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“Country Gold,” the sound of America’s soul in Aso

By Charlie Nagatani, country-and-western singer

 

The third Sunday of October every year was called “Day of Promise” among fans. “Country Gold,” an open-air country-and-western music concert that started in 1989 came to an end this fall. Such big-name artists as Bill Monroe, Roger Miller, and Marty Stuart came from the U.S., the home of country-and-western, to the village of Minamiasomura in Kumamoto Prefecture to play in the great outdoors. I was able to continue this wonderful music event for 31 years. I sincerely want to express my gratitude to many people.

 

I believe that not many country-and-western concerts in the world ever lasted for 30 years. I remain healthy but notice many fans have put on years. The number of people coming to the concert has gradually decreased over the years. To the last Country Gold, however, I was glad that as many as 4,500 people gathered from across the country for the last Country Gold. I know some of them are not as healthy as I am but still managed to make it. I am really grateful.

 

What is remarkable about Country Gold are exchanges among fans through music and the warmth of fans. Many couples got married after they had met on “Day of Promise.” Over the past few years, I met many fans who said, “I came to the concert for my late husband (wife)” holding pictures of their loved spouses. Alcoholic beverages sell well at the venue but there were never any fights. There was never any trash at the venue after the concert. Nobody wanted to tarnish Aso’s beautiful natural environment and disgrace “Day of Promise.”

 

I was blessed with good weather. Of a total of 31 concerts, it rained only twice. It rained in 2001 after the 9.11 terrorist attacks and the second time was 2017 after the shooting rampage that took place at the venue of a country-and-western concert in Las Vegas. It rained as if in sympathy with people in sorrow.

 

A typhoon directly hit the area in 1998. The Kumamoto Earthquakes occurred in 2016. Even after the disasters devastated the area, many fans earnestly asked that Country Gold not be cancelled and I was able to hold the event as scheduled. After many airplanes were grounded following 9.11, Chad Block who was scheduled to perform for Country Gold said, “If I can’t fly, I will row a boat to be there.” This moved me to tears.

 

This fall, I had an honor of receiving the “Kaneko Award” from the American-Japan Society (AJS), Inc. [named after the first president of the AJS., Kentaro Kaneko] for having contributed to the Japan-U.S. exchange. When Country Gold started at the end of 1980s, the Japan-U.S. relationship was not good on account of trade friction between the two countries. If I can have Japanese people know more about country-and-western, the soul of Americans, I thought it would help improve the sour bilateral relationship. That’s why I started Country Gold.

 

For my 20th birthday, a friend arranged a performance by a country-and-western band as my birthday present. I was moved by the band’s live performance. Since then, I have lived as a country-and-western musician for over 60 years. I formed the band “Charlie Nagatani & the Cannonballs” in 1961. The band will reach its sixtieth birthday soon.

 

We played on all U.S. military bases in Japan as well as overseas including Taiwan, the Philippines and Guam. We became “tomodachi” [friends] with a countless number of American soldiers. I remember that during the Vietnam War, a serviceman asked me: “My buddy has not returned yet. Will you play his favorite song?” He shed tears while we were playing, and I thought it was beautiful.

 

Through connections with my friends, we played at various places in the U.S. As a result, we received the title of honorary citizen from a total of 33 states. We even were awarded the title of “Kentucky Colonel,” the highest honor bestowed by the Commonwealth of Kentucky. In 1999, when then-President Clinton hosted a “state dinner” to welcome then-Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi at the White House, we were invited to the party. American people always treated us warmly. This makes me wonder if Americans’ sense of hospitality may be stronger than Japanese’s.  

 

I quit university without telling my parents and joined a band when I was 20 years old. When I got off the train at Iwakuni Station, I swore to myself, “I will never stop playing country-and-western.” I have committed myself to such adolescent swear to date. I am proud of having led a life with such enthusiasm.

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