Tuesday, January 29, 2019

NAMM 2019 Roundup: Gibson, Yamaha, Brandon "Taz" Niederauer at D'Angelico Guitars, Alice Wallace at Shubb Capos, more!

The 2019 NAMM Show / Photo: Bob Steshetz
Star-studded concert events, intimate booth performances, new music making-related products and educational sessions make the annual NAMM Show an essential destination for those who make or love music.

This year's Winter NAMM Show was held at the Anaheim Convention Center January 24-27, 2019, with this writer also attending the NAMM Media Preview Day on Jan. 23 to get an early, in-depth glimpse at several music-making products on the eve of their debut to the more than 115,000 music enthusiasts who attended the industry event.

Here are some of the standout performances and cool gear I experienced during my long weekend at the 2019 NAMM Show!
Billy F Gibbons at Gibson's
"NAMM Jam" on Jan. 24.
Photo: Bob Steshetz 

Gibson Brands returned to NAMM in a big way in 2019. The iconic Nashville, Tennessee-based guitar maker was a major presence during the show. The company teamed up with Chuck Berry's son and grandson to create Berry's ES-350T (to be released later this year). Gibson also showcased a limited-edition Chris Cornell Tribute Model ES-335; only 250 of the instruments will be available. 

The company staged many live music events, notably the outstanding "NAMM Jam" featuring Billy F Gibbons (ZZ Top), Peter Frampton, Robby Krieger (The Doors) and Nancy Wilson (Heart) staged at City National Grove of Anaheim on Jan. 24. That show was truly spectacular with several emerging artists including Austin, Texas-based Emily Wolfe and Black Pistol Fire adding firepower to the night. Read my full-length review of that show here.

Nathan East performing at NAMM.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
The Yamaha Grand Plaza Stage hosted almost continuous music across the event, including three major concerts. Although I missed the Thursday night affair (I was at the aforementioned Gibson "NAMM Jam" that evening), I did catch the Friday and Saturday night headline events. Yamaha's second annual "All-Star Concert on the Grand" featuring Sarah McLachlan, Jonathan Butler, James "J.T." Taylor, Jon McLaughlin, and Loren Allred. The terrific concert event featured Yamaha artist/bassist Nathan East (Fourplay) as musical director. Elle King & the Brethren delivered a strong 80-minute set on Saturday, displaying her unique hybrid of blues, rock, pop and country via a mix of original material and several artful covers (Johnny Cash's "Folsom Prison Blues" and Paul McCartney's "Oh! Darling"). She capped her well-received outing with the pop-rock hit "Ex's & Oh's." Read George A. Paul's full-length review of both concerts here.

Plasmic showcasing "Keytar" at Yamaha booth.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Speaking of Yamaha Corporation of America, the company showcased a number of innovative products during the show. Among the most impressive was the Yamaha Sonogenic "Keytar," an affordable-for-all $299 keyboard that will appeal to those who don't know how to play the instrument as well as those who do! I was able to watch as musician-producer Plasmic demonstrated the ease and fun of using the shoulder-worn Sonogenic SGS-500, which she wore like a guitar while fingering the instrument's 37 mini-keys. The use of the "Keytar" is bolstered by Yamaha's free companion Chord Tracker app that links the user's iTunes music library so the player can accompany their favorite artist. "There are no wrong notes," Plasmic explained. Information: https://usa.yamaha.com/.

Martin's DX Woodstock 50th Anniversary
model. Photo: Robert Kinsler
Ciari Guitars unveiled a premium electric guitar that folds in half. The full-size Ascender Travel guitar is designed to be played like any favorite electric guitar, and then quickly folded and placed into a protective backpack that can be taken on the road and even tucked safely underneath the passenger seat of a commercial flight. Those wondering if the instrument sounds as cool as it looks should watch the amazing video on the company's official website: CiariGuitars.com.

Those looking to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Woodstock might want to get the C.F. Martin @ Co. DX Woodstock 50th Anniversary model complete with custom artwork by Robert F. Goetzl that replicates the iconic Woodstock music festival poster from 1969. The X Series D-14 model also includes certified sustainable wood parts. Information: MartinGuitar.com.

Xander Hitzig, left, with Alice Wallace.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

In a recent column I declared that singer-songwriter-guitarist Alice Wallace's "Into the Blue" is one of the first great albums of 2019. Released via Rebelle Road Records on Jan. 18, the 10-track album is a perfect showcase for the Southern California songstress' winning mix of contemporary Americana and traditional country music styles. Performing at the Shubb Capos booth on Jan. 26, Wallace was joined by virtuoso fiddle player Xander Hitzig for a 15-minute set featuring several original cuts as well as an inspired cover of Don Walser's "Rolling Stone From Texas," the latter featuring Wallace's impressive yodeling that mirrored Hitzig's dazzling play on his fiddle. The new original "Santa Ana Winds" was driving and infectious to be sure while Wallace's top-flight vocals bolstered the track. And sure enough, Wallace's capo worked perfectly as she was able to raise the pitch of her acoustic guitar by shortening the neck; "I couldn't play a show without my capo," she said. Information: AliceWallaceMusic.com.

Taylor Guitars always offers a wide range of great concerts in their upstairs booth. I was most impressed by roots rocking trio White Buffalo. The group's energetic set thrilled the Saturday afternoon crowd with a forceful mix of roots, Americana and Southern rock stylings. Information: TaylorGuitars.com or https://www.revelationmgmt.com/the-white-buffalo/.

Brandon "Taz" Niederauer performing at D'Angelico Guitars
booth on Friday, Jan. 25, 2019. Photo: Bob Steshetz

I can't finish up this roundup of my NAMM experience without sharing my absolute praise for 15-year-old Brandon "Taz" Niederauer, who blew me away again this year. I first caught the young guitar master at the Doheny Blues Festival in May 2015 when the-then 12-year-old emerging guitarist performed with bluesman Otis Taylor; he stunned with his guitar work then  especially on a version of the trance blues Taylor original "Rain So Hard" (read my review of that festival event here). Niederauer was flat out incredible when I caught him at the 2018 NAMM Show (read my recap of that appearance here). 

Brandon "Taz" Niederauer.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Fast forward to the D'Angelico Guitars booth on Friday afternoon, Jan. 25, 2019 and I was only partially prepared for the 40-minute performance featuring Niederauer and his fantastic band. Featuring a mix of original songs and instrumentals, the prodigy's set demonstrated top-tier skills on lead and rhythm guitar, as a songwriter, vocalist and band leader. Among his great songs was the soulful "My Revival" and "Dare," as well as the funk-tinged blues rocker "Paralyzed." Some of the great moments came when Niederauer would trade lead solos with his fellow guitarist Mat Godfrey

Information: https://www.tazguitar.com/

You can also watch a special episode where I interviewed Niederauer and Godfrey during the 2019 NAMM Show here.

Article written by Robert Kinsler

Photography courtesy of Bob Steshetz

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