When Dusty Wakeman of Mojave Audio asked me to speak at Sweetwater’s annual Gearfest on behalf of the company, I jumped at the chance. I’d heard so much about the event over the years so it was something that I wanted to experience for myself. Like many of you, I’m a veteran of a lifetime of trade shows, so I’m pretty immune to the glitter and glam of them at this point, but have I have say that what the Sweetwater crew has created is a different, far better beast altogether.
Gearfest is held on the Sweetwater campus, which in itself is unbelievably impressive. It’s the size of a small community college, complete with 3 studios, a very nice theater, several hotel-ballroom sized conference rooms, and a big food court. There’s also a small medical center, state of the art gym, masseuse, and hair salon, as well as two restaurants on site. All this is attached to the company’s office space and warehouse operations (which I hear is set for expansion yet once again). No matter how much I write about it, the words won’t do the facility justice, it’s just that impressive.
The event is comprised of various presentations, panels and live gear demonstrations happening in the theater, conference rooms and studios, and just about every music and audio gear manufacturer that matters set up in tents outside in the huge parking lot. There were two audio tents, a guitar tent, drum tent, keyboard tent, DJ tent, lighting tent, and various tents for large manufacturers like Fender and Yamaha, all supplemented by 14 food trucks. Also featured was a large stage tent for concert acts (like outside of NAMM only way bigger). If I had to guess, I’d say that the event is about 1/4 to 1/3rd the size of Winter NAMM.
There were also a couple of tents that would warm the heart and pocketbook of any gear slut – a Sweetwater open box tent, and a flea market tent. The flea market was open for anyone who had gear to sell, and it was independent of Sweetwater. Needless to say, many bargains were to be had there, but Sweetwater also had some excellent bargains during the event. My favorite was Shure SM57’s for $57, and 58s for $58!
Unlike NAMM or other industry trade shows, Gearfest is open to the public for free – you just need to register for a badge. And unlike other trade shows, you could also buy a piece of gear on the spot, usualy at a special price.
About 25,000 people came through the door, and every hotel within 45 minutes of Ft. Wayne was booked during the event’s two days. People came from as far away as India, and I’m sure they weren’t disappointed. Sweetwater also provided a camp ground nearby for those that wanted to rough it a bit.
My presentation was Social Media Promotion For Musicians And Engineers given to a packed room, but it was just one of many helpful ongoing events during the two days. Needless to say, there was something of interest to everyone.
I also got a chance to hang with a lot of industry friends like Richard Chycki, Sylvia Massy, Lyle Workman, Tim Pierce, Fab Dupont, Kevin Killen (loved the Peter Gabriel stories!), and my good traveling buddy Butch Walker. Of course, a big thank you to my good friend Dusty Wakeman and Mojave Audio for making it all possible.
Those of you that have dealt with Sweetwater know the attention given to you by their sales engineers and staff (and the candy with every order), and that same philosophy was on display here. For instance, there was free bottles of water available everywhere. Think about that for a second. Free bottles of water available for 25,000+ people!
Sweetwater also has a standing policy that you can bring your guitar to them and they’ll restring it for free and won’t even charge you for the strings. Now who else does that? Plus, founder and CEO Chuck Surac was at the door personally greeting attendees.
I can go on and on about how cool Gearfest is, but it’s something that you just have to experience yourself. If you’re anywhere near Ft. Wayne when it happens again next year, just go. I promise you’ll enjoy it.