Nagatani and the Cannonballs.  Dierks has a camera crew following him to film footage for a special which will probably air on GAC.   His wife just had their first child – a beautiful little girl! Almost everyone arrived at the airport on time.  My “personal” taxi driver delivered me to my “personal skycap”.  You KNOW you’re traveling too much when you have cell phone numbers for taxi drivers and sky caps!   But they are great.  Dierks’s and John’s group beat me there even though I arrived 30 minutes early.  Good sign.  We all got checked in painlessly and the flight to Detroit left on time.  We had about a two hour layover in Detroit and I spent the entire time answering email on the internet and stressing over the server being down AGAIN in my office.   It went out last Tuesday and I spent $1,000 getting it repaired after Hewlitt Packard couldn’t fix it even though we were on the phone with them for 3 days solid.  It is still under warranty, but that doesn’t seem to make a bit of difference.  Now it’s down again!  Really need it while I’m in Japan, too.  We boarded the flight to Japan on time but then sat and sat and sat.  It was raining so I don’t know if that had something to do with it.  Left one hour late but flying time still shows us arriving on time.  We have a short connection in Nagoya for our flight to Fukuoka, so I’m hoping we do land on time.  Watched a really horrible movie but there aren’t any good ones on.  Worked on email offline and started this report.  I only had 2 hours sleep on Monday night and 3 hours last night, so I’m going to try and sleep some now.  J Slept for about 3 ½ hours and thought I had slept for 10!  Flight attendants were very nice because I gave them all “gifts” when we got on board.  We landed in Nagoya about 30 minutes late but all our luggage and equipment made it.   Charlie – our promoter – met us as promised but no one from JAL showed up as they told us they would.   We got checked in okay though and had about 30 minutes at the gate before flying to Fukuoka.  I think everyone in our group was asleep before the flight ever took off.  That’s the hardest time of the trip.  Again, all our equipment and luggage arrived Fukuoka with us.   We met the remainder of the Whiskey Falls group and also the TV crew for Dierks.  Really nice group of people for our 20th anniversary celebration.  The 2 hour bus ride was pretty quiet – except for snoring.  LOL.  Hotel was ready for us with room keys but did not sort them by “group” this time and forgot to put out the rooming lists.  Got that squared away.  The promoter always has Big Macs and Japanese sandwiches waiting for everyone upon arrival.  This year there were only Big Macs and several of our guys are vegetarians.  Something to remember for the future. We had our 12:30 – 1:00 am staff meeting and now it’s after 3 am.  I’m going to sleep for a couple of hours and then go jogging.  Tomorrow is a big day for sightseeing.  Jude

Fell asleep at 4 am and got up at 6 am. Weather is fantastic and I got in a 5 mile run down by the river.  Ran into one of the guys in Danielle’s group as I was returning.   I was almost back at the hotel when this guy who was walking in front of me stepped off the sidewalk, unzipped his pants and proceeded to pee on the grass.  I’ve never encountered anything like that in all the times I’ve visited Japan! Grabbed a really quick breakfast, then a shower and an hour on email.

We all had to be in the lobby at 10:15 to depart for the day’s sightseeing.  Dierks overslept but he’s a guy and was still able to depart on time.   First stop was Suijenzi Park….my 35th visit.  J   The film crew got some great footage of everyone there.  Highlight is always buying your fortune.  If it’s bad, you tie it to a tree and hope it goes to someone else.  Only a couple of people got “bad” ones this year.  We had lunch at a restaurant right across the street from the park.  First time to eat at that restaurant and it was good.  Lots of sushi, rice, miso soup, cooked fish, etc.  We had to remove our shoes and sit on the floor.  Restrooms were coed and “Eastern” but we finally found “Western” toilets on another floor.   I don’t like the “squatters”! After lunch, everyone except John Cowan Band and Dierks Bentley and the film crew went to Kumamoto Castle for sightseeing.   Our group went to a school with Junior and Senior High School Students.  The event began with the high school students playing one song for us. The John and his band performed 3 songs and brought Dierks up for one song.  The place was packed with ALL GIRLS, I mean hundreds and hundreds.  They went wild for John Cowan but when Dierks walked out, you should have heard the screaming.  They had to do an encore and brought Charlie up to sing “Blue Moon of Kentucky” with them.   We went back to the dressing room and were absolutely mobbed on the way out to the taxis.  I can imagine what Elvis felt like. I had this brilliant idea that Shawn (our production manager) would get in front of Dierks and I’d bring up the rear to get him through the crowd.  That would have worked, only the “girls” were as excited about touching me and Shawn as they were Dierks.  They kept grabbing my hand and telling me I’m beautiful.  Shawn got tons of requests for autographs and photos.  LOL!   Usually the Japanese – especially the females – are so quiet and shy.  Not so this time but it was really cute. Dierks and his group went to the Castle to sightsee and I am back at the hotel trying to answer emails….again! Went to dinner at a restaurant where Abby went last year for a great vegetarian meal.  Only, this year, there was a little bit of confusion.  Somehow the interpreters thought Dierk’s and the film crew wanted to go to the same restaurant.  When we all walked in, they had already prepared the meals — lots and lots of tofu cooked various ways.  I loved it and so did the “vegans” but the boys were not real happy.   They all went to McDonalds’ after the meal.  I went to Starbucks for a huge soy Green Tea Latte to try and stay awake.  The Welcome Party at Charlie’s nightclub was awesome.  Each artist performed 2 songs except Dierks did three and they were old, traditional country standards.  Charlie sang the song of his life and only forgot a couple of lines this time.   He always forgets the words when I’m in the audience!  J.  John Cowan, Danielle, Whiskey Falls and Dierks were all wonderful and the VIPs and Sponsors that were in attendance had quite a treat by hearing them perform.    The club is always so smoky and one the party is over, the public is allowed to come in and it gets much worse.   I left as soon as Dierks sang his last note.  Got back to the room by 9:30 pm and have been working non-stop since then. Going to bed now.  Long day tomorrow with sound checks and visits to the volcano. Jude

