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Yokota!

Mar 26 | Posted by: Rebecca Loebe |

So it turns out I needn’t have worried about waking up in time for the beginning of our military schedule at oh seven hundred hours, because my body awoke naturally at 2:50 am, and refused to go back to sleep. Attempts to meditate, stretch and relax in bed gave way to catching up on emails and reading nonsense on the internet. Around 4:30 am I got up and walked into the living room of my little apartment, got out my guitar and immediately broke a string. Suddenly I was wide awake, tearing my bag apart searching for a spare set of strings. All at once I felt far from home, far from the familiar, far from a music store where I might find someone who spoke the same language as me. 

 On base!

Luckily I found a partial set which included the string I needed. I changed strings, practiced a little, showered, got dressed and made it down to the lobby in plenty of time to meet up with Spike and Lindsey. We hopped in the van and drove over to the radio station for an interview on 810 AFM Tokyo, a station that broadcasts all over base and out into Tokyo proper.

 Radio on base!

We were greeted at the station like rock stars. Kellen, the young DJ who was spinning really cool music when we got there, laughed as a young man in uniform entered the room and formally, if not a little awkwardly, informed him that there were donuts and coffee in the hallway if anyone wanted some. Kellen’s eyes twinkled. “You know,” he said “They never bring me donuts. They’re trying to play it cool, but no one ever brings me donuts.”

We played and talked for about an hour. It was the first time Lindsey and I had ever sang in the same room, and it was also the first time I had heard her tell the story of her career/life prior to appearing on The Voice. It fascinated me – she was a 22 year old college student tending bar in Sacremento who had never really sang in public before. As she was closing down the bar one night, her boss heard her singing and told her that she was going to be famous someday and should audition for The Voice. Since the auditions were in nearby San Francisco the following week, she decided it couldn’t hurt to go and she drove herself to the open call auditions. She made an enormous impression upon many people during her run on the show, including me, and ended up in the Top 8. If you haven’t heard her sing before, now would be a good time to check out this video. Or this one. Or this one. She’s great.

After finishing up at the radio show Spike drove us to “The E Club” on base where we were treated to breakfast (everything on base is very American-style, so I had something along the lines of scrambled eggs, veggies and bacon, my favorite). After that we had a few hours of downtime at the club. I think I actually exercised. It was miraculous.

Spike and our new driver for the day were back for us mid-afternoon to drive us to a meet and greet at the Youth Center, where we spoke for an hour or so in front of a group of 40-ish kids aged 6-12. To break the ice, I started by asking the kids if they had any advice about Japan. Turns out they did. “Eat lots of ice cream!” Said one. “Make sure it’s not milk ice cream.” Said another. “When you get a house, make sure they don’t put you in an apartment. Get a house with a garden. They’re better, that’s what we have. Well,” side glance, “Some of us have them.” Wishing to veer the conversation away from on-base housing and the potential accompanying class issues, I asked more about what flavors of ice cream we were talking about. 

“Green tea!” 

“Mochi!” 

“Make sure you don’t get the milk ice cream! It’s a trick!” 

“I like the milk ice cream…” chimed in another… 

 Kids on base!

We spent the next half hour singing songs for the kids and convinced a few of them to sing for us (one got up on stage and break danced. Broke danced? Not sure what the past tense of that is…). It was a fun hour, super heartwarming and full of surprises, as surprise afternoon musical visits to classrooms tend to be. Spike informed us that we were behind schedule, and after signing fliers for and taking tons of selfies with most of the kids, we walked down the hall with kids swirling around us til we got outside. They stood on the lawn waving goodbye as we pulled out and drove to soundcheck.

Our performance was in a large community center with a beautiful stage and seating for several hundred. There were two audio engineers, one of whom spoke great English. They both had big smiles and communication didn’t seem to be a problem at all.

 Soundcheck!

While I was setting up my guitar, I had a little trouble with my signal at first and, as I was trouble shooting, off-handedly asked if anyone had a 9 volt battery. No one did, but it wasn’t a big deal because we got the guitar up and running pretty quickly. About 40 minutes later Spike appeared and I realized that he had been absent for most of soundcheck. He handed me a plastic bag from the convenience store, where he had just gone to buy me two new 9 volt batteries. I was very touched. I went ahead and put the fresh batteries in my gear because, well, it never hurts. 

After soundcheck Spike took us to dinner at Chili’s, which he had been tellins us about for our whole visit. Gotta say, it was pretty surreal being all the way in Japan and pulling up for dinner at a Chili’s. Spike was so excited that he took a picture of his food and made us split an enormous giant bananas fosters dessert.

