Sunday, January 31, 2016

2016 NAMM Show Roundup: Graham Nash, Jake Shimabukuro, Taylor Guitars, Yamaha, more

The Anaheim Convention Center hosts the annual NAMM Show.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
I spent the better part of a week at the 2016 NAMM Show in Anaheim, CA, taking in as many sights and sounds as possible, stretching from Media Preview Day (Jan. 20) through a late night performance from alternative-Americana singer-songwriter Michael Ubaldini that wrapped up just before midnight on Saturday, Jan. 23.

Here are some highlights from this year's amazing National Association of Music Merchants show, better known as NAMM.

Media Preview Day, Wednesday, Jan. 20, 2016
Over the course of a few fast-moving hours, a number of exciting new products were showcased for reporters, photographers and news crews. 
Tribal Tools showcased the new Kadabra at the
NAMM Show during Media Preview Day.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

One of the most exciting debuts on media preview day came courtesy of the Kadabra by Israel-based Tribal Tools. A trio of musicians took the stage and performed on the unique wireless instrument in something that combined world music with sci-fi synth sounds; the ergonomic design also has an adapter and can be outfitted with a microphone so the musician can sing while playing the instrument at the same time. Tribal Tools presenter Moshe Yoffe explained that the Kadabra combines high-tech electronics, motion sensors, a sleek design and smart algorithms to allow players to expand their musical expression. Information:

The 660 Guitar weighs in at 7 pounds and has an aluminum body with a carbon fiber/graphite neck. According to the makers of the guitar, it is practically indestructible and has a sound that is as rich as other top-tier electric guitars in the marketplace. It retails for $2,995, and comes in a number of sleek designs and colors. Performing with the guitar was Zebrahead guitarist Dan Palmer. Every order comes with strap locks and a low-profile guitar case. Information:

In celebration of John Lennon's 75th birthday (the Beatle would have turned 75 on Oct. 9, 2015), C.F. Martin & Co. debuted the Martin D-28 John Lennon 75th Anniversary Edition guitar. The legendary guitar maker is also celebrating the 100th anniversary of its iconic Dreadnought model by unveiling the Martin D-222 100th Anniversary Edition acoustic model. Information:
Caroline Campbell playing a new Yamaha Electric
Violin at NAMM. Photo: Bob Steshetz

Famed violinist Caroline Campbell (Andrea Bocelli, Sting, Chris Botti) was brought out to showcase a new Yamaha Electric Violin; as impressive as that state-of-the-art YEV series instrument was it was one of only 100 new music-related products introduced by Buena Park, CA-based Yamaha at this year's NAMM Show. New products include high-tech digital mixing consoles, the Disklavier Enspire piano and much more. Get more information on Yamaha's range of new products that made their debut at NAMM here.
Andy Powers with new 12-string
guitar at NAMM.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Taylor Guitars was able to showcase two exciting products. Taylor Master Guitar Designer Andy Powers shared with me about the company's 12-Fret Guitar Revival. "This year (2016) we are re-evaluating and reconsidering our heritage. Some of Taylor's 'first hit singles' were 12-string guitars," Powers said. Taylor set out to offer an expanded suite of player-friendly 12-fret models for 2016 (the design and production of the 12-string revivals has been in the works for approximately 2-1/2 years). This writer had a chance to play the all-Mahogany 562ce 12-Fret guitar and I can attest to its full rich tone, and how easy it is to play. "The guitar was too cool to not build," Powers said.

Looking to the future, Taylor announced the release of TaylorSense®, a revolutionary new technology that puts the health and vital signs of a Taylor Guitar directly into the owner's hands. TaylorSense integrates the guitar's hardware with mobile software to help players better care for their instrument and get the most out of playing it. Anchored by the TaylorSense smart battery box (which replaces the 9-volt battery box in any acoustic Taylor guitar), the box houses sensors that monitor the condition of the guitar and communicates via low-energy Bluetooth to the free Taylor Guitars iOS App. For more information about this product, its release date this spring, visit

Thursday, Jan. 21, 2016
Jake Shimabukuro performs during "Breakfast of
Champions." Photo: Robert Kinsler
Getting to the Winter NAMM Show early is always a good idea. While the Anaheim Convention Center doesn't generally open until around 10 a.m., making a point of hitting the show's opening "Breakfast of Champions" seldom disappoints. On the official opening day of this year's show, the surprise musical guest was Jake Shimabukuro. A true ukulele virtuoso, he blended elements of rock, blues, jazz, funk, classical and flamenco during a set that included reworkings of rock classics and original compositions. Highlights included a jaw-dropping take on Queen's "Bohemian Rhapsody" and inspired set-ending arrangement of George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps."

After the stunning performance from Shimabukuro, NAMM's President and CEO Joe Lamond presented singer-songwriter Graham Nash (The Hollies; Crosby, Stills & Nash) with the "Music for Life" award. "The fact is that when music is a part of the school program students are less liely to join a gang, less likely to get into trouble, feel better about themselves and get better grades," Nash said. "So let's keep music in schools."
Mark Johnson, left, and Emory Lester performing
at Deering Banjo. Photo: Robert Kinsler

Thursday saw a number of other solid performances that played out. One of the first performances I caught featured banjo virtuoso Mark Johnson and guitarist-mandolin player Emory Lester playing a satisfying set at the Deering Banjo Company booth. Their long set of instrumentals allowed each to showcase their skills, and a potent version of "Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone."

