Fuji Remains Strong

Despite record unemployment and a local economy that seems harder hit than others by the global recession, this year’ s Fuji Rock Festival in Japan managed to maintain high attendance levels.

The cumulative three-day total for the July 24-26 blowout was about 123,000, a bit higher than last year’s. Saturday’s crowd of 38,000 was the largest, featuring Franz Ferdinand and Public Enemy as headliners.

The only no-show was Flava Flav, whose “visa issues” were announced only a day before the festival, though it was no big surprise.

Japanese immigration authorities also denied him a work permit in 2005 when Public Enemy played Summer Sonic, reportedly because of past arrests in the United States. The band made do with tapes of the clock-wearing rapper.

One of the most attended concerts at the festival, besides Oasis’ Friday-night show and Sunday’s closing set by Basement Jaxx, was the all-star tribute to Japan’s King of Rock, Kiyoshiro Imawano, who died in May and was considered the unofficial “mayor of Fuji Rock.”

Masa Hidaka, president of Fuji organizer Smash Corp., reportedly contacted guitarist Steve Cropper personally the week before – when Cropper was touring Japan with the Blues Brothers Band – and asked him to participate. Cropper, along with Booker T and the MGs and the Memphis Horns, once backed Kiyoshiro on a Japan tour in the ’90s.

And with Booker T himself being booked to headline the Orange Court the same night as the tribute, it meant two of the original MGs were in the house. Both played at the tribute show, where Cropper called Kiyoshiro “a great man and a great entertainer.” However, the legendary guitarist did not show up at Booker T’s gig.

It rained on and off throughout the weekend, so much so on Friday that the festival had to cancel All Night Fuji, the annual midnight-to-dawn rave held at the far-flung Orange Court.

A river became so swollen that it damaged one of the bridges connecting the east and west ends of the festival grounds, which is surrounded by mountains and thick forests.

Work crews had to be brought in during the wee hours to repair the bridge, thus closing off the west end of the festival until Saturday morning.

Across the Japan Sea (or the East Sea, as it’s called in Korea), the inaugural Jisan Valley Rock Festival shared a number of acts with Fuji over the same weekend, including Oasis, Jimmy Eat World, Basement Jaxx, Patti Smith, Fall Out Boy and Weezer, as well as a lush mountain setting. About 52,000 people attended.

It was Weezer’s first appearance in South Korea, and the band commemorated the event by debuting two new songs that instantly became YouTube hits: “I’m Your Daddy” and “Girl Got Hot.” Weezer played the songs in Japan as well.

In a Twitter post, the usually cranky Liam Gallagher complimented the Korean audience, calling them “my kind of people.”