Winter NAMM 2007- My Weekend With Steve Vai & Stevie Won

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Kevan
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Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2003 7:52 pm

CHAPTER ONE
I flew into Long Beach Airport on Tuesday morning (I like morning flights; less bumpy). I knew that my friend Iain from New Zealand would be arriving today as well. What I didn't know is that texting is insanely popular down there and I'd have to be trying to text him while driving down Katella Ave. to my hotel. LOL I still suck at texting.

I also had other missions to accomplish while in LA, so I scouted the strip malls along the way in search of the stores I needed later. Found the grocery store, the liquor store, the DelTaco...it's all good.

Arriving at the *m*otel, I asked for the same room I had last year (the pseudo porn "suite" with (2) queen beds in one room and (1) king bed in the main room where a normal hotel room would have a table and some chairs. I swear you could hear the wah pedal kick on when you opened the door). I was out of luck; that room was occupied. Oh well, at least I got a downstairs...ahem....suite. I should stop bitching; I'm lucky to even get a hotel room in Anaheim during NAMM. I am, however, going to request a different hotel next year. They call it a "feature", but the VRTS wasn't a big hit with me (Variable Random Temperature Shower). I could go on and on about the motel, but I'll leave you all with this: my room had a KEY. Not a credit card-type key. It was a key-key, like those used for padlocks. I kid you not.

Iain texts me again and says he's on his way over. The good part about being the first at a shared hotel room is that you get to pick the bed. :-) Gabe wasn't arriving until Weds, so I scored the one away from the window. In all honesty, it didn't make a difference. Both beds sucked.

I unpacked a little (only ONE hangar in the room) and buzzed over to the NAMM offices to get my badge. Tip for NAMM first-timers: The two most important things are badge and hotel room. Everything else will fall into place. Just make sure you have those two covered and you're good. A flash of the ID, grab a plastic holder, and I'm on my way back to my room.

Iain shows up. It's good to see him again. We first met at Summer NAMM in Austin and had a great time down there. He did a little mini-tour of the US after that and stopped by our place in Ohio for a few days. LOTS of jamming. We had a great time.
The crazy Kiwi brought a guitar with him! It's a Telecaster that he made from parts purchased from AllParts (He's the Australia & NZ distributor for them). It's the all-parts-AllParts guitar! LOL It plays great, but really needs a trem. :-)

We catch up for a few minutes then decide to go get some late lunch and do the shopping necessary for the event on Thursday. First and foremost is food. DelTaco it is! We don't have them in my part of the country, and Iain doesn't have them down there, so we gorge ourselves. It may gross out some California residents, but Iain and I couldn't get enough. He went back for 3rds on the shrimp tacos. :-) We then head over to the Albertson's for supplies. We grab a cart and proceed to load it up. Water, soda, iced tea, more water, case of beer, bottle of scotch (gift for a NAMM friend), shampoo, mouthwash (can't travel with that stuff now), and a bottle of 'man wash'/'smell pretty' for Iain. Iain, my friend, those AXE commercials aren't real. :-D

Back at the hotel, we're DYING for an amp. 2,000 amp companies at the NAMM show and we're playing unplugged in a hotel room 100 yds. away. Sad....truly sad. At Iain's hotel room, we had 'net access so we whipped out his Mac for entertainment. Those spoof Petrucci and Yngwie videos are *still* funny. We grabbed some dinner (Quiznos...mmm) then came back and checked a few online forums. Oh, and Iain learned all about Amerigo Vespucci. It's tough playing trivia games when you've got a computer. Crash time was about 3AM PST.

Gabe's call was my alarm clock. He was at the airport about to get on his plane. The weather was gnarly in Houston so he wasn't sure if they'd make it out or not. Fortunately, they did. I sent a text to Iain that I was heading to the AllParts booth to help setup. He met me there a little while later. Our 2 crates (about 10' x 5' x 5') had shown up, along with all the catalogs, but no one from the main office was there yet. I decided that while we were waiting, I'd run over to Ibanez and check on the badges for the Jemfest contest winners and make sure the hotel reservations for them were all set. Iain said he'd let me know if the 'boss' showed up so we could unpack.

Some of the booths at NAMM are very basic. They call them "curtain" booths. There's just a black curtain backdrop provided by the venue. Other booths are true engineering feats. Ibanez is one of them. They start building their booth a week before the show opens. Yeah...they've got a lot of stuff. There are actual offices, with locking doors(!), in their booth. Calling it a booth seems so cheap. It's an area. By Wednesday, most of it is together and completed. When I arrived, they were unpacking the guitars and aligning hangars. I found my contact Pat and waited for her to slow down to 95 mph before I spoke to her. :-) She said, "Here's Ryan. He's your buddy this weekend. I have to go." And go she did. Wow were they busy. Ryan's pretty cool and we walk down to the offices where he picks up the badges for the Jemfest winners. So far, all is smooth. The hotel reservations are kinda kooky, but everyone gets checked in without issue. Ryan's gotta get back to help Ibanez out, and gives me his cell number just in case (little did I know how much I'd use it in the following days). I walk back to the AllParts booth, amazed at the elaborateness of some of the displays. I've been to tons of NAMM shows, but I still find it fascinating.

I get back just in time to see the 'boss' undoing the first bolt on the crates. Whew! That was close!

The Allparts booth is pretty quick and easy to setup. With 5 of us there, and Iain as a helper, we whip it up in less than 30 minutes. The hard part is all the display parts. They're packaged pretty much individually- so they can be pulled down and inspected by customers/dealers. That means they all have to go up onto the display individually. Ugh. That part takes a little less than 2 hours. I'm getting better at it now.

While we're putting the parts up on the display the 'boss' tells me we should meet in the "lobby" of the motel at 7PM for our dinner with the Tremol-No factory guys. Tonight?!?!? I thought it was Thurs. night. "Yes, it was, but I had to move it." Hey, you're the boss. :-D This actually works out better for me because now I won't have to leave the BBQ on Thursday really early.

Gabe calls and says he's at the motel. Cool. He says, "I see the Jemfest winners badges here, but I don't see one for me."
Oops. LOL
I run over to the Ibanez booth again and find Ryan. That boy needs a drink, badly. He's been going for almost 3 days straight now. He's cool about my trivial stuff, and we go and get Gabe a badge. I can't believe we forgot it the first time around. :-)

Back at the hotel, Gabe gets his badge. He also brought presents! Namely, the famous Pignose amp! Iain and I rub our bodies against it saying things like, "I love you SOOOOO much." It was kinda creepy. We were just so happy to see an amp! Gabe also brought his 57 RI LesPaul. Two guitars and one amp. Hmmm....

I showered and got changed while those guys played. Nothing too fancy, but nice enough to get me into any restaurant in town. I met the owner of AllParts in the faux-lobby of our motel. A couple of minutes later the factory owner and Hank Lee (owner of Spear Guitars) show up. Hank and the factory have been doing business for a long time, and Hank's English is really good so he's a great translator for all of us.

We hopped in the AllParts rental minivan and drove a little east to a restaurant called "The Catch". It's a great seafood place. Too bad I'm not into seafood. LOL I realize that any seafood restaurant worth it's weight in crab would have some type of steak on the menu. Fortunately, I was right. :)

Dinner was fantastic. The steak was awesome, and the creme' brule was a very nice dessert. I don't really remember what the other guys ordered, but...it was seafood, and they all liked it.