Got up at 6 am to jog but got stuck on email for a few minutes.  Still got in a 5 mile run along the river.  Gorgeous weather again.   Saw Yoko – one of our interpreters – and I said hello as I jogged past.  She had no idea who I was!  Had my hair up in a pony tail, baseball cap, and sunglasses.  Great disguise, I guess. Kept thinking about the rice with our vegetarian meal last night.  There were these little brown “string” like things on top and I thought they were some type of “vegetable”.  But they were tiny little fish – with heads and eyeballs and spines.  YUCK.  I ate one before someone noticed it.  Showered and got down to the lobby to have a few “meetings” before we departed.   Today, we took the “scenic” route up and down the mountain with sheer drop-offs on each side.  Easy to get nauseous and not for those afraid of heights.  It’s a one-lane road with two-lane traffic.  There are huge mirrors all along the way so the driver can tell when another vehicle is approaching from the opposite direction.  I’ve done it so many times that it doesn’t bother me anymore but some people were queasy.  It was great footage for the film crew – except for the dump truck we were stuck behind most of the way.  We arrived at the venue on time – we being Dierks and Danielle.  The other two artists –Whiskey Falls and John Cowan – went to the volcano.  We never know if the volcano is going to be accessible or not.   Whiskey Falls and John Cowan group got to go because it was okay but by the time the second group left – Dierks and Danielle – it was closed because there was too much sulfuric gas.  I hate that because the film crew was really looking forward to filming the volcano.  Maybe we can get them up there for a few minutes tomorrow. Sound check was painless – as always.  We ran a little late with Dierks but only because he was the first one up.   NHK did interviews with everyone at the venue.  Trip back to downtown Kumamoto was much faster since we didn’t take the scenic route.  I had time to answer all my emails before a large group of us walked over to Angelo’s – a fantastic Italian restaurant.  He has tomatoes that are better than anywhere I’ve had them in the world.  And mushroom soup prepared in a copper kettle with fresh baked bread on the top of it that is his signature piece.  I highly recommended the restaurant to everyone and no one was disappointed.  Some of the other groups went to Shabu Shabu and a sushi bar. I had to go shopping for some Pocky after dinner and was wandering around the Ginza when I just happened to glance up to the second story of a building.  The Neon Sign said:  CABBAGES AND CONDOMS – A THAI RESTARUANT.  Interesting name for a restaurant. There were some groups still performing in the Ginza from our local band competition this afternoon.  One especially interesting group of men dressed like American Indians but definitely not singing and dancing like them. Just finished “work” for tonight and am going to bed.  Hope the weather is as beautiful tomorrow as it was today. Jude

