John Michael Montgomery, Colbie Caillat captivate at Courtney
Camp Courtney, Okinawa, Japan -- When I first heard Colbie Caillat and John Michael Montgomery were playing at the Camp Courtney Festival, my first reaction was, “Who?” That week prior to their performances, I had to be corrected – repeatedly – when I mispronounced Caillat as “Kailot.”
Maybe I wasn’t a big fan of either performer going into the 21st Annual Camp Courtney Christmas and Holiday Festival Dec. 8, but I departed that night feeling starstruck like everyone else. Bravo to Marine Corps Community Services for organizing this festival, as they have done for the past 20 years.
An event like this strengthened the relationship between service members and the Okinawa residents, fostering community fellowship, and bolstering the mission of the Marine Corps.
“International relations are the key to the success (for) the Marine Corps here in the Pacific,” said Cpl. Andrew Weatherford, an administrative Marine with III Marine Expeditionary Force Headquarters, and a native of Greensboro, North Carolina.
“Courtney Fest was the perfect event to show hospitality to our host country, while also creating an environment where everyone could have a good time. It was a fantastic tool to help us build a better relationship with Okinawa, Japan!”
The day started with skies as blue as Okinawa’s crystal clear water. The mouthwatering aromas of funnel cake, grilled burgers, giant hot dogs and deep fried Oreo cookies teased the senses. The day soon transformed into a cold night, lit by a plethora of lights shining in an array of colors. Aisles of vendors, games and carnival rides were overtaken by excited children (energized by cotton candy) and their parents.
There are several reasons people join the armed services – to be a part of a bigger cause, to serve our country, to fight. The opportunity to travel is another. When we’re stationed abroad, we get to see the world and learn from different cultures, and there are events tailored for us that serve as “perks” while being away from home too. Along with that, events like the Courtney Festival allow cultural exchanges with the citizens of our host nation.
“This was truly a good way of cultural exchanges between two nations, because people should know others face-to-face, not only in the newspaper,” said Masayo Toyama, a real estate agent and resident of Chatan, Okinawa. “I want this to happen again, and I recommend it to all my friends.”
I’ve been to a few carnivals and festivals before, and the Camp Courtney Christmas and Holiday Festival had a powerful impact that brought people together. Service members and Okinawa community residents could gather together with their families and enjoy the spirit of the holidays. Events like these are reminders that the work we do as the U.S. military isn’t unappreciated, especially when the performances are free to watch and listen to.
Thousands walked the ground, many of whom gathered at the stage. At the start of the concert, Ninu-fa Daiko and Ti-da Daiko, two performers dressed as lion mascots, did the Okinawan lion dance around the stage to a drum beat. After the lioin dance, “ouka” – taiko drum performers – pounded passionately on huge drums. I always enjoyed this portion of the festivals here; the strident and powerful strikes against the drums and the proud chants seemed both fitting on a bloody battle field as well as a stage viewed by anyone between elderly and young.
With the crowd warmed up and growing, the main acts, filled with guitar riffs and iconic voices, serenaded the audience further.
Montgomery is a larger-than-life performer and I instantly recognized a few of his songs. “I Swear” and “I Can Love You Like That” are songs I grew up to in the 1990s. When he played “Letters to Home,” everyone started to sway along to the music, and it reminded me of my experience of writing to home when I was in boot camp. Every day, I was tense and at the edge of my footlocker – waiting for the drill instructor to sling a letter my way. I can’t describe the joy I felt whenever one came flying toward my eye …
It didn’t matter what preference of music I was into, being at the concert, part of the moment, made me think nostalgically about the U.S. The same occurred to others, especially those who listened to Montgomery all their lives and had stories they cherished close to their hearts.
“I’ve been listening to (Montgomery) since I was three,” said Air Force 1st Lt. Jennifer Painter, an air battle manager of an airborne warning and control system aircraft with 961st Airborne Air Control Squadron, 18th Operations Group, 18th Wing, and a native of College Station, Texas. “I was stoked when I heard he was going to play; I couldn’t wait. His song, ‘Life’s a Dance’ – my dad played it on his guitar. As a family we would gather and listen to him when he played. Having (Montgomery) here is like having a piece of home come here.”
After Montgomery, Caillat walked onstage and a group of Marines to my right hollered, “I LOVE YOU!” They were out-shouted by another group of service members who yelled, “I LOVE YOU MORE!”
“No, I love you more,” said Caillat, obviously the winner of that argument.
What can be said that hasn’t already? Caillat is incredibly beautiful inside and out, especially in person, and I was happy to be there to experience her music live. By then, late into the evening, the audience doubled in size. Many in attendance would ask the volunteer guard force to snap pictures and videos, which were uploaded to social media seconds later. She sang a number of popular selections like “Lucky” and “Bubbly,” among others, which had couples squeezing tight together underneath Caillat’s musical spell.
Concluding the event with a farewell and a happy holiday, Colbie Caillat strutted off and we, the audience, departed. I was excited for the holidays, and looking around me, everybody seemed so too.