During and after dinner we talked about some aspects of the Tremol-No. The focus was mainly on spare parts, but we did talk about other things. Not really all that fascinating for anyone else, but it's important to make sure we have the best possible product. The language barrier is a bit tough to get past sometimes. Thankfully we had a pen and some paper. That REALLY helped.

I get back to the motel feeling very good about the meeting. Lots of things were discussed and many issues solved. I crack the door to see Gabe and Iain playing (still), but it's obvious that Gabe has found the liquor store- there's big bottle of Jack Daniels, a big bottle of Capt. Morgan's, and a matching bottle of vodka. Uh oh....looks like the bar is open!

The winners of the Ultimate Jem Experience contest were also there- Helene (grand prize winner) was from Norway, and her friend Bryan who's from Canada. Thomas (2nd place winner) was from Pennsylvania, as was his guest Rod. They all seemed very cool, and were ready for all the fun tomorrow. We made plans to meet in front of the JEM20th display at 12PM for our journey. Badges were handed out, and we offered them to join us in going out tonight. They declined saying they wanted to save their energy for the big day tomorrow.

After a few drinks we decide to try out the Hilton bar. It's Weds. night, so maybe it won't be overloaded.
I was wrong.
The Hilton is packed to the gills. On Friday and Saturday night it's alright to join that ameoba of people because some of them are the spokesmodels from the booths. Tonight, however, it was only big, sweaty, greasy guys. No thanks.
The Marriott is across the street. Let's try there.
I was wrong again.
It's just as full, but we spot some friends with a table out by the pool. Minor score since even though it's 30F outside, the tables are all loaded. At the table are some friends I'd met in Austin at the last NAMM show, and Iain's friend Ben who's also from New Zealand. Ben is a guitar pedal guru and has a booth at the NAMM show. It's almost last call, so we do what we normally do: order double drinks. LOL They eventually kick us out. The party was easily moved from the Marriott to Iain's hotel room after a quick pit stop at our room to pick up the Pignose and some drinks. This is when the fun began. Gabe fired up the video camera and it was ON! There's some great footage from that night. When it shows up online, I'll be sure to post a link. We need to check on the legal implications first. :-)
Crash time was about 5AM PST.

I'm up at 8:30AM. Gabe starts to stir, sits up, grabs a New Castle Brown Ale and I hear the unmistakable 'psssstttttk' of a bottle opening. Damn man, 8:30? It's gonna be a LONG day. I'm out the door and at the AllParts booth by about 9:30AM. We have the booth ready to go, and they announce that NAMM is officially open.

There was a time when I would go to the NAMM show, have one meeting, then run around and jerk off checking out all the newest gear. That train has sailed. Now it's 10 hour days of talking with dealers, customers, and manufacturers about the Tremol-No. Hundreds of demonstrations. Don't get me wrong- it's all good for business, but I sometimes miss the old days. I'm lucky to have hooked up with AllParts and that they have such a great dealer network. All the dealers and distributors I talked with were super-cool.

Gabe and Iain went to Summer NAMM in Austin, but they've never been to this one in Anaheim. It's about 10x the size of Summer NAMM. They arrived about 11AM and were shocked at the size of the show. It is pretty massive. I mean, Fender has it's own FLOOR. So does Gibson. There you will find everything from music holders for flutes to fully-automated grand pianos to guys so metal that even Kerry King has to take a step back and pull a Keanu Reeves "whoa".

I've already cleared my Jemfest schedule with the owner of AllParts so I tell him and the rest of the staff that I'm heading out for the day. This was a very busy Thursday which is good for business, so I'm kinda bummed I have to leave. But what's ahead for me makes up for that.

The contest winners, Gabe, and I all meet at the JEM20th display at the Ibanez booth. Gabe and I were asked if we'd like to bring a friend along, so I brought Iain and Gabe brought Trey Alexander (Jemfest 2006 performer). We cruised back to our motel room so I could change from my Tremol-No show gear into something a bit more...slacker. LOL I make sure Gabe has a map and we're out the door.

Helene, Bryan, and Trey are in Gabe's car while Thomas, Rod, and Iain ride with me. Somehow I'm always leading these adventures. The last time Gabe and I tried to find this place (2003), we drove around the Hollywood hills for 3 hours before calling our host and telling him we were mentally incapable of finding the house. This time, we knew where we were going. :-) Thankfully, traffic on the freeway was light and after only 2 wrong turns, we arrived at our destination:

The Mothership.

For those that don't know, this is a huge house that was converted into a full-blown audio recording studio by Steve Vai. It's been used to record MANY of his solo records, and dozens of other records you've probably heard. For a Vai fan, this is Mecca. This is where you trek barefoot to. This is where the master has woven his musical fabric over the ages....
Damn. Sorry. I was getting a bit carried away there. It's Steve Vai's recording studio. It's really nice. It's basically a house with one floor that's been converted into a pro recording studio. From the outside, there's no way to tell it's anything other than one of the many homes in the neighborhood. No signs. No flashing lights. No parking (LOL).

We drop our passengers off, get the cooler full of ice and drinks out of Gabe's car, then find a spot to park. At the bottom of the hill. Ugh. Hey, at least it's in the same area code.
Upon returning, we're met by Mr. Mike Mesker. Mikey is a huge Aussie who's basically Steve's right hand man. He does so much stuff for Mr. Vai and his businesses, you'd be amazed if you read the list. I hadn't seen him in about 2 years, so it's really good to see Mikey again.
Even from outside, we can hear Steve and the boys playing. It's not crystal clear, but it's also not peaceful and serene. LOL The guys had been rehearsing since early in the morning (no rock star hours here!) and were almost done for the day.

CHAPTER TWO
Mikey escorted us up to the first floor- where the studio is- and into the control room. We caught the last last song they were working on. It's kind of a bummer that we didn't get to see more, but in truth- Vai has his back to the control room the whole time he's rehearsing. The chicks might dig it, but us guys....well....not so much.

Tony MacAlpine was the first one out the door when rehearsal was over. He zipped up his coat, popped on his helmet, and waved goodbye to us as he hopped on his motorcycle and headed to the NAMM show for an appearance at one of the booths. Billy was next up and out the door faster than you could say Talas. He was also scheduled to be at a booth at NAMM, signing stuff for fans.

I saw Ruta (Steve's manager and my main contact for this contest/event) over by the main door. I went over and said hello and did my best not to drool or stutter. I'll have to check the video, but I think I did okay. I thanked her profusely for all her help with the contest and how smoothly everything went together, and for her many years of help with Jemfest. She's incredible. There's no other way to describe her. If you think I'm kidding or just kissing her ass, ask Steve. He will say the same damn thing. I promise.

