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NAMM Blasts a Rocking Return to the Anaheim Convention Center

NAMM Show 2024 Outisde Anaheim Convention Center

For nearly 50 years, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) has descended upon the Anaheim Convention Center, bringing tens of thousands of music makers, engineers, instrument retailers, educators, media and industry denizens to the city every January. Yet 2024 was the first time since Covid that NAMM returned to full programming, so Meetings Today arrived to witness the madness firsthand in a destination that is well accustomed to dealing with large crowds.  

Thanks to Disneyland being across the street, over 15 million tourists already fill the city on a yearly basis, not even including business events at the largest convention center on the West Coast. Anaheim’s always been an easy sell to the leisure market.

“If you want the Mouse, the Mouse is there, but there’s so much more beyond the mouse,” said Ronnie Collins, Visit Anaheim’s senior VP for sales, as we dined at the lavish Poppy & Seed restaurant in Anaheim’s Packing District.  

NAMM Mainstage
NAMM Mainstage. Photo Credit: NAMM

NAMM 2024 Highlights  

NAMM Show 2024 unfolded over four days. Bands performed on stages in both the Marriott and Hilton lobbies all day and most of the night, every night of the event. Meetings and events, both scheduled and impromptu, spilled out into every neighborhood hotel and restaurant.  

NAMM Convention Floor Performance
Performance on the NAMM Convention Floor. Photo Credit: NAMM

Any random moment provided unexpected enlightenment. Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath and jazz legend George Benson signed autographs 50 feet away from each other. Upstairs, Allen & Heath engineers taught classes on live sound reinforcement for houses of worship. Country singer Keith Burns of Trick Pony belted out drinking songs in the Pearl River Piano room.  

Workshop titles included “how to network with confidence,” “controlling color with LED lighting” and “dumb things music retailers do.” Myriad discussion topics included immersive audio, legal essentials, nonprofit leadership and using ChatGPT to solve business problems.  

Among the celebs opening up the convention, David Mandlebrot, CEO of used gear site, talked about the global rise of used gear sales, especially from mobile purchases. Grammy-winning producer Mark Ronson received a NAAM lifetime achievement award, practically geeking out after meeting Mandlebrot. He then told a story about writing the Barbie soundtrack, which required him to snag a pristine vintage Yamaha CS-80 synth on and then drive 100 miles to pick it up. The ballroom crowd of 1,000 went wild.

On average, one thousand people stormed the main ballroom for a buffet breakfast each morning, where brand-new NAMM CEO John Mlynczak conducted on-stage interviews with various industry bigwigs to lift everyone’s spirits, readying us for any travails to come. Punks, professors and podcasters all pooled their resources and held meetings in every nook and cranny of the Anaheim Convention Center.  

NAMM and Anaheim Group Tour Highlights  

The NAAM convention space—four gargantuan connected halls on the ground level with additional floors above and below—seemingly existed just to overwhelm everyone, yet everyone we spoke with claimed NAMM was actually smaller now than before. With hundreds  of booths filled with screaming guitars, amps, drums, DJs and rock star appearances, staff made the rounds to ensure no booth surpassed the 80-decibel noise limit.

NAMM Show 2024 Crowd
NAMM Show in the Anaheim Convention Center. Photo Credit: NAMM

For those of us who cover meetings and events, NAMM was a fantastic week to see hotel options and offsite properties. For planners that wanted the best hotel view of Disneyland, there was no other choice but the Grand Californian Hotel and Spa, a magisterial Craftsman-style lodge with a whiskey library and its own private entrance to Disney California Adventure Park. General Manager Nic Hockman met us in the lobby.  

“This hotel is the only one the Walt Disney Company built from scratch,” he said. “It is truly the one, from the ground up, that was inspired by our very own Walt Disney imagineers.”

Our tour included the culinary crown jewel of the whole Disneyland enterprise, Napa Rose, a high-end Wine Country-inspired restaurant where the C.F. Martin Guitar Company was having a private party. During every NAMM show, every year since the restaurant opened, C.F. Martin bought out the whole space for a night.  

Photo Credit: Gary Singh

General Manager Jess Soman showed us around right before the party started. After ushering us through various spaces available for groups, Soman summoned the bartender, who’d been with Napa Rose since the Grand Californian was built in 2001.  

“Hey Joe, how many years has C.F. Martin been having their party here?” Soman asked him.

“Since 2001,” Joe said.

“He’s a classic old-school bartender,” Soman told us. “Been here since day one. He knows everybody, knows what they drink, knows the names of their kids.”

The following night, over at the House of Blues Anaheim, two different private NAMM parties were about to start as we toured the labyrinthine complex. Tama Drums was celebrating its 50th anniversary while D’Andrea, the company that invented guitar picks, was throwing its 100th anniversary bash.  

Operations honcho Steven Naughton took us through four different areas for concerts, receptions, weddings and private parties, including the Foundation Room, a cozy but rocking upstairs club with Buddhist iconography and velvety trimmings, accessible via a steel-colored door straight out of Get Smart.  

Skateboard Wall
Skateboard Wall. Photo Credit: Gary Singh

At House of Blues, every band that played a sold-out show received its own custom-made skateboard deck. Dozens of them hung from the walls, creating a gorgeous folk-art mosaic.

“At first we wanted to do surf boards—you know, Orange County—until we realized the footprint they take up,” Naughton said.

By the end of the weekend, the notorious “NAMM feet” were starting to kick in, leaving us sore from walking around the tradeshow floor for days. As Meetings Today checked out of our room at the Anaheim Marriott, staff had already torn down the lobby stage in preparation for the next convention. And as we boarded our car for the airport, the noise, chaos and decibels from the tradeshow floor were still in our heads as we exited the scene. 

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About the author
Gary Singh

Gary Singh's byline has appeared more than 1,500 times, including on newspaper columns, travel essays, art and music criticism, profiles, business journalism, lifestyle articles, poetry and short fiction. He is the author of The San Jose Earthquakes: A Seismic Soccer Legacy (2015, The History Press) and was recently a Steinbeck Fellow in Creative Writing at San Jose State University. An anthology of his Metro Silicon Valley columns, "Silicon Alleys," was published in 2020. He still lives in San Jose.