Last weekend, Electronic Musician contributing editor Geary Yelton headed out to Ft. Wayne, Indiana to check out Sweetwater's annual GearFest; he shares his report here. Check out additional images on our Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/ElectronicMusicianMagazine.
Every spring since 2002, musicians and music equipment manufacturers have come from near and far to converge on the midsized Midwestern metropolis of Fort Wayne, Indiana to attend the annual GearFest event hosted by Sweetwater Sound, the world’s top online retailer for musicians and the largest single music gear retailer in the U.S.
GearFest isn’t like any other event in the world, and it grows bigger every year, this year drawing more than 8,000 gear-hungry musicians and audio professionals on June 6 and 7.
Unlike NAMM, Musikmesse, and similar tradeshows, this event is staged entirely for retail customers instead of industry insiders. As it does every year, Sweetwater generously invited vendors as well as the public to attend at no cost, providing manufacturer reps, instrument makers, and even magazine and book publishers with exhibit space in more than a dozen gigantic tents on Sweetwater’s sprawling 44-acre campus.
Alongside tents dedicated to electric and acoustic guitars, electronic music production, pro audio were a variety of food trucks, a performance stage, and Sweetwater’s huge and impressive facility, which includes the biggest music store I’ve ever seen. Guitar maker Gibson had its own tent, and Fender brought a decked-out vintage Airstream trailer.
GearFest ’14 gave Sweetwater customers a chance to not only meet and talk to manufacturers and salespeople, but to attend workshops and performances by celebrated musicians, recording engineers, and product specialists, too. This year’s featured guests included bassist Billy Sheehan, guitarist Jason Hook, and drummers Kenny Aronoff and Jason Bonham. A standing-room only crowd attended a producers’ roundtable featuring the likes of Bruce Swedien, Bob Clearmountain, Ed Cherney, and Ross Hogarth, moderated by Sweetwater editorial director Mitch Gallagher. Swedien stole the show with his tales of recording Michael Jackson’s megahit album Thriller.
But the biggest star of GearFest ’14 was the gear itself. Everything that Sweetwater carries was on sale with barely believable discounts. Rock-bottom prices were the business of the day. Certainly the most popular sale was on classic Shure microphones, with SM57s on sale for $57 and SM58s for $58. Manufacturer reps demonstrated gear and helped customers decide which products were right for them, and sales engineers were on hand to help out. In addition, Sweetwater gave away more than $72,000 worth of gear to some 180 lucky winners. All in all, it was an incredible event in which everyone was a winner—Sweetwater, customers, and manufacturers alike. GEARY YELTON