I was doing my best not to be "Fan Boy", but I was slowly loosing it. I'm a huge tech geek, so being around all that gear I felt like Clinton in a room full of interns. I was diggin' it. 2" tape machines, old-school mixing console....it was awesome. And to imagine the sounds that have come through that console and onto those tape machines. Wow. Most of the others were watching Steve and Thomas (Nordegg) jacking around with the jack on Steve's guitar for a few minutes while the others cooled off and packed up. Dave Weiner came into the control room and said hello to everyone. He's a great guy with a very cool- but demanding- job. Steve's a tough boss, and doesn't let stuff skate by or fall through the cracks. You've got to be on top of your game, especially on stage. Dave handles that with no problem, and throws a B-string on top! :-)
Jeremy Colson, Steve's drummer, came out of the studio area to cool off a bit. I jokingly ask him if he's gotten any ink lately. He says, "Yeah...this one, and just had this one finished a couple of weeks ago...." Oh. So much for being funny. :-) He'd never been before, so Jeremy asked me a few questions about NAMM and I did my best to answer them. I told him, "You know there's an 8-foot picture of you in the Tama booth, right?" Jeremy's eyes got wide, "Really?" I said, "Yep." He said that was pretty cool and that he wanted to check that out. I said, "If you do come down to NAMM, please let me know. I'd love to get a pic of you in front of the display." :-)

Steve comes in the studio and greets us all. It's amazing that he looks like he does after hours of intense rehearsal. I expected him to be all sweaty and mentally drained. He's anything but. Must be his diet. :-)

Steve's happy to see us all and thanked everyone for coming by. We all introduced ourselves and he began to tell us about the studio and how it came to be. Some very fascinating details, and some uber-secrets, were revealed. I stepped into the hallway to speak with Mikey about the food details. Ruta soon joined us. She said, "Since the 2nd place winners came all this way, Steve and I thought it'd be a nice surpise for them to also go to the 20th Anniversary party on Saturday night. Ibanez has a full guest list, but we're going to put their names on ours" Wow. Were Thomas and Rod going to be surprised! Mikey and I said we'd save the announcment and do it sometime during the meal. Unfortunately Ruta couldn't stay for the food, but said she'd see us on Saturday.

Now, this being a normal BBQ, we'd have weenies and burgers and ketchup and mustard and a grill billowing smoke into the Hollywood air. BUT....this being a Vai event- and we all know how unconventional Mr. Vai is- we'll have nothing of the sort. LOL Steve has been a vegitarian for many, many years. He also has a tradition of Indian food at the Mothership. So, how Vai-ish can we get? We're at the Mothership about to order a ton of Indian food. Yeah. That's pretty much par for an event with Steve Vai.
We offered alternate food for anyone that wasn't into trying the Indian food, but everyone said they'd give it a shot. Steve reassured us that we'd like at least some of it. He was right.
(There *is* a grill at the Mothership, but I don't think it had been used since the last time DLR was there.)

The food was ordered and we all moved upstairs to the top floor. It's like a regular house here: kitchen, dining room, living room, TV, super-rare guitars only a lucky few have ever been able to touch. You know- the usual. :-) Mikey had been kind enough to bring out a few of the super-cool guitars from the vault. The purple heart triple-neck, the white triple neck, the 'mirror ball' Universe, Steve's personal LNG JEM (now Mikey's?), the prototype hardtail JEM, a JEM-RB with a vine, a multi-color UV, and the hand-carved Passion & Warfare UV. These weren't just for show today; Steve said, "Go ahead and play 'em". Ummm.....wow. Okay.

I hung out with Jeremy and Dave downstairs for a few as we BS'd and I tried to talk Dave into revealing secrets about his next record (sorry folks...no luck with that. All I got was "I'm workin' on it."). Those guys were going to join us for food and conversation. Jeremy had to go pick up some gear from SIR before they closed, so he jetted off. Dave and I were on our way upstairs when Mikey came down asking wherethehell the food was. :-) A hungry 6'5" Aussie in front of you is kinda like being between a mother bear and her cub: it's a bad spot to be in. LOL The food finally showed up and we helped carry it all upstairs.

The group was still chatting while I broke out the packages for the meal ahead of us. I honestly had no clue what anything was. Some was red-ish, some was white-ish, there was stuff with peas in it, and then some bread-type things. I did my best to match stuff up. I think I came close. I'm not sure if it was the scent or if it was that he was hungry too, but Steve knew when it was time to come over. He gave us all a little lesson on Indian cuisine. It all sounded good, so I decided to try a little bit of everything and pass judgement later. The only thing I didn't like was the yogurt-ish stuff. I know it's meant to balance out the spicy-hotness of some of the dishes, but I wasn't into it. Everything else was great. I even figured out the bread things! Everyone went back to the couches to eat and continue with the conversation.

I'll try to describe the atmosphere:
Imagine being at a friends house. You've been there dozens of times before. Whether it's to check on their pets or watch a hockey game or to sleep off a hangover. You're comfortable there within 10 seconds. You could sit there on the couch for an entire day. That's how easy and relaxed it was. The first few minutes were kinda tense, but after that, things flowed like we were all buddies for the last 10 years. It was great. Zero pressure. Zero attitude.

The hardest part of the evening was when Steve asked us, "What *don't* you guys like about my records?"

CRICKETS

15 people in the room and you could hear the traffic on Melrose Ave.
We were all stunned, shocked, and digging into our memories trying to come up with something. What the hell do you say to that? We all looked at each other for some type of answer. I gave up after about 60 seconds. The silence was deafening. I sleeked my way out onto the front balcony and listened from afar. :-)

Dinner was over, and we were still chatting. Everything was covered: DLR, EVH, Whitesnake, Zappa, how much Mikey knows about Steve's guitars, upcoming projects, the 20th Anniversary guitar, the show on Sat. night. Steve sat there in the corner of the couch, boots off, feet up, talking to us like it was an everyday thing.

That's when we sprung the surprise on Thomas and Rod. They lit up like Nick Nolte hearing it's happy hour. Two very happy campers indeed.

It was almost 7PM when we said, "We've gotta go". Steve seemed a little bummed; he'd enjoyed his night off hangin' out with us. I guess you don't realize how busy someone is until you think about everything they have on their plate each day. Steve was gracefull enough to sign a bunch of stuff the winners had brought along (guitars, photos) and we all grabbed a ton of pics with him. With my Fan Boy flag flying, I even got a picture with Mr. Vai. :-)

We packed up and thanked Steve and Mikey about 22,478 times as we left and walked toward the cars. I stood pretty damn tall as we got closer to the cars. I felt good about the contest I'd put together (with Ruta and Mikey's help). We'd raised a ton of money with the contest, and now had 8 people going back to Anaheim with permanent smiles on their faces and stories for their friends, parents, and kids.

Ouch...that hurt. I gotta be more careful with the back-patting. I almost threw my shoulder out.

The drive back was kind of funny. Thomas was furiously calling the airline trying to change their flights (he eventually did). Rod said, "Uh oh. I left my backpack at the house!" I called Mikey and he found the backpack and would bring it to NAMM the following day. Easy fix.

Gabe dropped Helene and Bryan off at their hotel. They said they were done for the night and just wanted to soak in the last half a day. Good plan. Thomas and Rod came back to our motel with Iain and I. Gabe joined us a few minutes later. We were all still 'high' from the day. It was a lot of fun and just an amazing time. Rod and Thomas were going to call it a night and cruise back to their hotel (they had a rental car too).

That left Gabe, Iain and myself. My friend Ron from San Diego called and met us at the motel room. Since it was only about 10PM, we decided to head out for a drink to finish off the night. We had had good luck at the Marriott with running into friends, so we decided to try that again. As we walked into the front door, 4 guys were getting up from the best table in the house. I almost threw Iain at one of the chairs. LOL A table like this, during NAMM, on a show night= major score. We even had a waiter! My friend Ron made a mocking comment about the waiter's method of napkin delivery (sort of a flip-toss as the napkin spins into place). The guy took Ron literally. LOL He kept doing the spin-thing with the napkins, and we kept giggling.

The bands playing the Marriott were pretty good. We hung out there until last call (again! LOL). I enjoyed the jealous stares of the others. :-) As we were leaving, we saw Ben again. He was with a girl named Jessie and her friend (I don't remember his name, but he's the drummer for Smashmouth?). Security was 'helping' us toward the door at this point saying, "Time to go, fellas". We tried to get Ben and his friends to come with us, but they were tucked over in the mini-lounge area to the left of the front door. Ben thought it was funny that we were outside and they were still inside. He and Jessie started making...ummm....funny gestures towards us. Eventually, they were 'helped' out of the hotel as well. We decided to go back to our motel room for a final nightcap. Or eleven.
Crash time was 5:30AM.

