The NAMM (National Association of Mercenary Musicians) show is an annual bacchanal in Anaheim, California, attended by music manufacturers, sales reps, regional buyers, music store owners, assorted friends, wives and girlfriends, and, last and frequently least, actual musicians, singers, and artists.

It takes place over four days in the Anaheim Convention Center complex, appropriately located next to Disneyland, which makes parking cheap and convenient. Walking from one of the remote parking lots to the Convention Center, you are advised to bring plenty of food and water, a cel phone, and perhaps a Sherpa guide.

Once you have been cleared by security (by producing an official badge, a picture ID and a stool sample), you enter the main hall, where you are assaulted by a decibel level roughly equivalent to the Trinity Test.

To your right are the computer-based companies who make Digital Audio Workstations, virtual mixing consoles, virtual instruments, virtual outboard gear, virtual microphones and other software enabling you to earn virtual income.

Next come the companies that make electronic keyboards, who all seem dedicated to expensive new devices that can faithfully reproduce the sounds of a video arcade in 1981. 

The middle of the hall is occupied by makers of guitars, guitar amps, guitar straps, guitar strings, guitar capos, guitar cases, and guitar girls with piercings and 8" heels.  Some electric basses are here too, but you'll never hear them. 

To the left is the world of drums and percussion, usually quiet as a church - namely, Coventry Cathedral which was bombed to little pieces in 1940. 

Amid all the bombast, are the makers of such obsolete instruments as violins, violas, clarinets, flutes, oboes and french horns, all desperately trying to be heard over the impossibly loud chaos.

There is also a "lower level": smaller companies and such oddities as capos carved from hummingbird sternums, valve-operated kazoos and the ever-popular plastic trombone.

The second and third levels are occupied by makers of acoustic pianos, expensive guitars and drums too elitist to be found among the riffraff on the main floor. 

Elsewhere in the complex is Yamaha, too distinguished to even be a part of the main building.  Dress nice for this room. 

Despite the deafening noise, the gridlocked crowd, the sensory assault, the NAMM show is a great deal of fun for one reason only:  you get to see so many friends all in one place.  Despite the fact that you have to yell to be heard by the person standing next to you, despite the fact that you sometimes can't summon the name of the person you've known for thirty years, despite the fact that the person you are talking to is scanning the crowd over your shoulders (and the fact that you do this too, without realizing it), the NAMM show is a wonderful experience.

You leave the show a little shell-shocked, certainly harder of hearing, but enriched by the people you have seen there and freshly encouraged that music is your reason for being, even if that has not seemed possible for some time.  

NAMM photos

©Brad Cole 1995-2014  all rights reserved