Junction 87 is one of the Rim Country’s most popular bands. But its local audiences are a drop in the bucket compared to the draw the trio has in Japan.
The group recently returned from a performance at Country Gold, one of Japan’s biggest country and western concerts — something on the scale of Arizona’s Country Thunder — and one that has been presented for 23 years now.
In the past, the headliners have been Charlie Daniels and Brad Paisley. Between 15,000 and 20,000 people attended the event, which featured only seven bands in 50-minute sets.
There were two country bands from Japan and one “homegrown” bluegrass band; two from Nashville; and one from Arizona — Junction 87 with Billy Ichida, Jim Norman and Bob Lewis.
The group has visited Japan before — back in 2008 — but this is the first time they have been part of Country Gold.
Ichida’s sister helped get the band the job. She made the initial contact and then the band sent a CD, which landed it.
The band members and their wives were in Japan for nine days. They performed at some other venues, rehearsed for Country Gold with a drummer they brought on board for the concert and the event’s sound people, and had one day to relax.
They had the set right in the middle of the day, when the weather was beautiful.
Ichida, a native of Kobe, Japan, said it gets really cold there at night, so the mid-day spot was perfect.
They took a specially mastered CD to Japan, with the cover in the native language, to sell at the event and had a lot of good feedback. In addition to their performances, the three did several interviews, including one for television.
The group has been together seven years and started out of the jam sessions they used to have down in Rye.
For a time, they split their weekends doing regular performances down in Rye and at the Buffalo Bar & Grill, but since the bar in Rye closed, the Buffalo is their exclusive regular spot.
They are at the Buffalo every Sunday from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m., but also can be heard at different venues around the area on occasion. The band has also been featured as part of the Town of Payson Concert Under the Stars series.