CHAPTER THREE
The alarm on my cell phone buzzed a little after 8AM. I only snoozed it once and got ready for the show. I was out the door a little after 9AM.

What's nice about the motel where we were at was that it's directly out the backdoor of the convention center. :) It's only about a 100 yd. walk. That makes it pretty convenient. It's a 2-minute jaunt to the backdoor where my badge is checked versus my ID. I win! I also noticed that at this NAMM, unlike previous shows, the 'guards' were being rotated. I think it was every 4 hours, but I'm not sure. There would be a different guard at every door. I believe this was done so you couldn't 'buddy-up' with one of them and slip in. NAMM has gotten pretty serious about security in the last couple of years.

My companions from AllParts are already at the booth, bright-eyed and coffee-handed. I guess they don't do the 5AM thing each night like we do. :-) The booth gets re-freshed (new catalogs out, parts re-displayed) and we await the 10 o'clock ding when the doors officially open to everyone else.

The guys were curious about my trip to the Mothership and hangin' out with Vai. I spewed all the gory details. One of the guys is a bassist. I may as well have spoken Czech. LOL The other guy has been a guitarist for a long time, so he hung on my every word. :)

I had a long list of people that I needed to either introduce myself to or speak with about Jemfest. NAMM is a great place to do that because everyone is in one location. The folks at Carvin hooked us up with a great raffle prize last year (Legacy combo amp) so I wanted to say thank you in-person to Bob C. He really bent over backwards to help us out last year, and I'd like to continue with that relationship. Vai is signing at the Carvin booth at 11AM. I better get over there before the line gets too long and the Carvin guys get too busy to talk.

Too late.
It's 10:07 and the line is probably 500 people deep. Wow. Talk about a fan base! I made my way through the crowd and over to the peripheral edge on the far side of the booth. I spot Ruta as she's talking with a gentleman in a Carvin shirt. I wave and make my way over. I ask Ruta if she ever sleeps. LOL She laughs and asks if we had a good time yesterday. I blurt out an extatic "YES!", and thank her again. The gentleman from Carvin is done messing with whatever he was fixing/adjusting on the booth. I ask him if he knows where Bob C. is. He says, "Sure. I'll go get him." And turns around to leave, then immediately jumps back into place. "Hi", he says, "I'm Bob C." (his name tag was turned around when I first looked). Damn, did I feel silly. The 3 of us giggle for a second. Bob recognizes my name and remembers me. We talk about the upcoming Jemfest and how they would like to work with us again. That's great news! He and I were both happy to put a face with a name/voice. The people were continuing to pile up at Carvin. I bid them both adieu and went back to the AllParts booth.

The show went well and it was a good turnout for Friday. Iain and Gabe stopped by in the late afternoon. They looked....worn. LOL Somehow I was (again) put in charge of the festivities for the evening. How does that always happen? I tell the guys to go enjoy the show while I think of something to do tonight. Hmmm....it has to be fun, but not so out-there that I'm a blob of flesh in the morning (and tomorrow night is important too). Hmmm....

I made a quick run to the hotel to grab some soda and water for our booth. It's sort of a no-no to bring your own drinks into the show (they want you to buy the $3 bottle of water inside), but I look innocent enough. LOL
As I'm walking through the backdoor into the show, some guy jets in front of me and looks back, waving to some people behind me. Nothing new; there are all sorts of weird happenings at the NAMM show. But this guy has a walkie-talkie, an earpiece, and a jacket with an official-looking 'SECURITY' badge on it. He must be partially legit (or playing the part damn well). I really don't worry about it, and focus on my mission of beverage delivery. I continue toward the double-doors and proceed to jut my chest out so my badge is clearly seen. A tree trunk- oops- I mean, an arm comes out from my left impeding my progress and from that side I hear, "hold on, sir". A large black fellow is asking (in his own special way) for me to stop where I am. I ask myself, "Huh? What for? The water? Come on...you can't be serious. I'm gonna get ejected for 3 bottles of water and a Pepsi?"
The arm drops and I'm allowed to go on through (like he could have stopped me anyway. LMAO). I'm not sure what that was all about. As I continue, I see something moving out of the corner of my left eye. The tree trunk guy has moved back a little and I'm able to see the familiar motion. Something I've seen hundreds of times, but never this close.
It's Stevie Wonder.
I'm not sure why he moves his head like that, and I certainly don't want to sound disrespectful, but it's something identifiable. Almost a trademark. I like to think that the guy has so much awesome music in his brain and body that he moves like that naturally. It's like trying to stop a waterfall. You just let it flow.

Sorry folks, but Fan Boy kicked in again. I mean, Stevie's an icon in the music world. Even my dad knows who he is. :-) I zip over to the AllParts booth and tell the guys, "Stevie Wonder's coming in the back door! Check it out!" I rush to grab the camera in my breifcase (yes- I have an honest-to-goodness breifcase now. Just don't tell anyone. My friends won't let me live it down). Some friends of the company are there too and they also whip out their cameras. One of the wives stands on one of the bar stool-type seats we have at the booth. There's a BIG crowd around Stevie now and the added height helps. We hand our cameras to her in succession. Unfortunately, Stevie was headed to the keyboard/piano section of the show so his back was to us for most of the photos. Oh well, at least I almost got taken out by his security staff! :)

Gabe and Iain return just before the show closes at 6PM. "What's the plan for tonight?". The question I'd been dreading all day. I fall back on the 'old reliable'. I remember my friend James telling me about a gentleman's club near the convention center that he said was really good. It was called Fritz's. Okay, that's the plan. Grab some food, grab a shower, hit the club. NAMM is kinda like a bar: when it's closing time, they make a little announcment over the PA system and turn off the lights. It's their way of saying "Get the hell out.".

Gabe, Iain and myself are ready to leave and we pile into Gabe's rental (Lincoln Town Car...nice). Fritz's is only a 3 minute drive from our motel. I have no problem admitting to my mistakes. This was one of them.
Fritz's was a decent club, but....apparently it's half-off night. Only half of the girls removed their clothing. And not the good-looking half. The hottest girls at the venue remained fully-clothed the entire time we were there.
LAME.
We finished our beers (and Gabe's water) and bailed. Lesson learned.

By the time we get back to the motel, it's about midnight. I guess if we have a few drinks and put a few notes on the fretboard, we've had a decent night and can finally get a little more than 3 hours of sleep.
It was not to be. :D
Just as we're about to call it a night, Ben and Jessie knock on the door. Uh oh, time to find my 7th wind. There was tons of great conversation taking place, and Ben pretending to be a New Orleans bluesman. LOL The guy's a great player, but his New Zealand roots simply can't be denied and come through with every made-up lyric. We were all laughing hysterically.

The biggest suprise of the night was Jessie. She ripped out a freestyle rap (uncommon in our normal gatherings) that left us all slack-jawed. It was...impressive. We were like little kids- "Do it again! Do it again!". She did. It was pretty cool, if not a tad bit surreal.
Crash time was about 5AM.

