I was honored and excited to be asked, along with HMXPardo, to help out the Community team at this year's NAMM Conference in lovely, mall-like Anaheim, CA.
For a kid from Maine who has seen more movies than he has eaten healthy things, driving on the LA Freeway was a crazy thing. Having seen "The Chase" more times than is considered cool, the highway was exciting. So was spotting my first “In-N-Out Burger”. My love affair with the LA Freeway SOON ended when we spent 3 hours in traffic going 15 miles. But we learned a lot about each other in that car.
We had to go to Santa Monica that afternoon to the MTVN Offices to get our RB2 gear. BTW their offices are really cool and look like any of their late-90's reality show sets. Soon we arrived at the empty Anaheim Convention Center and set up all the gear and had an opportunity to walk around, checking out all the huge displays from all the vendors, ex: a Boss pedal that went from the floor to the ceiling.
The next day, Wednesday, we had to be up at the Fender area where we had a stage setup for the game. We played while "VIP's" came and checked out Fender's stuff. It was pretty low-key and we got a chance to peruse the Fender stock, which included some gorgeous Gretsches I'd gladly stab HMXVeng in the heart for. This was a shorter day with a limited crowd, so there weren't any cool sightings or stories. Unless by cool sightings you count how EVERY time HMXAlex went to the bathroom, he'd return with his fly down. I'm serious. He has a problem.
Thursday we got up all early, had breakfast, and headed over to the Convention Center. NAMM had a really big stage setup just as you entered the place, where every day we'd pass something fairly ridiculous, like an all-female "Mariachi Divas" band, or a bagpipe band, or a band with 2 drummers and 5 accordion players, etc. It was always a surreal start to the day.
We had two setups at NAMM, one big one at Fender and a smaller setup at Ludwig. We split the group in twain and went about the business of rocking. Ludwig was set up directly next to a stuffy violin manufacturer who wanted no part of us being there, so our rocking was low-to-medium volume. We later were told by one of his younger apprentices, "Man I've wanted to play with you guys all week, but my boss won't let me. He hates you guys. But I don't." Our setups both seemed to be big hits, drawing lots of attention and the occasional brave soul (usually the younger people and children) who'd want to jump in and play.
We were prepared to field questions from NAMM-goers about why we were there. And on that first day, a bald-eagled, jeans-shirted, David Crosby-moustache'd man came up to me and HMXPardo at Ludwig and said "So what's your deal, you making a generation of poser kids?" To which almost without having to think of anything I politely responded "You know actually on the contrary, we've got data that shows we've directly contributed to more and more kids buying guitars and drums after playing our game. We've also exposed new generations to great older music, music you probably like, that they'd otherwise have no idea about. So no I wouldn't say we're creating posers." And he just sort of stared into the distance, nodded his head, said "Huh, alright..." and walked away. I'll be honest, it felt good.
On that day, Corey Feldman was in attendance up at Fender. Also he was wearing a Michael Jackson-esque marching band jacket. Apparently on this day Jimmy Vivino (from the Max Weinberg 7 and the Fab Faux!) was spotted, and I sadly missed out. As we were packing up for the night, a HUGE crowd appeared. Apparently Fender had Eddie Van Halen making an appearance to sell his new guitar model, but we didn't get to see/meet him or anything.
Walking back to the Hotel, HMXVeng and I saw and chased after Iron Maiden drummer Nicko Mcbrain. We snapped a pic with him and he was excessively nice. So were his zebra-striped hammer pants.
That night Ludwig invited us to their 100th Anniversary Party where they screened a neat documentary about their history, where in attendance were (again) Nicko Mcbrain (he doesn't play Ludwigs, why was he there?!?!), the drummer from REO Speedwagon, the drummer from Death Cab for Cutie, the drummer from Vanilla Fudge, and Jason (John Bonham's Son) Bonham. HMXPardo had a urinal conversation with Nicko. The bartender had a giant handlebar moustache and I hugged him when we left. We'd become fast friends and he loves Rock Band.
We then took Harmonix Producer Jason HMXKingKendall on his first foray into Chain Restaurant Dining at California Pizza Kitchen. Our waitress, Melody, was awesome. Big ups to Melody.
The next day, Friday, was even busier at NAMM. We got to hear from some mom and pop Music Store owners, which was very cool. One guy's son was playing with us for a while, so I tried to get the dad to play. He responded in a contradictory, yet quasi-positive way: "No way, I don't like that game. You know what though, that game has sold more guitars for me than ever. It's also got kids listening to older music, that's great! The best part is when kids return guitars a few weeks later and I buy them back at a deep discount, I'm making like double profit." Nice, guy. It was really cool to hear from a retailer's mouth, though, that we are indeed moving real instruments.
Meanwhile on the Fender stage, next to the Rock Band Stage, Eric Johnson did a set. Yes, he played "Cliffs of Dover".
