I recently returned from a fascinating visit/tour in South Korea. I went at the invitation of a promoter in Seoul who was interested in licensing and releasing my new record, “West”.
My connection with Korea began in 1990, (twenty-eight years ago!), when I was notified by my record label then, A&M Records, that my recently released album “Homeland” had gone platinum in Korea. Apparently, the song “Donde Voy” (Where I Go”) from the border trilogy on Homeland had been chosen as theme song for a very popular TV drama called “Rose Of Betrayal” (in English). “Donde Voy” is a story of crossing a border and of the sadness and despair of separation from a loved one. It is also a song of hope and a positive future.
I wasn’t sure I had even KNOWN that my record was released in Korea! It was so exciting to have my record ANYWHERE go platinum. I was also thrilled as a promotional tour was planned by the record label. I had never been anywhere in Asia and was very curious and interested. My loyal and trustworthy guitar man, Marvin Dykhuis and I were flown over, and we enjoyed a slew of TV and radio interviews, performances with a national TV orchestra, and a ceremony in which I was presented with “The Platinum Record”. It was all beautiful and interesting, sometimes chaotic, sometimes funny, but all around super.
Over the years, my career marched on. Fourteen or fifteen records came along on a string of different record labels, Warner Brothers, Rounder, Texas Music Group. Korea never came up except in random fan letters, and noting on royalty statements that the song “Donde Voy” had gained momentum and had eventually climbed to quadruple platinum.
Fast forward to 2018. I was putting final touches on “West”, which was due for release in the summer. I received an email from Kangwon Park, the promoter with whom I began a dialogue on visiting Korea to play at an international music festival, some TV and radio shows, and about releasing “West” in Korea. I was all in and excited to re-visit Korea.
Details were worked out. Soon Marvin Dykhuis, Chip Dolan, Lynn, my ever helpful and fun “Man-Friend”, who doubled as road-manager, and I, were on our way to Seoul! We left Austin on the morning of August 26 and arrived on the afternoon of August 27th. After twenty something hours of airports and airplanes.
We were greeted at the Seoul airport by Kangwon and his assistant. They swiftly loaded us into two cars and away we went to The Marigold Hotel, a very comfortable hotel downtown Seoul.
I’m glad Kangwon spoke near perfect English and was a very helpful translator, as the hotel employees spoke little English. We arrived tired, but looking forward to an adventurous evening of dinner and Korean culture!
Arrival evening, we were taken to eat Korean Bar-B-Que, kimchee, and to enjoy Korean beer and their national “vodka” called soju. We were seated around a table with a grill and chimney in the middle on which we all grilled our own meat and onions. It was sooo good! Then we walked around exploring the narrow bustling neon shopping streets for a while before turning in to long needed slumber.
Day two, August 28, we went to KBS (Korean Broadcasting Station) to tape a TV show called Concert 7080 before a large live audience. There I performed a duet with popular Korean singer, Heejin Kim, then performed “Donde Voy” and our new title song, West”. Heejin had requested to for us to sing the 1960’s Spanish hit “Eres Tu” together. Of course, we were happy to oblige and Chip and Marvin played outstanding back-up for us. Kangwon’s lovely daughter, who lived and studied in Seattle was a fine translator.
Next day was photo shoots, newspaper and radio interviews. Then, on August 30, was another television taping. This time it was at the educational broadcasting station called EBS. On this show we were paired up with a Korean jazz band and perform before an intimate live audience. It is taped very much like Austin City Limits.
On Friday, August 31, we requested to be taken on a tour of the DMZ (the famous demilitarized zone between North and South Korea). When the press found out we were going, our entourage grew to include journalists and photographers. We were taken to the wall where thousands upon thousands of ribbons and notes were pinned to. Here at this place, I was awarded a Letter Of Appointment of One K Star, including me in the future participation of unification of the Korean Peninsula, and world peace from the One K Global Campaign Committee. It was a real honor to be considered a peace ambassador of sorts to South Korea. It was certainly moving to be in this heartbreaking location and to see the enthusiasm from the press and media’s hope and interest in peace, both on the Korean Peninsula and around the world.
After that were driven to the city of Inchon where we performed at a Korean Beer Festival! The beer was good, the stage, sound, and lights were amazing, the audience was fun and beautiful, holding up banners and singing along in the setting sun.
The next day, was a six-hour drive to the pretty coastal town of Ulsan, on the Sea Of Japan. This drive, in a cool Asian style decorated bus, gave us the opportunity to see a lot more of the beautiful mountainous, green, country-side. We pulled into roadside truck stops, for trinket shopping and lunches of udon noodles, kimchee….and octopus!
Then came our grand finale on Sunday, September 2 – our performance at the Ulsan International Music Festival. This was, again, a huge, beautiful, outdoor stage. There were traditional and popular bands from all over South Korea as well as artists and bands from countries around the world. Our set was so much fun. People of all ages danced and sang along when they knew the words, especially when we played “Donde Voy”. Again, it was a perfect evening at sunset. Quite magical.
Every night, after our long day’s work, Kangwon and his assistant, would treat us to a dinner at some interesting local restaurant. It was so nice to be able to have fun with our promoter and local friends. Korean restaurants and bars are famous for adding quite a flair to the dining experience as in the special setting of the dishes, and the flamboyant serving of drinks.
Riding back in the bus to the Seoul airport was six hours of joking and story-telling with Kangwon, Kim, and the boys. We had been together all day for six days straight and had gotten to know each other pretty well. Traveling back to Austin was exhausting but I think we all felt quite satisfied and happy. We were so lucky to have found people so professional and nice to work with and friendly people at every turn. When being interviewed all week, journalists were very interested in asking how I felt about our border issues, immigration, our government, about the Korean situation. I tried to answer with candidness and with care. I care very much and am concerned about what is going on in our country right now. Koreans are also in difficult and complicated times. Hope is a message we could all share. I’m so glad that I was given the opportunity to have a beautiful cultural exchange with such a beautiful country and people. Much appreciation to our friend Kangwon Park.