Just like yesterday, my alarm goes off a little after 8AM, and I'm at the show a little after 9AM. Another full day of the show, but I skip out of the booth for a few meetings with some folks. I get a little bit of time with Mr. Tom Anderson and Mr. John Suhr as I do a quick run through the downstairs part of the show. Tom is a very nice guy and recognizes me now (that's pretty cool). Mr. Suhr is happy to hear that the first of my patent numbers have issued. It's a legitimate concern for guitar companies, and he was playing it safe. Good move and I totally respect his choice doing that. He's had many customers request Tremol-No's in their guitars, and now he can offer them as an option. Both are great guys, and build really, REALLY nice guitars.

I stop by Hank Lee's booth. His Spear Guitars are pretty cool, with some really nice natural finishes. Hank is there, but Mr. Kang (from the factory) has gone to lunch. Hank and I talk for a few and he lets me know that he's looking for "an American face" for his guitar line. Hmmm....I'll have to keep that in mind. Hank will probably be one of the first guitar companies to OEM the Tremol-No. That's awesome!

On my way back up to the AllParts, I must stop by DiMarzio and toss out another bucket of thanks to Steve Blucher. He's been instrumental (pun fully intended) in the success of the Tremol-No. He won't take any credit though. He's far too humble for something like that.
Steve is there (playing a Tele?!?!?) along with his #2, Eric. I also met a guy named Jeremy who works with the guys at DiMarzio. Steve asks me if I'm going to the big JEM20th concert/party tonight. I reply that I am. He asked if we were taking the Ibanez-provided buses or if we had our own wheels. I said we had 2 or 3 cars going up there right after the show finished. He asked if he could ride with us instead of on the bus. Well...hell yes! Eric and I exchanged phone numbers and we made a plan to meet shortly after the NAMM show closed (enough time to shower/change). I asked Steve if I could get a pic of him for the website. He was reluctant (to say the least), but I did manage to take a really good pic. I know, I know- more back-patting. But hey, Blucher is one of the hardest guys to get a photograph of in this whole industry. He's the Loch Ness of the music world. There are more pics of Mutt Lange out there. :)

Ok, back to the booth I go. It's kinda tough being part of the AllParts crew; most dealers and customers think that I'm a parts guru like the other guys there. "Do you have pickguard screws for a '63 Hagstrom....in chrome?" Huh? I'm getting better, but with tens of thousands of parts, I still have to check with the other guys sometimes. When it comes time to talk Tremol-No, they send everyone my way. I guess it's a fair trade-off.

I had picked up a(nother) Subway sandwich for lunch, but forgot it back at the room. Damn. As I'm walking down the single-lane strip to the motel, a large black Lincoln Navigator is coming up the roadway. Quickly. Quicker than normal. There's not a lot of room here, especially when there's a full-size vehicle as part of the equasion. I'm the only person walking the lane. This could be bad.
Even though it's broad daylight, I'm not sure the driver of the SUV saw me. I step quickly to the left a little. He's still comin'. Is he accelerating? Is he aiming for me? I hope not! At this point, I'm out of the way of the vehicle, but it was close. Closer than I would have liked it to be. He's doing well over 40 mph as he comes up the roadway and passes by me. I look to see just who the hell is in such a hurry:

In the passenger seat of the vehicle is Mr. Stevie Wonder.
That's twice I almost got taken out! No worries though; I'm still a fan. :)

The show finishes and the Jemfest contest winners meets us there. I change quickly as Thomas says he's going to drive to the 20th Anniversary concert as well. That's cool- 3 vehicles works well, considering our extra guests. Plus, if someone wants to leave early or stay late, we have more options.

Gabe says he's going to follow me (I'm leading again? Okay...), so we give the extra map/directions to Thomas and Rod. Here's where the fun begins: Getting from Anaheim to the far end of Sunset Boulevard on a Saturday night.

Bring it!

(TO BE CONTINUED)
Kevan
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Joined: Sat Apr 05, 2003 7:52 pm

CHAPTER FOUR
My phone rings after getting the nose of the car out of the motel parking lot. It was Eric, "Hey man, we're in front of the hotel ready to go." I reply with, "Ok, we're fighting off some NAMM traffic now. We should be less than 5 minutes."

Oh how wrong I was.

Since we're trying to get away from NAMM at the exact same time everyone else is, traffic sucks. It's about 3 blocks to get to their hotel, but....a lot can happen in 3 blocks. FINALLY we make the right turn onto Katella. Katella is a 7-lane road (3 in each direction and a center turn-lane). Going West, it's wide open. Going East- toward I-5- it's packed like Carl Sagan's brain. This is going to take longer than 5 minutes. At least I don't have to worry about losing Gabe. LOL As we continue to inch forward, Eric calls me again. "Hey- where are you guys?" I explain the awful traffic to him. He says, "We'll start walking toward Katella & Harbor and meet you at the corner." Good plan. Well, kinda.
We find out that there's an accident in the right lane. Fine. Less than 50' later, there's an accident in the *left* lane. Cars simply can't funnel through the two wrecks. It takes us almost 20 minutes to go 3 blocks. I felt like I was back in NYC! :)

By this time Eric has called 2 more times just to make sure we're still alive and make sure we didn't ditch them. We meet at the bus-stop-type indent at the corner of Katella and Harbor. A quick U-turn and we can get back onto I-5 and get out of this mess (into a bigger mess). Due to all the NAMM show traffic, the next available U-turn is about 4 lights down. Ugh.

FINALLY, we're on I-5...en route to Hollywood. Traffic is backed up here too. What's going on? Am I cursed? Thomas and Rod are in front of us (by about 10 minutes). They call and let us know about an accident in the main lanes invoving a semi and a very small car. That can't be good. I look left and notice the HOV lane. It's moving quite nicely. Actually, there's no one in it. I know it's illegal, and I'm not one to fracture laws, but....I've got Steve Blucher in my car and he needs to be somewhere! LOL I skip over to the HOV lane and romp on the gas. Gabe does the same. If we had a 3rd car, we could claim to be a presidential escort. I-5 North was clear the rest of the way but we stayed in the HOV lane until our exit came up.

Now, when you're headed to a concert with friends, the conversation is usually about the artist(s) playing that night, or about other shows, or about the venue. Hanging out with Blucher, we will have no such dialog. The question posed to us in the car was, "Name the guitar companies where the employees threw a mutiny and now the guitar company is gone." Umm....okay. At least it wasn't a boring ride up there. :)

The last time I was on Sunset Boulevard on a Friday night, it was 2 mph from one end to the other. Bumper to bumper. In both directions. Maybe it's because it was almost snowing out, but Sunset was WIDE open. Almost no cars on it at all. Odd.

The Key Club is at the far end of Sunset. Past the Whiskey. Past the Rainbow. Past the Roxy. It's the last large club before Sunset ends. It's also probably the nicest club on Sunset (The Whiskey is a hovel, BTW). There's a HUGE (20'x20') video monitor above the front door to the Key Club. We see video of Vai and Satriani playing. This is the place. I quickly search for parking. Oooo....score, just to the right. $10. Cheaper than being towed! (On either side of Sunset are hardcore residential neighborhoods. If you don't have a resident sticker on your car, they'll tow you within 20 minutes. Yes- even at 2AM. They're brutal)

Gabe's right behind us as we drop the cars off and walk the 1/4 block back to the Key Club. There's quite a line as a couple of the Ibanez buses have dropped off people as well. How did the buses beat us here? Anyway, the 9 of us meet up with Rod and Thomas and take our place at the back of the line.

As we're waiting in line, Andy Timmons walks out the backstage door and is cruising to one of the nearby shops for something (coffee we later learn). Blucher skips- yes, he skipped- across the street and meets Andy head-on. They laugh and hug (in a very manly way). Steve takes off with Andy. He's a grown man. Actually, they both are. I'm sure they can find their way in later. The line continues to move, quite quickly too.