That night we headed to Sennheiser's party at the House of Blues, which was in the heart of Disneyland. HMXKingKendall, HMXVeng, HMXPardo, and I spent a good portion of the night exclaiming to all who would listen how effed up it was that there were a thousand people getting blasted in the House of Blues while mere feet away through a couple panes of glass there were toddlers next door building bears in the Build-a-Bear Workshop. Somehow it wasn't as profound to everyone else as it was to us. Drew Barrymore was spotted at this party, but when I sent Julie B to investigate she came back angry/disappointed "That was NOT Drew Barrymore. It was some lame girl." Oh, Miss Black Howard Stern was there too.
Saturday was, as they used to say in the 90s, CLUTCH. Lots of highlights. Yngwie Malmsteen was signing autographs directly abutting our rock band stage, so we took it upon ourselves to play the Yngwie DLC tracks for him. He gave us a jangly, gold-braceleted thumbs up for our skill afterwards. We got him to sign an RB2 guitar. Dhani Harrison was in attendance on Saturday as well. I got to show Dhani how Ludwig had replica Ringo Starr kits, and as I showed them to him, he was like "Oh yeah, I've got the original of that one. Oh and that one too!" Then he explained to a dumbstruck me and HMXVeng how all you need to get the authentic Ringo sound is to not tune the set. We were about to play a song on RB2 with him, but HMXSussman dragged him away to some meeting and that was that. Sad. Meanwhile Los Lobos, Robert Cray, and Billy Bob Thornton's band played at the Fender Stage.
That night Fender invited us to this party which we didn't know anything about. We pulled up to this ratty hotel where it was taking place and walked in. Immediately upon walking in a guy ran up to HMXKingKendall and yelled "Oh #@&^ are you Jason Kendall!?!?! From the Amazing Crowns???" I knew it was going to be a fun night. We proceeded into the function room where the "Event" was happening. To say it was a Lynch-ian dreamscape would be accurate. It was a plain-jane low-budge function room, yellow fluorescent lights on. The walls were lined with extreme vintage model guitars I've never seen, going way back to like the 20s. There was a stage setup in the middle of the room with stage lighting and such (in addition to the overheard drop-ceiling fluorescents).
The audience was mostly seated in folding chairs, and consisted of old folks, younger rockabilly folks, and I swear to you, an old prospector little person. The "bar" was a little guy inside a closet. When asked for a Johnny Black on the rocks, he proceeded to pour me a rum and coke. Twice. Someone asked for Gin and Tonic and got vodka. The guy who designed the original Batmobile was signing autographs. Buddy Holly's Crickets were in attendance. Then Deke Dickerson and his band took the stage. Turns out we'd arrived at the Guitar Geeks Festival. YES! Dickerson proceeded to lead his band in a set of what he called "Gilligan Rock" which were 30-45 second songs that were somehow connected to Gilligan's Island. He played a palm tree made of guitars. There was a go-go dancer. Amazing. Following him was The Ghastly Ones, who were AWESOME, and played a set of "Ventures-inspired mid-60s Instrumental Japanese Surf-rock." It was as great as it sounds!
HMXCheryl was a great wrangler of fun times. She got 4 of Anaheim's Finest police officers to get on stage and pretend to play the game and she took some fun pictures of that. I had them all set up to play a Police song, but their sarge was like real frumpy the whole time and as I was like "Ok choose your difficulty!" He stood up from the drums and said "We are NOT doing this." and all the other officers looked sad, hung their heads, and walked away.
Sunday was way more low-key. Down at the Ludwig setup, HMXPardo and I got to play RB2 with "Bermuda" Schwartz, Weird Al's drummer. He was really nice, and was the only professional musician of the whole week who came up and asked if he could play. He tried the drums as best he could and had a fun time despite not really getting it. I was also upset he refers to him simply as "Al" and not "Weird" instead.
At the end of the day a VP from Fender took me and HMXPardo aside to discuss plans for next year's NAMM setup as if we were important people. We nodded and said "Sounds good!" to pretty much whatever he suggested. He also used the phrase "Jam up" so much I felt like I was on "It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia". Don't worry, we got his card and are letting HMXDrake and Community handle this. Pretty sure if HMXPardo and I were in charge of planning next year's NAMM setup it would just end up being a fart machine hooked into the PA or something.
The next day we headed home to frigid Boston-town. It was a great week, fun had by all! And I think our presence at NAMM was really very well received and turned some new people on to the game.
Oh I almost forgot to give an honorable mention to the 8 year old British child we babysat-ERRR played with every day. I think his name was Tyler and he was awesome. Every morning he'd walk up and ask "Do you have any Phil Collins?" and every morning my heart would break as I told him "Sorry we don't." Then he'd ask us to play "Holiday in Cambodia" and "Ace of Spades". That little kid loved him some "Holiday in Cambodia". His mom later joined us on, wait for it, Cool for Cats. "I've got to play that one because we're from London!" she said. Hooray Cool for Cats!