Tuesday, January 21, 2020

2020 NAMM Show Recap

Slash unleashing a fiery lead solo during the
'Gibson: Live at the Grove' event on Jan. 16, 2020.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
From the debut of the latest high-tech music-minded gear to stunning performances on stages large and small, the 2020 NAMM Show delivered a long weekend of bona fide excitement in Anaheim (Jan. 16-19, 2020). NAMM, or National Association of Music Merchants, is a music products, professional audio and technology trade show that fills every conceivable square foot of the Anaheim Convention Center as well as several nearby hotels and concert venues.
Earth, Wind & Fire in concert on Jan. 17, 2020.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

I have been attending the annual Winter NAMM Show since the early 1990s and I can't recall an event as packed with enthusiastic attendees as I experienced this year. Along with some really cool new gear and musical instruments, the range of powerful performances unleashed from a diverse field of artists also helped make this a standout year.

According to NAMM, the 2020 Show welcomed more than 2,000 exhibiting member companies representing 7,000 brands. Of the 115,888 NAMM Member and invited registrants, international members accounted for nearly 20 percent growth over two years.

Every NAMM-goer has a different experience at the annual event. Here are highlights of my journey through this year's show.

Cheap Trick lead guitarist Rick Nielsen performing
at City National Grove of Anaheim on Jan. 16, 2020.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Media Preview Day (Wednesday, Jan. 15, 2020)
A mix of outstanding products and new lines of instruments were displayed in the lobby of the Convention Center. Among the products that caught my eye were:

Yamaha Technical Services Specialist Tony Escueta playing
the Yamaha YC61 Stage Keyboard.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
  • Yamaha's YC61 Stage Keyboard, an organ-focused instrument that combines the organ sounds of the Hammond B-3 popularized by rock bands in the 1960s and '70s with the versatility and real-time control available today. The YC61 utilizes a recently-developed virtual circuitry modeling organ tone generator, which models the character and behavior of vintage electronics at the component level. The state-of-the-art keyboard – which ships to retailers in late May 2020  offers another cool feature; it weighs a mere 16 pounds compared to the 400 pound combination of a Hammond B-3 and Leslie speaker traditionally used. Information: usa.yamaha.com.
  • Another impressive sighting was Lekholm Instruments' DM48 Digital Chromatic
    Erik Lekholm shows off his new DM48 Digital
    Chromatic Harmonica at the NAMM Show.
    Photo: Robert Kinsler
    . The unique instrument definitely takes harmonica playing into the 21st century by allowing musicians to play in any and all keys in one instrument, and to use countless expressive capabilities by 
    tapping into a world of software instruments and effects. There are some pretty impressive videos showcasing the instrument and its great sound on Lekholm Instruments' website. The DM48 is available now and can be ordered via the link below. Information: lekholminstruments.com.
  • Paoletti Guitars are handmade in Tuscany, Italy, using reclaimed chestnut wood from 130 to 150-year-old wine barrels. Visually, the guitars blend both old and new, and they sound fantastic too! Information: www.paolettiguitars.com.
  • Media Preview Day ended with an invite up to the Gibson booth for a private concert featuring Los Lobos with special guest, superstar Juanes. The eight-song set allowed Los Lobos to showcase their brilliant blend of roots rock, Latin rock and blues-tinged Americana, including sharp versions of the rockabilly-flavored "Don't Worry Baby" and "Evangeline" along with a cover of Santana's "One Como Va." 

Opening Day (Thursday, Jan. 16, 2020)
My 15-hour day began by attending the NAMM Breakfast of Champions, which included singer-songwriter Jason Mraz being honored with the Music for Life Award by NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond. Mraz was honored, in part, for his efforts on behalf of supporting music education in schools. Many more highlights would follow:

