The Newbie's Guide to Gearfest
Though it was our first time at Sweetwater Sound's Gearfest 2017, this actually was the 16th year of the event. Held June 23 – 24, 2017 at its main campus in Fort Wayne, Indiana, it is very apparent from
Sweetwater's staff and processes in place that this, certainly, was not their first rodeo.
We are the Newbies
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The day is starting out cloudy, which is a bummer, because I didn’t bring any of my myriad of proper rockstar jackets—pleather, jean, etc.—and am instead left with a nearly neon hoodie (in case I get cold and wet). Much of the event is outside, in tents, so there is a very real possibility that this might be the case. Bruce says the forecast is for rain until 10ish; our first session starts at 9:45….
We found a trusty, neighborhood Walmart and found a shrug that actually was the perfect combination of warmth, comfort, and bad-ass, and I ended up wearing it all day. So, yes, we missed our session, but at least I look like I was about the business of being a rockstar all day.
The place looks less like a creative space than a warehouse. —Strangely, I feel the same way about seeing it as I did about seeing Paisley Park for the first time. I ask myself, “Is it a creative space or is it a place that makes widgets?” As mentioned in the vlog, we got there at the opening time, but still had to park on the grass (in an adjacent field area), which was muddy due to morning rain. (My husband got his new Adidas all muddy and didn't look as funky-fresh as he would have liked to).
Bruce's clean Adidas
If we were actually had planned to attend the earlier sessions, we would have needed to get here at 7:30, I guess.... It would have been nice to have been forewarned about the need to arrive at least an hour and a half to two hours early (to be able to attend the first session).
Standing in line to get to door for an hour and a half
Finally here in front of Marshall Amp Stack
Luckily, Sweetwater had an app for getting around the campus and for traipsing from workshop to manufacturer booths. It was pretty cool, because we could create our own schedule and have reminders of when to attend. The app provided a map and directions for getting to the campus, a list of exhibitors (and where they would located), a list of presenters and their credentials, notes about where and when to find live performances, and it gave a list of what other events/attractions were in the Fort Wayne area (—sadly, not much. Most of the action is in Indianapolis—nearly two hours away.). The app also have an hourly update of which attendees won a portion of that $55,000 worth of free equipment up for grabs. --No, we did not win anything. But it was fun checking each hour to see who won anyway. (There were 260 winners in all.)
The back side of the building, heading to the Gearfest parking lot
Video of walking the Gearfest parking lot
Flea Market Tent; great used and rare gear
We made our reservations a short week before the event and had to settle for a place half an hour away (in Kendallville). Towels are small, hard, and thin. Also, it is was extremely pet-friendly hotel, which meant that we were "greeted" by huge dogs pulling their owners along in the hallways and we heard barking coming from other rooms off and on when we trying to rest for the evening. That's the bad part. The good part is that they offer a glass of wine for each guest night as a part of the room rate. Bruce says that the free bottle of Pantene in the bathroom is another plus.
Writing a new song at the end of day one with our portable studio
The hotel was just a place to rest our heads, so I don't want to trash them, but I would not recommend them to anyone else. —Even though it was a major chain, it wasn't the cleanest, smelled like dog, and hadn't been remodeled probably in over 20 years. —Again, I was able to close my eyes to the issues and got a good, safe nights' sleep.
Our Portable Studio (Hotel Room Recording Equipment):
According to their website, Sweetwater's Gearfest 2017 hosted over 475 booths; some of the world's most popular brands, along with many small, obscure companies as well. There was equipment there to appeal to any and every type of musician and for every genre of music, from bluegrass to electronica.
Drums Booth (DW Drums)
There were dozens of music and sound-gear workshops. We had BIG plans to attend 11, but only ended up attending two, "Creative Songwriting Insights" with Jonatha Brooke and "Make Your Recorded Vocals Sound at Least Twice as Good." With 14,000 attendees on the campus, there were just floods of people everywhere and seating was at a premium, so we kept our time occupied by visiting booths.
Workshop: "Creative Songwriting Insights" with Jonatha Brooke
Workshop: "Make Your Recorded Vocals Sound at Least Twice as Good."
There was live entertainment in a club-like environment in Tent 14 (sponsored by and using Bose equipment). I didn't keep track of the folks, but we included one of the groups singing Tom Petty's "Free Fallin'" in our vlog footage (since one of the songs that we cover too).
Main Concert Pavillion
Sweetwater Sound's Music Store
Again, there were plenty of opportunities to get on gear and noodle around. Bruce took advantage of quite a few of those opportunities...
Needless to say, Gearfest is more a promotional tool for demonstrating and selling musical and sound equipment than anything else. Having said that, it was the one place where Bruce could actually try out the Raven MTi2 Music Production Console and to actually play a Fodera Bass.
As you will see in the vlog, we bought a Fodera bass right from the display. (He's very particular about how the instrument feels before he buys and this particular bass felt better than the other ones he tried and he had to have it. Handling the actual transaction was such a pain, because it was an anomaly to Sweetwater's water-tight merchandise delivery system.)
The good part is that we got a chance to try hands-on equipment that we have been only reading about for years. It was certainly worth a trip just to ask the right people the right questions—on the spot—and to be able to see if the equipment even remotely lives up to the reputations they have set for themselves. We feel more edified in those ways.
While this event’s main purpose is to expose folks to the Sweetwater Music store and its knowledgeable sales people, its goal is less in keeping with simply fostering use of the equipment. What I mean is that we expected more demonstrations of folks creating and playing with the gear that they bought. I expected, somehow, to be brought into these strangers’ bubbles and all it did for me was create questions. (I still ask myself, “Who are these people?”; “What is their involvement with music?”; and “What are they planning to use this gear for?.” ) Because the event didn’t foster any community—through open mic opportunities, multiple stage performances, and clinic opportunities—it did not tie us attendees together in any meaningful way.
Would we attend it again? The answer is yes, we would attend again, but because it did not satisfy our innate and growing need to connect with other like-minded creative individuals, we will be in search of events that are community-affirming; events that light that creative fire among us and allow us to share with each other what has come of this inspiration.
Here's our YouTube vlog on Gearfest.
Filmed/Photographs taken with:
Music used in videos included:
In case your missed any of the links, here they are: