by John M. Borack
“Everybody’s a dreamer/everybody’s a star/and everybody’s in showbiz/it doesn’t matter who you are” – Ray Davies
These prescient lyrics from the Kinks’ “Celluloid Heroes” could easily serve as something of a mantra for many attendees at the 2014 NAMM (National Association of Music Merchants) Show, held in late January 2014 in Anaheim, CA. Thousands of professional musicians, earnest wannabes, music executives, salespeople of all stripes and other fans and friends of music descended upon the four-day mega-convention, which serves as a humongous music trade show, an excellent networking opportunity, a college of musical knowledge (featuring various informational seminars as part of “NAMM U”) and a way for fans to connect with musicians via autograph signings and intimate live performances.
While many of the NAMM U offerings looked interesting this year (including “How to Create YouTube Videos that Drive Sales” and “How to Turn Facebook ‘Likes” Into Sales”), I decided to focus on prowling the trade show floor and checking out some of the under-the-radar vendors and their products. (Not many of the performances or autograph signings seemed to be in my wheelhouse this year; of course, it would have been difficult to improve upon meeting both Brian Wilson and the late Phil Everly at the 2013 show.)
One of the first things that caught my eye on the massive floor was the Bohemian Guitars booth, with their beyond-unique six-string beauties that are apparently inspired by South African street musicians. “Bohemian Guitars' mission is to build funky, unique, and innovative sounding instruments out of unconventional materials for real, everyday use,” says their website, and their guitars made from – wait for it - oil cans (!) certainly attest to the “unconventional” part of the equation. www.bohemianguitars.com
Next up was a stop at the SwirlyGig booth. SwirlyGig is a Minneapolis, MN-based company that began by helpfully answering that age-old question, “Where do I put my drink while playing music?” The Original Swirlygig (pictured) is made of spring steel, holds most common drink containers, and fits nicely on microphone stands, music stands or drum hardware. (For non-musicians, SwirlyGig products also fit on walkers, wheelchairs, in ice fishing houses, on deer stands, pontoon boats, bird feeders, lawn chairs and crutches. Wow.) Other products include the Swirlyshtick (a drum stick holder) and the Swirlyhook (which conveniently holds headphones, tambourines or cables). Check ‘em out at www.swirlygig.com.
Being a drummer, I was naturally drawn to the Fantastix Drum Stick Company booth. Their sticks are both eye catching and serviceable, allowing for a good grip while still looking stylish. My personal faves are the Zebra Wraps (pictured), which are uniquely cool and come in a variety of colors and designs. Fantastix was honored by NAMM this year with the Milestone Award for 25 years of service in the music products industry. www.newfantastix.com
I spied another unique item at the BoloPick booth. Their specialty is guitar pick holders that are worn on a necklace and hold and dispense up to six picks. According to their website, “Picks simply snap in and out, stacking into place…the picks hang upside down, allowing for a natural, perfectly positioned quick downward draw, making them perfect for stage use.” Even though I’m not a guitar player, I ordered one; they’re mighty cool looking necklaces. www.bolopick.com
Another cool feature at NAMM 2014 was an expanded newsstand, which offered dozens of free magazines and periodicals for attendees. I snagged copies of Vintage Guitar (with a nice cover story on 1964-era Beatles and their axes), Modern Drummer (with an interesting “50 Greatest Drummers of All Time” list that ranked Vinnie Colaiuta over Keith Moon and Ringo, and Dave Grohl over Charlie Watts. Hmmm…), American Songwriter (great Elvis Costello article), and Revolver, which provided a look at “The Hottest Chicks in Hard Rock” (Taylor Momsen was their pick, in case you’re interested.)
One of the highlights of NAMM 2014 found singer/songwriter/musical innovator Todd Rundgren being awarded the coveted Les Paul award for technical achievement at the 29th annual NAMM TEC Awards. Rundgren also performed some of his better-known tunes at the ceremony, including the hits “Hello It’s Me” and “I Saw the Light.”
All in all, as the massive throngs of humanity who attended can attest to, NAMM 2014 was another stellar event. Can’t wait for next year. (But…Dave Grohl over Charlie Watts? Really?)