A pack of Pistol Picks retails for $12.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Laurence Juber performing at Seymour Duncan.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
  • Concrete, Washington-based inventor and guitar player John Cunradi brought one of the most simple, but revolutionary ideas to the NAMM Show. "I had a brand new and vague idea in July 2019. I was frustrated as a guitarist; I would start to play and the pick would twist around in my fingers. I thought if I put a handle on it, it wouldn't twist."  Fast forward six months later and here was Cunradi in Anaheim marketing his colorful cutting-edge Pistol Picks, guitar picks that come in several types. They are make of polycarbonate, bend, are durable and easy to use. And they will definitely assist players who can't hold on to their guitar pick. "I'm still a frustrated guitarist, but at least I like my pick!"
  • Seymour Duncan hosted an afternoon set from famed fingerstyle guitar master Laurence Juber, a two-time Grammy winner who rose to fame as lead guitarist of Paul McCartney and Wings but has gone on to carve out a career as studio and session musician, composer and solo artist who attracts enthusiastic audiences whenever he performs. His 30-minute appearance at NAMM found Juber offering up brilliant instrumental versions of works ranging from George Harrison's "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" and The Beatles classic "Daytripper" to Jimi Hendrix's "Little Wing" to Pete Townshend's "Won't Get Fooled Again."
  • My day ended with courtesy of Gibson at the City National Grove of Anaheim. Over the course of three fast-moving hours, a parade of rising artists joined icons such as Slash (Guns N' Roses), Don Felder (The Eagles), Billy Gibbons (ZZ Top), Elliot Easton (The Cars) and Cheap Trick's Robin Zander and Rick Nielsen for a fantastic concert. Highlights abounded, including a take on Robert Johnson's "Crossroads" featuring emerging singer-guitarist Emily Wolfe, rising artist Celisse performing her soulful original "Get There," Halestorm singer-guitarist Lzzy Hale crushing "I Miss the Misery," and a nice version of Tito Puente's "Oye Como Va" featuring Santana lead vocalist Andy Vargas and Cars lead guitarist Elliot Easton. Other highlights of the night included Slash and Felder joining forces for "Hotel California," Slash, Zander and Nielsen tearing up on the power pop rocker "Big Eyes" and a one-two finale take on ZZ Top's "Tush" and Led Zeppelin's "Whole Lotta Love," the latter featuring an army of talents on stage together. Information: Gibson.com.
Billy F Gibbons, left, with Slash at City National Grove of Anaheim.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Robin Zander, left, with Slash.
Photo: Bob Steshetz
Elliot Easton, lead guitarist of the Cars,
performing at 'Gibson: Live at the Grove' in
Anaheim on Jan. 16, 2020.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Day 2 (Friday, Jan. 17, 2020)
My Friday at the NAMM Show included getting the opportunity to meet and chat with several of my musical heroes including Elliot Easton (The Cars), Graham Coxon (Blur) and Geoff Downes (ASIA, Yes, The Buggles and that's not even including several great performances:
Sweet Lizzy Project delivering a fantastic set at the NAMM Show.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Lisset Diaz of Sweet Lizzy Project.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Graham Coxon at Softube.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

  • Sweet Lizzy Project is a quintet from Havana, Cuba who absolutely impressed this writer with a standout set on the Pioneer Pro Audio Stage. The band's infectious style of rock is bolstered by the talents of all five members of the group, including lead vocalist and lyricist Lisset Diaz, co-writer and lead guitarist Miguel Comas, keyboardist Wilfredo Gatell, bassist Alejandro Gonzalez and drummer Ángel Luis Millet. Make sure to read writer George A. Paul's review of Sweet Lizzy Project's set via his post on Music Minded linked here.
  • Graham Coxon gave a product demonstration at Softube and answered questions about his recent work scoring episodes for Netflix and possible future projects with Blur. Writer George A. Paul covered Coxon's session and you can get more details here. Information: softube.com.
  • Geoff Downes demonstrated the power and ease of using his Studiologic Sledge keyboard, and played selections from Yes and The Buggles on the instrument. Information: studiologic-music.com.

  • Geoff Downes at the Studiologic booth.
    Photo: Robert Kinsler
  • The Yamaha All-Star Concert on the Grand was hosted by Sinbad and featured a cast of great players including VerbalaseKenny Loggins and headliners Earth, Wind & Fire
Kenny Loggins rocking at the Yamaha All-Star Concert on the Grand.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Day 3 (Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020)
I didn't waste my final day at the 2020 NAMM Show:

Guitar great Robby Krieger, left, with Doors sound engineer
Bruce Botnick at the Harman booth on Jan. 18, 2020.
Photo: Robert Kinsler
Harman hosted an intimate session featuring Doors guitarist/songwriter Robby Krieger and sound engineer Bruce Botnick sharing insights into the legendary Los Angeles band's career as part of "Stories Behind the Sessions." I was riveted listening to Krieger discuss and share his guitar work for "L.A. Woman," with Botnick then playing the isolated Jim Morrison vocal tracks too. Incredible stuff. Information: HarmanAudio.com.

Brandon "Taz" Niederauer continues to deliver some of the most incredible and arresting performances at NAMM. Only 16, the New York-based electric guitar and his talented band thrilled at D'Angelico Guitars on Saturday. I can't wait for Taz to release an album featuring his stellar guitar playing and solid songs. Information: dangelicoguitars.com.

Brandon "Taz" Niederauer at the NAMM Show.
Photo: Robert Kinsler

Marcus D Scott leading R&B icons Tower of Power through an
energetic set on the NAMM Grand Plaza Stage on Jan. 18, 2020.
Photo: Bob Steshetz

Tower of Power performed a concert in celebration of the Oakland-spawned troupe's 50th anniversary on the NAMM Grand Plaza Stage. Sponsored by Yamaha, I thought the horn section-anchored R&B band killed it across a two-hour concert that included rousing versions of new tracks as well as classic material (notably "You're Still a Young Man" and "What Is Hip?").  Information: towerofpower.com.

Robert Kinsler

A special "Thank You" to Bob Steshetz for the use of his amazing photos too!

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