Fingerstyle guitarist Laurence Juber is a regular visitor to the NAMM Show and always attracts good-sized audiences to see him perform a wide range of material showcasing his technical skill on his Martin guitar. Performing at Hal Leonard, he showcased material featured in "DADGAD Solos," a book now available now featuring his original transcriptions. Highlights included a tender version of Del Shannon's "Runaway," the Beatles' "Yesterday" and "Georgia On My Mind." He also performed a shining original, "Cobalt Blue," allowing him to showcase his own skills as a composer.
Chelsea (on far right) and Grace Constable performed 
with Trey Hensley at Taylor Guitars on Jan. 21, 2016.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Taylor hosted a number of concerts each day of NAMM and I made it a point to catch as many as I could. Thursday afternoon featured the one-two guitar punch from siblings Chelsea and Grace Constable, who played a rousing set of bluegrass-meets-gypsy jazz instrumental prowess. Trading leads and displaying an obvious sense of fun throughout their set, highlights included the jazzy "Burning Steam," Americana-styled "Dad's Song" and an incredible version of Dire Straits'"Sultans of Swing." Taking a well-deserved encore, the Constables they were joined by singer-guitarist Trey Hensley for a rousing version of the blues standard "Mystery Train" and a set-ending take on the Johnny Cash classic "Folsom Prison Blues." 

Following the sisters' impressive NAMM debut, Hensley performed a solo set that showcased the Nashville-based artist's love of traditional country music and bluegrass. Highlights of his short set included a beautiful self-penned ballad "That's What Leaving's For" (set to be included on his next album) and an energetic take on Merle Haggard's "Mama Tried." He closed his set with a cover of Jimmy Martin's "Freeborn Man," with his dazzling arrangement even including a bit of John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" thrown into the solo.
Shane Fontayne, left, and Graham Nash performing at
Winter NAMM Show. Photo: Bob Steshetz

Thursday night, Nash was the featured performer on the Grand Plaza Stage. In addition to featuring some of his best-known hits from the Hollies and CSN, he also played several songs off his forthing album This Path Tonight, set for release on April 15. Nash performed with CSN guitarist Shane Fontayne.

Opening with melodic rendition of the Hollies' 1966 hit "Bus Stop," Nash acknowledged the audience after the song: "That was a long time ago." Nash continued to mine the past and went on to deliver a dream set of material, often providing the background on what led to some of his most famous songs. "Marrakesh Express," "Our House," "Fieldworker," "Immigration Man" and others benefited from the mix of storytelling and song. 

The strongest single performance of the night came when Nash went to the piano and, after recalling how David Crosby got him to come along on an extended sailing trip, he performed "Wind on the Water," a beautiful moment that brought a sense of stirring emotion throughout the crowd standing in front of the stage.

Among the new songs from his upcoming "This Path Tonight" was "Golden Day," a song where he celebrates life now and the everyday joys that overcome the world's obvious challenges. Another new song, "Myself At Last," also tapped into that optimistic tone.

Saturday, Jan. 23, 2016
James Grey is one of several Orange County-based artists I made a point of catching on Saturday. A talented songwriter and guitarist, he sang a number of songs while utilizing the talents of guitar great Bob Hawkins. Grey's songs often blend soul, rock, pop and Americana, with the specific art of songcraft always anchoring his originals. "Seabreeze" and the soulful "Home" were among the standouts featured in his 33-minute set that played out on the Hilton Stage.

John and Jacob tearing it up at Taylor Guitars.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

John & Jacob were impressive when I saw them perform at Stagecoach Festival in Indio in 2015, but the quintet simply blew me away when I caught their set at Taylor Guitars. Somehow coming across as a masterful blend somewhere between Arcade Fire, Mumford and Sons and the Everly Brothers, the Nashville-based group includes singer-guitarist John Davidson, singer-guitarist-trumpet player Jacob Bryant, singer-guitarist-keyboardist Austin T. Smith, bassist Jake Thrasher and drummer Trevor Davis. Among the songs that impressed me (along with everyone else yearning for more in Taylor) was the anthemic opener "Coming Back For You," the country-leaning rocker "Done," and driving country-meets-rock harmonies-filled standout "Give It Away" that closed the outstanding set. Learn more about this exciting ensemble here:

Michael Ubaldini performing at the 2016 NAMM
Show. Photo: Robert Kinsler

Michael Ubaldini is rightfully considered a leader of the regional Americana scene, having long ago mastered how to blend rockabilly, pop, folk, country blues and other roots styles together in the service of his intelligent songs. Over the course of 45 minutes on the Sheraton Acoustic Stage, Ubaldini used nothing more than an acoustic guitar, harmonica and his potent vocals in the delivery of gems such as the rousing "Jean Harlow," pensive "Shadows and Ghosts" and blistering "Scratch My Back." 

Robert Kinsler

1 comment:

newwavegeo said...

A cool overview! I did one as well that can be viewed at