The show itself was really fun. To tell the truth, sometimes shows that are months and months in the planning and require a lot of logistical consideration and coordination can be a bit muted and blurry. Even if they go smoothly, I often find that I don’t remember many of the details of actually performing when the night is over. This show, however, was very fun in spite of the logistics that went into relocating me and Lindsey to the other side of the globe for it. I could see people I had met over my two days on base sprinkled throughout the audience, wearing civilian clothes, sitting with their families. The front row was full of kids who alternately stared, took photos and danced a little. If I had any doubt about whether the audience enjoyed the show as much as I enjoyed performing it (and, let’s be honest – I’m plagued with bouts of self doubt as much as the next temperamental artist, so I did) they vanished when I came out of the dressing room and around the corner of the lobby to find a line about 80 people long waiting for autographs, CDs and photos.

We stayed until we had spoken with every person. We signed a lot of copies of the flier for the show, taking care to get the correct spelling of each kid’s unique name (Mckenzie! Auryra! Zoeh! etc…). At long last I met Chelsea, the young woman who inspired the entire tour with a tweet eight months prior. To my surprise, she was quite young and looked like she’d fit in better in Williamsburg, Brooklyn than an Air Base. She had funky glasses and pretty red hair and a posse of friends surrounding her. We reminisced about our initial correspondence and I learned the most amazing fact of all – when she suggested we come perform on base and asked if we would like the contact information for the person in charge, she had no idea who that was. After we said that yes, that we would love that information, she simply walked to the contracts building and started asking questions until she found someone who would admit to writing contracts for performers to come on base. She passed that information on to me and after many, many months of correspondence with a number of people on base it all miraculously worked out. Go Chelsea! 

The next morning Lindsey and I both woke up extra early, partly due to jet lag and partly because we wanted to make sure we were extra prepared for the Creativity and Expression workshop we were leading at 10 am. This was something I had suggested when I originally pitched the idea of having Lindsey and I come perform – I was inspired by all of the videos I have seen on Youtube of military personnel sitting in barracks playing music. It was clear that there is a lot of creativity in the armed forces, and I would love to help the folks living on base have a few more tools with which to express themselves. 

The audience was a mix of service men and women, spouses, children and some staff from the base. We had a great time discussing writing and performance techniques. As the workshop unfolded it occurred to me that the topic could be broadened beyond music, so we talked about songwriting techniques and how to apply them to a variety of writing (blogs, short stories, essays). Stage performance techniques were broadened to include public speaking and other forms of performance. To my and Lindsey’s relief, the workshop was a great success. We had a wonderful time visiting with the last of the participants one on one in the lobby afterwards. 

At the end of the workshop we were each presented with a silver coin from the commander of the base – apparently the commander has his own silver coins minted which he can give out at his discretion. It had his name and some other details about his position and Yokota etched in silver on a bright blue background. It was about the size of a silver dollar but thicker, heavier. I studied it in my palm and asked what they are for. “Well,” one guy said, “If someone walks into a bar and says ‘Coin check!’ everyone has to get out their coin and if you don’t have yours on your then you have to buy everyone a round of drinks.”

 The commander's coin!

“Or…” Another guy said, “If someone gives you a coin, next time you see each other if they ask and you don’t have the coin on you have to buy them a drink.” I asked if the coins had any purpose that didn’t involve drinking games. Blank stares. 

We bid our final goodbyes to everyone at the community center and joined Spike for one last meal together at a burrito bar sort of similar to Chipotle. Coincidentally, we ran into the commander there, dressed in khaki shorts and a fleece vest. We thanked him for the coins. As the highest ranking officer on the base, he kind of gets treated like Elvis everywhere he goes and we could tell from everyone’s reactions that our escorts were excited that we were getting a one-on-one audience with him. We chatted about our sight seeing plans and his recent hike on Mt. Fuji.  

Conversation shifted to the topic of Japanese culture. He told me he has loved living on Yokota, exploring the country and getting to know people there. He said what struck him most was the concept of “harmony,” which he described as ‘this belief that everyone is better off if they have everything they need, so it’s in your best interest, and society’s, to take good care of those around you.’ He looked over my shoulder and said “Spike here could tell you a lot about that.” My mind wandered to the episode with the battery the night before and as if we was reading my mind the commander said, “You learn that you have to be careful what you ask people for, because once you make a request often they will bend over backwards to get whatever it is for you, no matter how important it is to you.” Harmony. Huh. I tucked this away in a back corner of my mind to consider later.

We chatted for a few more minutes and then he strolled on to continue with his Saturday.  Lindsey and I went back to the hotel to pack and met Spike out front. We all took photos together, and I got a little emotional as I realized how much I was going to miss Spike. We turned over our credentials, piled in the van one last time and drove off base into the rest of Japan.

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