Blucher finally returns with Andy. Andy says hey to everyone and proceeds to walk back up the line. He's taking this opportunity to talk with fans and shake hands and sign autographs. He made his way all the way through the line behind us, stopping to talk to anyone that said "Hey Andy!". Pretty damn cool if you ask me. He eventually went back to the backstage door and slipped in with his coffee.

We get to the door man. Somehow I'm leading the pack again! I say, "Kevan G., I'm with Ibanez/Jemfest. I'm on the guest list."
"Nope. No Kevan. No G. No Jemfest."
Uh oh.
Thank Supreme Being that Pat from Ibanez was right there. I said, "Hello Pat. It seems we're not on the guest list." Pat says, "Oh, we can fix that right now. Is everyone together with you? Good. You point and I'll point." As I pointed, the members of our group walked past. It worked out quite nicely (and smoothly considering it could have been a huge problem.)

We're all inside and I say, "Meeting place after the show is HERE..." as I point to the ATM machine by the front entrance. I get a bunch of nods, then everyone scatters for the bar. LOL The sign says, "Free Beer Until 11PM". Oh yeah. This is my kind of party. Wait- I have to drive. Damn. Ok. I'll be a good kid. I enjoy a single beer with Iain and Gabe celebrating an incredible event and an awesome contest, then proceed on my soda binge.

The first band up is new. I've not seen or heard of them before. They are hardcore. No doubt about that, but....not really my style. I mill around and decide to go get some pics of the venue outside. I cross Sunset and get a few great pictures of the venue with the big video board outside. I walk a little ways down the street and get shots that include the Rainbow and Roxy as well. I'm no Herb Ritts, but I thought it'd be something nice to add to the photo album.

As I'm making my way back inside, there are two guys in front of me being asked for credentials. The shorter guy has on a knit hat and the taller guy a baseball cap. The taller guy says, "I'm XXXXXXXX (I forgot what he said)....and this is Joe Satriani." Oh. Really. They are let in without hassle. :) I thought Joe would have used the back door. Maybe he heard about the free beer. LOL

Unintentionally, I follow Mr. Satch and his friend to the left side of the stage area. The opening band has since finished and they are setting up for the next guy. I didn't have any clue as to the schedule, so I just went with the flow. Iain and Gabe are about 4 people-rows back from the front of the stage, toward the left side. Great...ahem..."seats". A waitress is walking around with beers for everyone. Handy!

I join those guys and watch as the stage lights come on. The banner behind the stage is revealed.
I'm in shock.
Gabe is in shock.
We look at each other like some sort of rehearsed sitcom move. Our jaws open. Our eyes bulging. We both look back at the banner again. Then at each other again. This time smiling like we'd just learned who The Stig really is.
It was amazing.

I'll describe it backwards, so as to build the tension. :)
The banner stretched the entire width of the stage. I'd say it was about 50' wide, and maybe 4' tall.
On the right side of the banner, there is an Ibanez RG logo. It says "RG" in big letters, then "20th Anniversary" in a big circular print. In the middle of the RG letters, it features an outline of the Ibanez 'goosebeak' headstock. Pretty cool. Under that, it says "www.ibanez.com". Nothing out of the ordinary there.
In the middle, as expected, there was a large "Ibanez" in it's normal font. Large, but normal.
Now, for the good part.......
On the left side, there's a circular JEM logo. It says, "JEM" in it's traditional script-type font. The circular logo continues like the RG one with "20th Anniversary" written on the bottom of the circle. Now for Kev's surprise:
Under that, in nice big letters: http://WWW.JEMFEST.COM

I must say it again: I was simply in shock. As was Gabe.
I had planned this whole contest since July. I thought I knew every aspect and every detail. This was a massive surprise from Ibanez for us. I can't even begin to relate how cool it was for them to do that. Awesome. Amazing. Excellent.
I was one happy camper.

It was time to visit the men's room (no- not to do that, you pervs), so I inched my way back to the center stairwell that led down to the restrooms downstairs. I took care of business and went back up to the main level. I thought it'd be a great time to take a pic of the banner before the stage fills up and I get a bunch of (famous) heads in the way. At the top of the stairs I pull out my camera and fire it up. As I'm trying to frame the shot, a guy from Ibanez (I'd seen him before but don't know his name) puts his hand over the lens of my camera. Huh? I ask him, "What's the problem?" He says, "No photographs." I reply, "They're telling everyone who enters that cameras are allowed." He says, "No photographs." "Dude, you need to let the guys at the front door know. There must be 500 cameras in here."

Paul Gilbert comes out on stage. The crowd erupts. There are so many flashes from cameras that it looks like we're in a Wang Chung video. I was waitng for Jennifer Beals to come out of right side of the stage and pull and chain to drop a bucket of water on herself. I look at the 'no photos' guy and without a word, but immense facial expression and exagerated body movements, I power off my camera and put it back in my jacket pocket. Big smile. BIG smile.

Paul's wearing some kind of ear muffs (turns out they're also his monitors). He's never one to be 'normal', so it's easily accepted. :) He greets us all and says, "I'm playing my very first Ibanez-made guitar. It's a PGM-301. I love this thing." And immediately breaks into song.

I WILL NOT REVEAL THE SETLIST FOR ANY ARTIST. Please don't ask. I'm sure there will be a DVD or some type of download available in the future.

Paul played a few of his songs, then introduced his good friend Bruce Bouillet onto the stage. Paul and Bruce used to be in a band called Racer-X that dominated the LA music scene in the late 80's and early 90's. If you were a guitarist wanting to see how it was done, you'd be at the Racer-X show that weekend. You know who you are. Paul says it's been 10 years since he and Bruce have played live together. And judging by how they played this night, they haven't missed a single practice. LOL

As Paul worked his set, the banner behind the band began to 'slip'. Just the JEM-logo side. It looked like the clip holding the left corner came loose. Easily understandable considering the volume on stage. Slowly the banner began to crumple until it just said "Ibanez- RG-20th". Ack! By this time, I'd moved around the floor a bit and was over by the rest of the 'paparazzi' taking pics. I hoped that someone would see the slipping banner and fix it. Thankfully, after Paul's set, they did. It didn't move the rest of the show.

Between sets, I was talking with some friends down by the restrooms (long line, as you can imagine). I see my friend Jer from Ibanez. He's the official event photographer for Ibanez, and a very cool guy. We had first met during the Dave Weiner/Rob Balducci tour earlier in the year, hung out for a few of those shows and had a good time. I say hello and ask him if he could email me next week so I could get a couple of his pics for the Jemfest website. He says, "You like that banner, eh?" and smiles a little. He knew it was a surprise for me as well. He says, "You can thank Paul S. and Jim G. for that. They are the ones that put it on there." I certainly would thank them, once I got my hearing back. LOL Jer says no problem on the pics and that we'd email each other soon. He had to get ready for the next band coming on, so he bailed up stairs. I decided to grab another soda from the bar and find out where Blucher went. I'm sure he's got good seats somewhere.

I scan around the main floor and spot Iain and Gabe still rooted where they were an hour ago. Still facing forward. I see the Jemfest contest winners off to the right. They're talking to each other and seem to be enjoying themselves.

