Report from GearFest 2018

More than 300 GearFest attendees took home more than $70,000 in prizes given away in hourly drawings.
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Every year, the persistently nice people at Sweetwater Sound host a free two-day gathering of their customers and the companies that make the products they sell. The 17th annual GearFest took place this year on June 22–23.

Sweetwater, as you may already know, is the single largest music store in the U.S. and the busiest online dealer specializing in musical instruments and equipment. Located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, the company lies at the intersection of music, technology and retail commerce, and does an annual business of well over half a billion dollars. Sweetwater not only encouraged the public to attend this year’s GearFest, but they also provided space on their sprawling campus for attendees to camp out if they wanted.

The turnout for GearFest was impressive, as always, despite an ominous weather forecast and intermittent rainy weather on both days. Hundreds of vendors exhibited their wares in 21 enormous canvas tents spread out across several acres, with a handful of companies in customized trailers.

Each tent housed one or more product categories: There were two tents for pro audio, two more for electric guitars, another designated DJ, Synth & Keys, and so on, with some tents or trailers devoted to a single manufacturer such as Roland, Yamaha, Harman, Shure, Fender, Bose, and Behringer. Company reps gave product demos and fielded questions, while potential customers got their hands on a huge assortment of gear at unbeatable prices. Meanwhile, more than 300 GearFest attendees took home more than $70,000 in prizes given away in hourly drawings.


Though I visited almost every tent, I spent most of my time looking at synthesizers, software, and pro audio gear. Exhibitors familiar to EM readers included Ableton, Arturia, Dave Smith Instruments, Korg, Kurzweil, Moog, Native Instruments, Nord and Roli, as well as Antelope Audio, Applied Acoustics Systems, Audio-Technica, Avid, Casio, Celemony, iConnectivity, IK Multimedia, Ilio, MOTU, Propellerhead, Rob Papen, Soundtoys, Universal Audio and Zynaptiq, among many others. Fortunately, Android and iOS users could download a GearFest app to keep track of everything.

Just by itself, the building containing Sweetwater’s headquarters covers several acres. In addition to a massive music store, it accommodates numerous auditoriums, offices, a food court, a gymnasium, a warehouse that stocks everything Sweetwater sells, and quite a bit more. The auditoriums were in constant rotation for a full schedule of hour-long workshops and presentations, which ran the gamut from synthesist Michael Boddicker discussing his career to clinics on recording drums and tackling acoustical problems. One of my favorites was a talk by mastering engineer Jonathan Wyner on using assistive technology from iZotope. I always look forward to the producers’ panel, too, which this year featured Sylvia Massey, Chris Lord-Alge, Neal Pogue, Kevin Killen, Fab Dupont, and Rich Chycki, moderated by Sweetwater’s Mitch Gallagher.

Sweetwater Performance Pavilion, a covered outdoor concert venue that accommodates as many as 2,000 people, hosted numerous classes and clinics. These included a performance by the Adrian Belew Power Trio, in which the inventive guitarist discussed his playing techniques, his effects setup, and his history with King Crimson and Frank Zappa. The next day, the same time slot saw a clinic by master shredder Yngwie J. Malmsteen, a performance that closed out yet another successful GearFest.

Once again, I can hardly wait to return next year. See you there!