By Dustin Perry, U.S. Army Garrison Japan Public AffairsSeptember 19, 2012
CAMP ZAMA, Japan (Sept. 19, 2012) -- While an outdoor crowd at Yano Field here cheered the raw sounds of a blues-rock band Sept. 16, spectators in a gymnasium directly behind them watched wrestlers execute brutal body slams and piledrivers.
Music Fest and Slam Fest, both annual events at Camp Zama, regularly attract several thousand dedicated fans of their respective forms of entertainment. Holding them simultaneously over the course of an entire weekend helped make the joint effort a massive success, one organizer said.
The pro-wrestling showcase Slam Fest VI was held concurrently with Music Fest, and the events drew more than 13,000 visitors to Camp Zama.
"Music is an international language, and wrestling is a great event that everybody loves," said John Shoda, acting director of the Morale, Welfare and Recreation Division here. "These events were a way for Camp Zama community members and our Japanese neighbors to get together, have fun and build friendships."
Music Fest kicked off Sept. 15 and featured performances from three of the seven bands on the bill for the event. The first group to take the stage was Uncle Sam's All-American Brass Band, comprised of members of the U.S. Army Japan Band here. True to their namesake, the band played a variety of traditional and jazzy tunes, but also performed renditions of contemporary U.S. and Japanese pop songs by Michael Jackson and girl group AKB48, respectively.
Other performers on the first day were the Hawaiian group Island of da Heart and the reggae collective Macka Ruffin and Macka Roots, who headlined the first night.
The vibrant sounds of acoustic guitars and ukuleles during Island of da Heart's set prompted several audience members to dance the hula near the stage. Later, Macka Ruffin and Macka Roots lead singer Dave McAnuff led his band through a rousing collection of originals and classic hits by artists like Bob Marley, an obvious influence on the band.
Music Fest's consistently eclectic lineup of artists drew praise from several members of the crowd throughout the two-day event.
"I think this was a great event," said one Japanese attendee. "We live around Camp Zama but this is our first time to actually visit here, and we are glad we came here today."
The Japanese pop-rock quintet Water Water Camel opened the event Sept. 16, playing an appropriately bright and sunny set of tunes for the already sizeable afternoon crowd. Gen Tanabe, the band's guitarist, noted the unique experience of playing at Music Fest.
"We performed as we normally do for our audiences in Japan, but there was something very interesting about today," said Tanabe. "The atmosphere was like we were performing in the U.S., but we were actually in Japan, so it felt like somewhere between the two. It was a lot of fun."
Aside from simply playing music for the crowd, the band had another purpose for coming to Music Fest, said Water Water Camel lead singer Saito Hideyuki.
"When we sing our songs, we normally try to communicate the personal message of our melodies," said Hideyuki, "but today we wanted show our appreciation to the U.S. service members for what they have done to support Japan after the  earthquake."
Also performing Sunday were the USARJ Band's Kanto Jazz group and the Latin-influenced Sabor K-Liente, and closing headliners Kenny Olson and his band 7 Day Binge. The latter kept the packed crowd fired up for the entirety of their blistering set of rock tunes punctuated by Olson's fierce guitar playing.
Slam Fest, held in cooperation with New Japan Pro-Wrestling, featured seven lively matches between more than 30 hulking grapplers from Japan, Mexico and the U.S. The event featured one-on-one matches all the way up to three-on-three tag team bouts, with fan favorites like Karl "Machine Gun" Anderson, Takashi Iizuka and the mysterious Tiger Mask trading acrobatic drop kicks and choke holds.
More than 13,000 people were at Camp Zama for both events this year, a clear indication that the combination of music and wrestling makes for an ideal way to maintain an already strong bilateral relationship, Shoda said.
"Open-post events like these are meant to bring our U.S. members and Japanese neighbors together and show that we are good friends," said Shoda. "We want them to see that we have an Army base where everyone can get together and just have fun."