I step outside and grab some fresh air for a minute. Who's walking down the street? No- it's not the Monkees. It's Rob Balducci! "Hey man!"
"Hey- did they start yet?"
"I don't think so. Paul just finished. He ripped it with Bruce."
"Cool! I'll catch ya inside!", and Rob and his manager Pete cruised into the show. I followed a few minutes later. Even though it's smog-filled LA, it sure beats sweaty, greasy air. LOL

I looked around the main floor again. Same Gabe and Iain positions. Same Jemfest winner positions, but no Blucher and crew. Hmmm. Time to check upstairs. There they are! Right at the top of the stairs. Blucher, Eric and Jeremy have a cool spot just above and behind the FOH board. They tell me that the sound is GREAT where they are. I decide to check that out for myself, but maybe after a little front of the stage action. I aim myself back downstairs and cruise toward Gabe and Iain, who haven't moved. Bryan and Helene have joined them, while Thomas and Rod are a step behind those two. My friend from SevenString.org, Bill, is also there with a buddy. We have a little group thing happening! Bill's VERY happy to hear about the free beer. He's doing 12 oz. curls with each hand. No wonder he's in great shape. I ask Bryan and Helene if they're having a good time. Rod and Thomas hear me as well. Huge smiles cross all their faces.
Cool. I've done my job.

Uh oh, the lights just went dim.

CHAPTER FIVE
The unmistakable shadow of human plus guitar saunters out onto the stage. The backlights cast a cool silhouette for those viewing. It's Vai. We all know it. I don't think there was a person in the club who didn't know it.

The front lights come up and there's Steve, smiling like his signature model guitar had just turned 20. :D I thought for a second: How many other signature model guitars out there had lasted that long? 20 years is a longass time. A few artists come and are gone a few years later as the music industry chews them up like Red Barn tobacco, then spits them out across the porch. I'm sure someone will help me name those that have a score of years under their belt. At the time, I was drawing a blank. Please understand why.

He steps up to the mic as the crowd grows silent, awaiting what is sure to be something profound (though his guitar does most of the profound stuff. LOL) Steve says, "Hello everyone! Thanks for joining me on this incredible night.", and holds up his famed EVO guitar. "We're 20!" The crowd erupts with cheers and whistles. Steve continues to smile. He continues on with the story of how he and Ibanez came to be buddies, and how the relationship has flourished over the last 2 decades. He holds up EVO again and says "thanks to Ibanez, we all have access to great guitars like this one." Boy, EVO doesn't look exactly great. She's got more miles on her than the Space Shuttle. I guess that's what the guys down south call 'mojo'. You don't just put it on a guitar like a sticker; it's something that can only come with time, dedication, and love for whatever it is that gets the mojo. EVO's been customized so much, Boyd Coddington would step back and say, "Daymn!". To fans though, it's their talisman. There is no denying it. Ever.

He walks back to his on-stage guitar rack to drop off EVO, and picks up FLO. FLO has been his #2 guitar for a while now. It's been customized as well, but only has 42 kabillion notes on it, unlike EVO. He straps on FLO and gets comfortable.

The crowd is still cheering when Steve steps back up to the mic. "And, I have to thank my fans for all their support throughout the years. They're the best fans in the world and I'm lucky to have them with me." More truth from Mr. Vai. No matter the era or lineup, Steve's always delivered for his fans. Whether it's the non-mainstream of Zappa, the straight-rock-pop of DLR, the fairly-metal of Whitesnake, or any of his solo work, the fans have been there. And they've dug it all. Each note. Each whammy move. Each chord. They cry for more, and Steve has delivered. As a Vai fan myself, I hope that streak continues.

"And where are the Jemfest people?" Wha?!!? Huh?!!? Did he just mention Jemfest? Kevan- put your hand up. Put it up now. Both of them. Scream. It doesn't have to be a word; any noise will do. How about an emphatic 'yeah'? Good move.
I was having some sort of brain-separation experience. I couldn't believe what was just said.
Steve finally saw our little group flailing like Fraggle hair and continued, "You guys are GREAT! The Jemfest guys are fantastic and have done so much for the guitar and the Make A Noise Foundation over the years. Thank you guys!"

I think I just pee'd a little.

The crowd cheered. They cheered for us. They cheered for us because of what Steve told them. That was pretty damn cool. If I could bask in that feeling again, I surely would. I can't even begin to describe how amazing it felt.

As the crowd wound down, Steve said, "Would it be okay if I played a little for you?", and smiled. More cheering, then.....4 famous notes from Mr. Vai. I had to look up to make sure the roof didn't blow off. It was unbelievable.

Steve's set was awesome. A great collection of songs, both new and old, that really do provide a thorough summary of him as a guitarist, artist, and musical genius. The band was awesome as well. Jeremy Colson's a very animated drummer. Dave Weiner rocks when appropriate and can bring the mellow stuff when it's called for. Tony MacAlpine is an incredible talent- keys, guitar, backing vocals. Damn him for being so good. LOL Billy Sheehan was on bass, as usual. What do you say about Billy? He can play bass. He can play bass very well. He's got a great stage presence. He's awesome with fans before, during, and after the show. What a great combination of musicians Vai has assembled. It's not a super-group; it's an uber-group.

For Vai fans, the set is never long enough. :) Steve paused to say, "I've got some friends here tonight, and I'd love to play some songs with them."

Uh oh. It's about to get dangerous on stage.

From the left side, another silhouette appears. This one is also familiar to fans of the guitar. He's got his knit cap on. He's got his shiny chrome guitar. Yep- it's Joe Satriani. Joe comes out on stage to uproarious applause and gives Steve a big hug. These guys have been friends for as long as I can remember. It's okay to see a bit of manly-hugging happening. Completely understandable. Both guys are smiling wide now as Steve comes back to the mic. "Ladies and gentlemen, my good friend and pal, Mister Joe Satriani!" More cheering. Loud cheering. They break into one of Steve's songs. Monster players playing monstrously. How awesome.

After the song, Steve says, "I've got some more friends here as well..." Oh! Cool! We're ready! Herman Li (DragonForce) comes out after his introduction. To be honest, I don't know much about Herman or the band, so I can't really say much about him. Next up is Matt Roberts from the band 3 Doors Down. Huh? Oh- I get it, he's an Ibanez endorsee, this is an Ibanez show...gotcha. Next is Andy Timmons. Holy fretboard monster, Batman! Will there be any notes left after tonight? My question was answered as Paul Gilbert comes out from the other side of the stage.
I guess not.

After everyone has been announced and plugged in (good luck, Mr. Soundman!), the jam starts. Steve's singing this one, and I gotta say he's really relaxed on his vocal stuff. He doesn't sound so tense; like he's trying incredibly hard. These days it seems to flow more naturally for him. Not as natural as the guitar stuff, but....still pretty good (and much better than my singing. LOL).

After the first two choruses, the usual jam signal comes forth from Steve: the head nod. Time to show the crowd what ya got. Dave Weiner is up first. With his orange/silver 7-string, he whips up some fun note concoction and quickly passes it over to Billy Sheehan. What? Bass solo? Sure! Billy has his fretboard fun then relinquishes the proverbial pick off to Matt Roberts. I think this was probably the first time Matt has played with any of these guys so he seemed to be a little nervous. Actually, a lot nervous. Nonetheless, he played quite well considering the company. The finger points to Herman. He taps and sweeps a few cool spots, then hands off to Steve. Another cool solo (expected, right?) and then Joe's up. How he does that big nasty scream I'll never know. I've tried it a hundred times and always seem to botch it or fret out the string. Oh well, time for some T-Mac! Tony MacAlpine slips from behind is keyboard setup with his blue-burst Carvin and rips out a mean ol' solo. Tony's got skills. No doubt about it. Now it's time for some Timmons. Andy plays some nice bluesy-rock leads. By far the fewest notes yet, and all with great tone. Paul Gilbert is up last and reminds us why he was a GIT instructor at age 18.

