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KNAC.COM Recaps NAMM 2021

By Krishta Abruzzini, Pacific Northwest Writer
Friday, March 12, 2021 @ 8:35 AM

Held virtually For The First Time Ever

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Wow. Where to start. This has obviously been a long, strange year. I’ve attended the NAMM show for more than a decade, but NAMM 2021 brought about more introspection than ever. I realized that the previous NAMM 2020 marked the last of my carefree, pre-pandemic life, and that these sort of events may never be the same. We’ve seen many cherished events canceled this year. Despite this, many of us held out hope that the pandemic would magically end, and that life as we once knew it would commence as if nothing had happened. Visions of leaving most of it in a rearview mirror with the occasional lamenting of such an odd time seemed certain and within grasp. Each month I would say, “Surely four months from now we’ll have a handle on this.”

However, by October 2020, it became painfully obvious that NAMM 2021 and events like it wouldn’t be held as usual. The pandemic left 115,000 NAMM registrants from more than 130 countries wondering what would become of this beloved event. I’m sure there were many painful, stressful meetings among NAMM organizers as they came to the realization that the physical show had to be canceled.

So as with most events this year, NAMM 2021 would move to an online platform. It had to be a gargantuan undertaking to pull this together. To say I’m impressed is an understatement. Although there were no physical displays to visit, the NAMM 2021 website was complex and detailed. I sat in on artist talks such as Scott Ian being interviewed by Eddie Trunk. NAMM’s Jefferson Graham also interviewed Chick Corea just before his passing. Many of the annual after show events were virtual as well, such as the She Rocks Awards https://sherocksawards.com/. The website made it easy to navigate to areas of interest that spanned across what the NAMM show represents, all at the touch of a finger. There was content on brands, products, Gear TV, NAMM experiences, education and training, to name just a few.

In addition, its virtual Believe in Music Week was free for the first time to the public in 120-years. The public could gain access to the online marketplace, seminars, artist talks, award ceremonies and more. NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond said via a press release, “While it remains unsafe for us to gather in person in January, Believe in Music week will use new, intuitive technology to connect us all to harness the incredible energy that happens when we come together.” The global gathering was held the same week the physical show was originally scheduled.

“With a robust marketplace to launch new products and share your brand story, Believe in Music will also feature networking and matchmaking for our buyers and our sellers, education for all segments of the industry, and live music and concerts,” Lamond’s statement continued. “And just like at all NAMM events, these activities will raise awareness and financial support to serve our NAMM family across our Circle of Benefits model. Believe in Music week will be a critical step for our industry to help us prepare for the new year and new opportunities.”

Stephen McSwain, luthier of McSwain Guitars, states, “In light of everything that has happened this year and all that 2020 robbed everyone of...virtual NAMM was a bright spot. We could tune in and catch performances, check out gear and kind of have a tiny glimpse of NAMM normalcy. I really feel that NAMM and the Boutique Guitar Showcase utilized the online experience to the best of their ability. Can’t wait to actually do it in person in 2021!”

As for the NAMM experience as a whole, I have mixed feelings.

Things I loved about this year’s streamed event:

I didn’t have to wear pants. For the first time in over a decade, I can actually say I attended NAMM in my pajamas. This was pretty epic.
The parking was cheap.
My feet were pretty happy. I could navigate from the Gibson Booth https://www.gibson.com/ all the way to McSwain Guitars https://www.mcswainguitars.com/ in my cozy socks, while sipping on coffee.
Lunch was CHEAP, drinks even cheaper.
I could take a nap in the middle of it all without anyone noticing or having to take a car back to the hotel.
My liver is extremely pleased with me.

Joking aside, there were many things I enjoyed about this year’s NAMM online experience. It was honestly a highlight amongst one of the most stressful years most of us have ever experienced. It brought back a small piece of normalcy which was greatly appreciated. The programs/interviews/products/vendors on the site were all easy to navigate, even for this somewhat tech challenged individual. I appreciated the updates and briefs from NAMM President and CEO Joe Lamond. A huge bravo to NAMM for this undertaking in such a short time. This site looks and navigates as though it has been developed for many years.

Things I did not love about this year’s streamed event:

The biggest part about The NAMM Show has always been about the personal interaction. For many of us, it’s a reprieve after a busy year where we can reconnect with friends and colleagues and meet new people. You cannot get that from a streaming event. It was undeniably mechanical without the interpersonal connections, which made my heart feel heavy.

I wasn’t able to walk past a random booth and see young prodigal musicians in their element. One of my favorite things about NAMM will always be the experience of stopping dead in my tracks upon hearing a talented new musician playing a beautiful song. The talent from not just the known musicians, but from the aspiring, young folks mastering the instruments makes the NAMM experience so rich.

I miss standing in one of the halls and just taking in all of the sounds from the drums, guitars, and pianos. The hyper-stimulation can be overwhelming, but it’s something I will never take for granted again. It’s the one thing I never knew I would miss, but did.

The people watching just wasn’t the same this year. One of my fondest memories from a previous NAMM show was standing outside and watching what looked like a homeless man with a boombox turn on music and perform an interpretive dance. He had tattered clothes on with paint all over them. He was disheveled and looked like he hadn’t bathed in quite a while. People were turning away in dismay over the display. What many did not realize is it was none other than Jon Anderson, the singer of YES, promoting his solo album. He wanted people to be uncomfortable. So much of the NAMM experience has instances such as this that can never be duplicated in any other setting, particularly online.

Seeing the instruments in person is also something that is missed with basically online shopping.

I sorely missed the experience of seeing live shows. Usually, dozens of amazing artists flock to small venues around the area during the event. It’s pretty hard to top seeing U2 playing on a rooftop, or Nancy Wilson playing with ZZ TOP and Peter Frampton, followed by Stevie Wonder. The music is what binds everyone together and the physical celebration therein is impossible to replicate behind a screen. I wasn’t able to capture my experiences through camera or video. As a journalist, I felt my voice was lost, as I didn’t get to fully show my narrative or explore the event from a unique angle. I could only share what was being broadcast on the website by NAMM organizers. I typically have many of my own photos and videos to go with the NAMM experience, and I missed this aspect so much this year.

Although this year’s experience wasn’t the same as previous NAMM shows, I applaud everyone at NAMM for bringing this experience to people’s homes in such a grandiose display of streaming. It is my hope that such a platform will continue to exist alongside the physical show, as it made it possible to be in 10 places at once. I was able to experience much more than I could possibly experience in person. Yet, however efficient this new event format may be, my heart is heavy. I’m holding out hope that we will once again be able to attend an in-person NAMM show in the future. There is just no comparison, and it was sorely missed by many.

A big shout out to my friend of Five Star Guitars in Beaverton, OR that was named 2021 Dealer of the Year by NAMM. It’s the industry’s most prestigious award and honors the retail musical instrument dealer who best demonstrates exceptional commitment to their stores, employees, customers and communities and shares a vision to create a more musical world through commerce and advocacy. Congratulations Geoff for a well deserved award! Check his store out at: https://www.fivestarguitars.com/


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