By Steve McKinley
If you’ve never been to NAMM …
As a musician, going to the NAMM show is something you should definitely do at least once in your life. Know up front that it is not open to the public as it’s mainly a trade show for music manufacturers and retailers in the music industry. But if you’re determined enough to go, you’ll find a way!
In brief review, the trade show of the National Association of Music Merchants (aka the NAMM Show or just NAMM) held at the Anaheim Convention Center in Southern California, is the premier music industry event. Its crown jewels are the industry people, the newest and best new gear from all the top companies, and the performances.
First off, it is hard to grasp the sheer size of NAMM as it’s enormous – the convention center itself can house a small country. Next, the biggest names in music attend and I mean the biggest names. For example, when I passed Stevie Wonder in the hallway, there was an inexplicable atmospheric change and I started breathing about 30 seconds later. Lastly, the performances by many talented players represent a broad diversity of talent that continue to grace the many stages at NAMM and are amazing. So, needless to say, when you’re at NAMM, it is 100% “game on.”
Anaheim Convention Center (Photo by Mark Lim)
So I’d like to take you through the incredible journey of some the highlights of the first official day of NAMM.
To get from Atlanta, where I live, to Anaheim, CA is a good five plus hours of travel time, so it was an “early” morning wake-up and off to the airport to catch the first flight of the day. Fast forward to “boots on ground” at NAMM, and I immediately go to Fender’s 60th Anniversary of the iconic Stratocaster. As you can bet, it was Fender first class. The guitars displayed were the bonafide gold standard. Add to that their custom shop guitars and it was like you were granted a special pass in to Fender guitar heaven.
Next, the attendees were literally a who’s who of Fender myths and legends. Fender top brass and gentry were present, and it was very cool to meet a personal guitar hero, Billy Zoom; but, when Eddie Van Halen walked right up to me, I wasn’t sure just what to do with myself, but I’m pretty sure I froze. I do remember him saying a polite “Excuse me” when he walked past.
But the highest honor was bestowed on me when I met the most gracious Phyllis Fender, wife of the iconic Leo Fender, and charming Abigail Ybarra. “Pick-up artist” Abigail Ybarra joined the Fender factory in Southern California in 1956 and retired in May of 2013 after more than 50 years of service with Fender. She was known as the Queen of Tone. I will forever cherish meeting the ladies of true Fender royalty.
Phyllis Fender and Abigail Ybarra (Photo by Steve McKinley)
After the lights dimmed on this prestigious event, the evening parties started. The transition between the day’s and evening’s activities are fluidly seamless, so it’s common to find yourself in the wee hours before you know it. By the time you finally make it back to your hotel room, you’re about to fall asleep standing in your shoes.
NAMM formally started on Thursday, Jan. 23, and many attendees had arrived by then, so the 8:00 AM NAMM University (NAMM U) breakfast was well attended. With a quick hardy breakfast and strong coffee, you can attend the many workshops that are offered through NAMM U to learn effective strategies in the music industry. At the breakfast, Smokey Robinson received NAMM’s “Music for Life” Award.
Smokey Robinson receives Music for Life Award
(Photo by Jessee Grant/Getty Images)
After breakfast, the hallowed doors of NAMM opened promptly at 10:00 AM. To give you some sense of scale of this magnificent show, there are four huge convention center halls on the first floor, the second and third floors are reserved for the true heavy hitters (ex. Fender, Gibson, PRS, et. al.) and Hall E in the basement. As much as you may try, your brain just cannot digest the amount of amazing gear you’ll see and the information available from seasoned, knowledgeable experts. So it’s a good idea to come up with a plan of who you want to see.
(Photos by Mark Lim)
For me, I’m here on special assignment to interview women who are making things happen in music. Today, I interviewed some of the younger, but very talented musicians, as well as others who are more experienced and are making their mark in music. More specifically, there was Sophia Dion, Erika Mohr, Christina Hudson, Tish Ciravolo, Morgan Ober, Jessica Lynn, the Command Sisters, Terry McCoy, Jamey Geston and Kris Angelis. Needless to say, it was a busy day. Later, I talked New York with Earl Slick and talked with Ben Fargen about the Fargen John Lennon amps as well as other Fargen amps of divinity. I even saw Santa Claus in his red “off season” suit (he was very cool). Six o’clock came quickly, the Halls closed, and the parties started as if on cue. So it’s a habit you can easily get used to.
Pictured top to bottom, left to right: Sophia Dion and The Command Sisters, Christina Hudson, Tish Ciravolo and Jessica Lynn, Terri McCoy, Jamey Geston, Kris Angelis (Photos by Steve McKinley)
I hope this sheds some light on what it’s like to attend the music industry’s show-of-shows in its enormity, uber cool gear, star-studded attendees, and many talented performers. As you can already imagine, I highly recommend attending. So it’s off to sleep for me before I do so standing in my shoes.
Stay tuned for more. Keep on shining!