The People at NAMM Are Weirder Than Most of the Instruments
The gentlemen of Blue Felix
Prior to parking my car on Day 2 of the NAMM convention (which incidentally was my first time ever), I'd already pumped myself up for a day full of musical exploration in this temporary gearhead paradise. But after scanning the parking lot on a rainy afternoon on my way into the Anaheim Convention Center, I realized that this trip would offer more than just a look into a world of crazy ass instruments and technology. It would be a look at the crazy ass people who are obsessed with it. The chance to see folk from all walks of life in an amplified state of music geekdom would prove to be far more interesting than then the convention itself.
Upon entry it seemed like all of the strange characters and miscreants who Hunter S. Thompson described in many of his books seemed to all convene at NAMM. Yes, it should be noticed that musicians, vendors and the like aren't exactly suit-wearing business types, but I don't think I was ready for the massive swarm of mullets, leather jackets and acid wash jeans that awaited me at the door. It was as if the hair metal era literally took a dump on the showroom floor. I had never seen so many Vince Neil/Stacee Jaxx look-alikes in my life, and if the dudes didn't look like him, they certainly looked stereotypically like they worked at the guitar store in Wayne's World.
I should have known better since a buddy of mine who owns a successful clothing company and had frequented the event as a vendor until this year warned me about the types of people who would be at the event. I shrugged his words off, figuring that he was just being cynical. Alas, per usual, his wisdom proved to be correct.
Rummaging past instruments (mainly of the brass variety) that reminded me of the ghost of my geeky high school band days, I did manage to see a lot of cool shit. The endless rows of guitars all seemed rad along with the different models of string instruments like violins, cellos etc. Weaving in and out of each row, there seemed to be two types of vendors: ones who were swamped by curious musicians and the one who looked sad that he/she wasted thousands of dollars to not ring up any sales or at least drum up interest in their respective brand. I felt for these people and headed over to check out their products, especially the poor guy with the graffiti guitars and multi-colored flutes, even if I wasn't the least bit inclined to buy anything. But hey, at least I got to noodle around on some cool guitars, saxophones and keyboards!
Truthfully, though the crowd was pretty weird, the real freaks seemed to gravitate toward the autograph booths filled with musicians I'd never heard of. As a music writer, I'd like to think that I have knowledge in who musicians are, however, judging by the signing schedule, I think I heard of maybe six (Mike Inez of Alice In Chains, Fieldy from Korn, Scott Ian from Anthrax, Zakk Wylde, the drummer from Iron Maiden and Victor Wooten) of the hundreds of people who fans waited in line for. After seeing one dude signing who I'd never heard of before, I asked someone who just got an autograph who that person was. He looked at me dumbfounded and shrugged his shoulders and kept moving.
(Funny note: apparently said autograph signer was the guitarist of Whitesnake. About 20 minutes later, he and his entourage cut in front of me as I was about to enter the Gibson exhibit. A security guard recognizes the fella and said, "Hey man, I remember seeing Night Ranger not too long ago and you rocked!" to which he responded, "I'm in Whitesnake, sorry." Ouch!)
That leads us the highlight of the day: Playboy guitars. Hugh Hefner has been brilliant in branding Playboy, but to outsource his iconic logo to include guitars? Fucking genius! And of course, he's got the best spokes models in the business. After a full day of being almost entirely surrounded by dudes, an appearance from 2012 Playmate of the Year Jaclyn Swedberg was like finding a lake in the middle of the desert. With most (by most, I mean about 85 percent) of the women at the event being plus-sized, the pickings were slim when it came to eye candy. Men flocked to where she was signing, tongues waggling anxious to get a photo of the glowing goddess that they could use for the ol' spank bank.
Jaclyn Swedeberg and lucky fan
Just for fun, I waited around for a bit and watched the line get as long as it did for any musician, but after a while I saw every horn dog take a photo with her (to her credit, she made small talk and took photos with every single one of the droolers, with a smile on her face), and by then, it was time to go.
By then, I think I'd seen it all. After all, where else can you go and see people who love music yet live in a time capsule while checking out amazing new gear and seeing people geek out about musicians who you never knew existed? As for tomorrow, with Nikki Sixx and Sheila E. scheduled to sign, I fully expect this freak show conga line to be even more entertaining.
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