NAMM Stories: Reports From the Frontlines
Photo by Andrew Youssef
BY RYAN RITCHIE
Apparently, scoring a ticket to the NAMM show is like the hair farmer version of acceptance into Disneyland's Club 33. Just ask my friend Brian, who was turned away from the event on Saturday even though I pleaded with the press people using my otherwise indefensible charm.
I said adios to Brian and met up with photographer Andrew Youssef, who I bonded with earlier that week over the Jets to Brazil reference in his email address (I'll let the readers try to figure that one out). Luckily for me, Andrew had been to the event in year's past and earlier in the week, so I had a tour guide for what turned out to be an interesting day to say the least.
You know that old saying about "it's only rock 'n' roll?" Yeah, well, that doesn't apply at NAMM. I guess what I'm trying to say is, it's 100 times easier sneaking in to the Verizon Wireless Amphitheater than it is the NAMM Show. Every twist and turn, there's a staff member not only checking laminates, but also photo IDs to make sure the names match. And I thought this was just a massive Guitar Center party.
We get in and instantly that sensation of way too many people in one room set in. Then I saw a picture of Germs/Foo Fighters/Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear and walked over. It was the Hagstrom booth. No Pat Smear, but some nice guitars and a bass that, if I was more of a tech-head, I would have a much more in-depth way of saying it had four large strings that were accompanied with four tiny strings. Stuff like this is why I needed Brian. He knows this shit way better than I do and I'm a bass player. Next year.
Andrew and I hoofed it for a while, stopping periodically to take a peek at things that jumped out at me. I dug the wall of Orange amps and a massive kick drum at the Orange County Drum & Percussion booth. Problem is, there are a lot of people and I got the feeling like I was on one of those moving walkways at the airport. Even when I wanted to stop, there were 75 people behind me who wanted me to keep walking.
Once we rounded the corner from the drum section, I began to hear faint trumpet noises. Now in my younger days, I was a guitar/bass/drums/vocals kinda guy, but as I slowly inch my way towards 30, I've become more of a jazz/blues/instrumental music fan. I was not only thrilled to be in the brass section, but even more happy when I realized there wasn't anyone over there, which meant taking my time to actually look at products. A quick walk through and we hit another ghost town - the sheet music area. This is when I realized that NAMM really is an overgrown Guitar Center: six strings get the majority of the attention with scraps thrown to basses and drums. Anything else is just lucky to be there.
Just like high school, NAMM is a popularity contest. Fender and Gibson have their own rooms upstairs and they are PACKED. The little guys with knock-off Strats, God bless 'em, are trying, but not succeeding. Some of the lesser-known companies recognize this beforehand and hire girls with nice cleavage to entice people into the booths. You'd have to ask them if it's working. Another similarity to high school is the manner in which the pianos are ostracized to another portion of the venue. I suck at guesstimating, but I'd say there were at least 50 pianos in a large room, which meant instruments outnumbered humans by about 2:1.
Saw some "celebs" such as Tom Dumont from No Doubt, Steve Vai, and my personal favorite, the one who I now regret not stopping and talking to, was a singer/guitarist named Paulie Z from a band called ZO2. They're a hard rock trio from New York who have a show on IFC called "Z Rock." I won't get into here, but it's fucking funny and I'm kicking myself for not telling him that.
There's an aura that surrounds NAMM. The privileged get in while the peasants wait outside. For all those who have been dying to get a peak but never have, here's some comforting news: It's not that great. Basically, you get two types: non-musicians in suits and guys who have yet to discover how the rest of the world revels in the humor that is the mullet. The suits are in tip-top sales mode while guys in Van Halen t-shirts walk around with looks on their faces that suggest they're still pondering why Michael Anthony wasn't invited to the reunion.
But in all sincerity, NAMM isn't exactly the glitz and glamour that some have made it out to be, but if you're in the instrument retail business, it's where you should be. For those who aren't, you might be better off at home playing Guitar Hero.
Highlights: Seeing the August 2008 Playmate of the Month Kayla Collins from five feet's distance (call me), meeting and having a good chat with Andrew and leaving.