No jogging this morning since a 4:30 am run would have been a little early even for me.  I did bring my “rubber bands” with me though and worked out in the room.  Just doesn’t “feel” as good as jogging though. The breakfast buffet at the hotel seems to be much better this year.  One side is traditional Japanese breakfast and the other is sort of “American”.  They have scrambled eggs, bacon and ham – all that are “semi-cooked”.  Lots of rice, miso soup, tofu, salad, etc.   But, this year they added fried potatoes and onion rings!  John Cowan group and Whiskey Falls were all ready on time and the drive up to the venue was much shorter today.  There were already a lot of people in the audience to watch the two local bands who won the competition yesterday.  They were really good!  One is from Kumamoto and one is from Nagasaki. The weather is absolutely beautiful and it is HOT this year.  It has been cool to chilly the past several years so this is a nice change.  We started on time and every artist was perfect for the 20th Anniversary Celebration. There were several glitches this year with various things mainly because of a cutback in personnel due to funding.  But, the artists were all happy and honestly didn’t know the difference.   We have a new Governor this year but he was in Brazil and couldn’t attend.  He sent a staff member with gifts for everyone. The two local bands opened the show, then came speeches from Government Officials. Charlie and the Cannonballs were the first act, followed by Whiskey Falls.  John Cowan and his band performed next and then Danielle Peck took the stage.  Dierks, of course, closed the concert and the finale this year was “This Land Is Your Land”.  I spent a lot of time out in the audience this year.  Montana Beef and Miss Rodeo Montana were here again.  A Japanese friend of mine – Charlie Tamegishi from Iwakuni — was there for his 20th Country Gold.  He presented me and Charlie with a beautiful coin from his Command – Marines and Navy.   After the finale, everyone gathered in the Green Room for the traditional “Kampai”.   Just can’t say enough good things about all the entertainers and their band/crew who performed.  Got back to the hotel at around 8:30 pm and everyone headed out for one last “shushi” meal.  Had a great meal and now I have to shower and get ready for my 3:45 am wakeup call!   Flying home tomorrow.  L Jude

Up and ready by 4:30 am and by the time I went into the lobby, Dierks’ tour manager was already down and loading the bus.  The buses and the truck were there but no one from the Japanese staff was around.  Had a little problem “communicating” and couldn’t get them to let us load anything onto the truck.  Hiromi – my friend came by and I got her to interpret for me so we could get everything loaded.   Charlie and the other staff showed up at 5:15 am and everyone was ready to go.  We left the hotel exactly on time and arrived at the Fukuoka airport 2 ½ hours prior to our flight departure time.  That’s when the “fun” began. In Japan, you get your boarding pass at one counter and then you have to take it to another counter to check your bags.  I let everyone check in before me and then when I was ready to go through, the case I had was too large.  Had to take all the straps and tape off and then they took everything out of it.  When it went through, there was “something” they didn’t like.  Finally figured out it was two of the Zippo “candle lighters” that I had made as gifts for the Japanese sponsors.   There were two left over and I was bringing them back for Penny and Lindsey.  I had brought 24 of them to Japan – all in one box – with no problem at all.  They were empty – no butane in them.  But, the JAL staff absolutely refused to let me leave them in my case.  They insisted that we had to “carry” them on.  That made no sense at all to me.  A lighter would be much “safer” in a checked bag, especially with no butane in it.  But we did as they asked.  We went upstairs and there was only one restaurant that served American breakfast.  Everything had been cooked for quite a while and the scrambled eggs were cold.  I took mine back but all they did was stick the entire plate in a microwave which succeeded in making everything like rubber.  Seiya and Shoji were flying from Fukuoka to Osaka with us and they wanted to carry the “lighters” through security for us.  Seiya went through without questioning but Shoji was surrounded by 6 security guards when we caught up with him.   They finally let him carry the lighter on after he yelled at them for about 5 minutes.  Flight from Fukuoka to Osaka was uneventful.  Our luggage was checked all the way through but everyone had to go upstairs to Northwest to get boarding passes.  We had to show our claim checks to get the boarding passes and John Cowan thought they didn’t give his to him.  But, he finally found them in his shirt pocket.  As I was helping everyone get checked in, Seiya came over and said that Shad (with John Cowan) couldn’t find his passport.  He thought he had left it in the back of the seat on the JAL flight but wasn’t sure.  Seiya went to JAL to see if they could search the plane but was told that they couldn’t do anything until 11:30 am.  We were supposed to board our flight to Detroit at 11:50 am and still had Passport Control and Security to clear plus take a shuttle to the gate area.  Penny and I waited with them until 11:30.  Fortunately, I had a copy of his passport with me and knew that he could get one from the Embassy in 24 hours worse case.  Seiya came back – WITH his passport.  Big sigh of relief on that one.  Boarded our flight to Detroit and about 30 minutes into the flight, we hit terrible turbulence.  Water was flying out of our glasses and the pilots made everyone sit down and buckle in.  Pilots said it would last about 10 minutes but it was more like 30 minutes.  Have I mentioned how much I hate flying commercially?   Movies and food on the flight were not good at all – just like on the way over to Japan.  Turbulence is starting up again now.  I found out about the “Cabbages and Condoms” Restaurant.  The first restaurant opened in Bangkok, Thailand.  The thought is that “condoms should be as easy to purchase as cabbage for your meals”.   The restaurant actually gives out condoms with your meals.  Family planning.  Supposedly the food is really good, too! So, landed in Detroit and everybody but one person got all their luggage and gear.  One suitcase was missing and of course we can’t file a report until we arrive in Nashville.   Flight left Detroit on time and I think EVERYONE passed out on the flight to Nashville.    Unless everyone was lying to me, they had a great time in Japan and the event was a success…once again.  J Jude