Japanese man travels 5,832 miles
It is the small stories inside the story of the Scott Joplin International Ragtime Festival, that many don’t see or hear, that keeps the festival alive from year to year.
Kohei Yamamoto had wanted to come to Sedalia for the Scott Joplin Festival for years. This year, the dream came true for him and his wife Kyoko Yamamoto. The couple traveled 5,832 miles from Sapporo Hokkaido, Japan, a northern island of Japan, to Sedalia.
Then he fell and injured his back, but the injury didn’t stop him. On Thursday, he was attending the festival, in a wheel chair, with his wife and friend and performer Yuko Eguchi Wright. He and his wife don’t speak English; Wright helped translate his story.
“Seven or eight years ago he heard of this particular festival,” Wright said. “We wanted to come for a long, long time because he’d been practicing ragtime.”
Wright said the Yamamotos flew to New Orleans and then to Kansas City. They then took the Amtrak to Sedalia.
“He fell at the station in Sedalia on Tuesday,” she added. “Before he even got to the hotel.”
She added that he was all right for now, but he did spend time at the University of Missouri-Columbia Hospital, and he does have a cracked spine.
“It was a pretty clean bone crack and basically they put him in a brace,” she said. “He said it didn’t stop him from coming to the festival.”
On Thursday, Yamamoto bought tickets for all of the events and planned to attend the Donor’s Party at the Katy Depot that evening.
“They are going to attend all of them with his chair,” Wright said. “Without this they wouldn’t have been able to go any where.
“He said when he got to the hospital he kept telling everybody ‘I want to go to this festival so don’t put me into surgery or the hospital,’” Wright added. “He insisted to all the nurses and doctors ‘I need to get back, I need to get back to the festival.’ So they brought him back and they all took care of him really well. Everyone was very kind and told him ‘I hope you get there all right and you’ll be able to enjoy the festival.’”
Yamamoto’s favorite ragtime performers are Tom Brier, Martin Spitznagel, Sue Keller, Brian Wright and Adam Swanson.
“He contacted Tom Brier through Facebook and told him he was coming, but he hasn’t had a chance to meet him or hear him yet,” Wright said. “He wants to enjoy the atmosphere, that’s the most important thing and the music is the central thing that he is here for. He wants to meet the people as much as possible.”
One of the most important reasons for attending the festival for Yamamoto is the opportunity to share ragtime with his homeland.
“He wants to bring this back to Japan, to tell them this is happening and then he wants to tell of his love for ragtime and the people here to the people in Japan,” Wright said.
This is the couple’s first time to visit the United States.
Two Dannys so much alike
It’s not very often you find a performer who is willing to go the extra mile medically for a fan. Nashville drummer, Danny Coots, is that man.
Through a series of interesting coincidences, Coots donated one of his kidneys to ragtime fan Danny Matson, 78, of Madison, Wis., in December 2013.
He said he was actually walking on the lawn of the Pettis County Courthouse during a Scott Joplin Festival that he received the phone call from the transplant center.
“I received the phone call saying that the two days of testing that I had undergone (showed) that we were creepily compatible,” he said. “Siblings are not even as compatible.”
The transplant was done at the University of Wisconsin.
Matson was a dedicated fan that Coots had known for years.
“I had probably seen him four times over four years,” Coots said Friday after performing at the Stark Pavilion. “I knew he wasn’t in great health and I had recently found out I was B negative (blood type). We were having lunch at a concert in Houston, and oddly enough we were splitting an entree. It’s was kind of a foreshadowing. He says ‘you know we’re both named Danny and we wear the same clothes (size)’ … so off the cuff I said ‘what blood type are you?’ He said ‘well it’s pretty rare only 1 percent in the United States … it’s B negative.’ So, I said ‘I’m B negative too, how do I give you a kidney?’ From that moment on it just took off.”
Coots said his wife was worried and he had to convince her of the procedure.
“But, it all worked out really, really well,” he added.
Both men are doing well now. Matson, who has a hereditary kidney disorder known as polycystic kidney disease (PKD), was attending the festival this year and walking with the help of two canes.
“Danny is doing unbelievably well,” Coots noted.
On Friday, Matson was attending the “Christmas in Sedalia” ragtime venue at the United Methodist Church. He was sitting in the church balcony with friend Jack Love, of Minnesota, waiting to see Coots perform.
“We have the same neck size, the same sleeve length, the same waist, the same inseam, we could trade off wardrobes,” Matson said of he and Coots.
Matson said he first met Coots in Sedalia in 2008. He approached him after a performance and thanked him for his music.
“And that’s how it began,” he added.”Being on the ragtime circuit means we are bound like a couple of mad pin balls.”
While traveling the ragtime circuit they would sometimes share a room or breakfast.
“Just learning stuff about each other,” Matson said. “After he offered (the kidney) he said ‘in all my career I’ve been trying to become the best drummer I can. I think I’ve got that nailed now pretty well, now I’m trying to become the best person I can.’”