In the summer of 2009, Bernie Nelson crossed paths with Gary “GT” Bustin in Montrose, Colo., while Bernie was performing for a fundraising ball benefiting Samaritan Aviation. The ball was a huge success, and a year later Bernie met up with GT and said, “If you ever need someone to ‘fly shotgun’ in the float plane to the bush in PNG [Papua New Guinea] then I’m your man!”
Gary was understandably excited to have one of Nashville’s finest songwriters and mentors on board. Nelson’s music has sold over 25 million copies, and he is credited for a No. 1 hit on the American charts. Once Bernie met with the PNG Tribal Foundation committee, they thought it would be a good idea to have Bernie host a songwriting seminar and perform at their gala in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in March of 2012. Five airplanes, eight time zones and a whole lot of help later from so many people, he arrived in Port Moresby.
GT Bustin and Bernie kicked off the trip by performing at the country’s largest newspaper, The Courier, as well as FM 100, the country’s largest radio station. They were also allowed to perform for kids at the Port Moresby Children’s Hospital. For Bernie, it was overwhelming to see so many children so eager to hear music from America. Bernie’s heart melted as he strummed his guitar and played songs for the children at the Cheshire House Orphanage there in Papua New Guinea. Gary and Bernie were in awe of the amazing love from the hearts of these children who had so little but so much to give.
At one of the music highlights, Bernie hosted a Funshop, part of the Tribal Foundation’s Opportunities series where special guests come to PNG to share their experience with local participants and enjoy an opportunity to learn about Papua New Guinea’s rich culture.
“The 48 students in class learned techniques and helpful tips on bettering their songwriting skills,” said Bernie. “Two students won guitars for their song compilations they performed that day. The Copley Guitars were donated from Preshias Harris and were cherished like Grammys,” he added.
At the Tribal Foundation Fundraiser held at the Crowne Plaza, Bernie got to take the stage and perform live during the PNG Tribal Foundation’s Join the Tribe inaugural ball gala. Michelle Hau’ofa, the Secretary of the PNG Tribal Foundation Board, headed the team that organized the ball that night. She said, “We are calling it our Join the Tribe gala. We call it that because we invited the community to get involved and help make a difference in PNG.”
Bernie also invited a few local musicians from the symposium to join him. Funds raised from the ball will go towards health and education projects around Papua New Guinea that the PNG Tribal Foundation supports. Some of the special guests at the $500 per plate event were the Ambassador to the United States, the Ambassador to the Interior and Tourism for Papua New Guinea, and the High Commissioner for Australia, as well as several of the largest corporate heads residing in Papua New Guinea. Finance Minister Don Polye said, “The government is happy to support the team at the PNG Tribal Foundation because of the good that is being accomplished.”
Bernie Nelson’s trip to Papua New Guinea is also generating interest amongst Nashville’s top artists and record companies. Bernie was the first country music personality to visit Papua New Guinea. “I’m hoping my trip to PNG will help create partnership opportunities for the PNG Tribal Foundation and the music community in Nashville,” noted Bernie. “In this way, the organization can help more people and support the good work of the PNG Tribal Foundation, introducing country music to new friends at the same time.” As Bernie reflected after the trip, “It made me aware of how much good can be done with just a song and a smile.”
ABOUT: The Tribal Foundation is based in Port Moresby and creates international and local partnerships that enable the organization to have a positive impact around the country. The Foundation supports projects such as Cheshire Disability Services, Hohola Youth Development Centre, and Samaritan Aviation. (Samaritan Aviation to date has saved hundreds of lives by flying sick or needy people out of the bush to the hospital in Wewak.) It also donates large quantities of medical goods to hospitals, provincial health departments, and private organizations such as Catholic Health. Port Moresby General Hospital’s maternity ward currently has 92 beds that were donated by the Foundation in partnership with Port Moresby Rotary and Hill-Rom, a world leader in medical equipment. Lae’s Angau Hospital is slated to receive the next donated 40-foot container of medical soft goods and equipment in partnership with Super Value Stores, Lae Rotary, and a group of the Tribal Foundation’s international partners. Consort Shipping, Oxfam Australia, Save the Children, and the National Government, are a few of the partners who enable the PNG Tribal Foundation activities to succeed.
“This trip was made possible by the support of so many here in Nashville including Nashville SESAC’s Tim Fink and his wonderful staff, Sheree Spoltore at NSAI, Dave Gibson, Daisy Dern, and Jeff Cohen of Voyage Guitars and Savannah Music Group, Jim Cantino and his staff at Sony Music and Noah Gordon and his staff at Average Joe’s Music Group for their donations of CDs that were presented to the media and all the guests at the gala. Thanks to Copley Guitars, DR Strings and of course Preshias Harris for her relentless efforts to find me everything I asked for and more to take over to PNG. I also wish to thank my partners at Roundtable Publishing, Jim and Philip, for letting me travel around the globe for a few weeks while leaving them with all the work of getting the big cuts while I was gone.“