Just incredible playing across the entire stage. I guess if I practiced 20 hours a day for 27 years, I could be up there too. *sigh* Maybe the next time.

The song ends and all the players shake hands and smile at each other. It looks like they're having a blast up there. It's all fun. No egos or attitude. Just get up there, turn up the volume and play. Very cool.

Steve grabs his brand new JEM20th off the guitar rack and fires it up. Yes folks, the guitar 'fires up'. It's got a bunch of LED lights inside the acrylic that are VERY bright. When you turn them on, they shine up and down your body...turning you green! It turned Steve green too.
Finally, he was a little green man.

Steve wanted to do one last song before calling it a night. No one left the stage as they waited for Jeremy Colson to countdown for this one. Paul was singing so he gets a few choruses out (BTW- nice singing, Paul!), and then the fireworks begin. It's the same rotation as the last song, but this time it's only a 4-measure break. Better make it count, fellas! Since Paul's singing, he goes first. Typical Paul. Non-normal solo: he *screams* his solo into his pickups. LMAO Dave goes a little Jimi-esque on us with some awesome bends/releases. Matt...well, poor Matt. The guy writes great songs, but I think he was sick on Virtuoso Day. I'm pretty sure Matt was praying to the pentatonic gods during his solo spots, and begging them that he doesn't have a string break. I gotta give credit where credit is due: Matt did it. If it were me, I'd be running off stage screaming like a little girl with a skinned knee begging for my mommy. He did his best, and it turned out fine.

Herman's up next. More sweeps. More tapping. Ahhh....a little shred action. Nice. Someone obviously has Paul Gilbert's videos at home. Maybe a couple of Yngwie ones too. LOL I should state that Herman's tone was great. He plays an Ibanez S-series guitar, but I'm not sure of his amp rig. Whatever it was/is, it sounded great.

Steve and Joe again get their spots. More tasteful leads that easily identify each of the players. The tone, the note selection....it's like they're writing their name using the fretboard and a pick. It's gotta be cool to have the ability to do that.

T-Mac is back from the keys again. He's got a few tricks in store of all of us. Wow, ok. Now we know why Steve hired you. Completely understood. :) Andy is up again. This is everyone's last time through with lead breaks. It seems as though Mr. Timmons has seen and heard enough. He played the "You Seem To Forget That I Was In An 80's Metal Band" solo. Andy had dropped the T-bomb. All the other players looked at each other like they'd seen a ghost. Yeah....a ghost from 1989! Paul looked over, threw up his hands in a "Howthehell do I follow that?" pose, and went back to finish off the vocals of the song.

The ending was a...ahem...."collaboration of notes and passages" that could only be understood by aliens and Shawn Lane (RIP). Tons of Satch screams, Vai-legato runs, Herman tapping, Andy whole-noting, T-Mac harmonizing with Andy, Paul doing a bunch of ascending/decending runs, Billy holding his bass high in the air doing something with his right hand that seemed very unnatural, Matt windmilling chords, and Dave bringin' the low B into the fray.

What a great show. Ibanez really out-did themselves this time. An insane amount of talent on one stage, no major technical problems, and a great venue. I'd call it a total success. A proper way to celebrate a 20th anniversary. Kudos to everyone at Ibanez, Tama, and Hoshino for such an excellent event. You folks did a great job and should be very proud of yourselves.

At the end of the show, I had worked my way back up to where Blucher and the DiMarzio crew were sitting. They were right- the sound up there was great! I said that we should head downstairs and meet the others. Gabe and Iain were already at the ATM machine, and the Jemfest winners were already headed for the door. Out we go, and are directed toward the left. Some folks from Hoshino had a bunch of boxes and a table setup just past the main wall of the venue. They said, "What size?" I replied, "Double D". Well, I thought it was funny. He tossed me an XL shirt. Cool! I opened up the black t-shirt to see a slick JEM20th graphic set to the left side of the front of the shirt. It was green with plenty of vine on it. Very nice indeed! Everyone in our group got shirts. We hung out for a few extra minutes as the rest of the people filtered out, got shirts, then sauntered on to their busses. We talked about how amazing the show was, our favorite parts, etc. After a few minutes, the crowd around the t-shirts had started to die down. They were still calling out "What size?" into the air. Jokingly, I said, "extra large", and a t-shirt was Nolan Ryan'ed in my direction. Thankfully the reflexes I'd gained by having a little brother saved me from getting a face full of Hanes cotton. They just kept tossing shirts until we all had a pair. Good score!

Our group headed back toward our cars, everyone still grinning like village idiots. Before embarking, we agree to meet back at the motel. Helene and Bryan are gonna call it a night, so Gabe will drop them off. We have the same plan for the DiMarzio crew. The ride back down Sunset was as clear as our drive up. I was kinda hungry, so I asked if anyone else wanted to grab a quick burger for the ride back to Anaheim. They all agreed. I found a Carls Jr. and pulled in. Blucher mocked us continually regarding our choice of food, "You guys aren't going to eat that garbage, are you?" "I've seen those fries take paint off of tile. You sure you want that in your stomach?" LOL When it came to his turn: "I'll have a #1 with a diet soda." :) Gotcha!

The drive back to the motel had 100% fewer accidents than our trip up. That was welcome news for this weary driver. About 40 minutes later Gabe dropped his passengers off, and I dropped mine off. I thanked the guys a ton, and told Blucher that I'd brush up on my music industry trivia. LOL He said for me to stop by tomorrow before I left.
We all met back at the hotel where Thomas and Rod joined us for a night cap. We talked a little about the show, the cool parts, the free beer (nice touch, Ibanez!), and shared a bunch of pics with each other. Rod and Thomas said farewell and took off. Gabe and Iain and I stayed up for a little while longer, chatting and jamming.
Crash time was about 3:30AM.

CHAPTER SIX
My alarm goes off at 8:30AM again. I got a tad bit more rest last night than the previous ones, but with all the events and walking and standing, I'm really, REALLY tired. My feet ache badly. I've learned that comfortable shoes are a necessity at NAMM, but even then, you can get sore feet and legs. I'm showered and at the AllParts booth a little after 9AM.

Today is Sunday. It's the last day of the NAMM show, and the show closes at 5PM today. I have a LONG list of people that I need to talk to or at least say hello to. Today is my final day to do that. I pull out a show directory and mentally map out some quick trips to the booths I need to hit. I plan to do them right before lunch, right after lunch, and just before show closing.

As I'm walking over to the Halo Guitars booth, I run into my friend Lisa Sharken at the G&L booth. She's an artist rep for them, and writes a bunch of articles for the guitar mags. She's a very cool girl and has introduced me to a lot of industry folks. She didn't go to Summer NAMM last year, so it's been a year since I've seen her. She looks great and sounds really happy. I say goodbye and make my way to Halo.

Waylon is talking with a dealer about his 6- and 7-strings, and playing with the settings on the Diamond half stack they have in their booth. Gotta be careful not to get the Sound Cops knocking on your booth curtain (they will throw you out for being too loud). Waylon is finally done, and we both get to put faces with names and voices. We'd talked for a few hours on the phone before, but this was nice. He's a very nice guy and is interested in offering the Tremol-No as an option on his guitars. I take a look around his booth: some very cool designs, even some 8-string stuff! We talk about his stuff for a few, get some pics, then I explain that I need to get moving and meet with other folks. Waylon's a cool guy. I look forward to working with him down the road.

I pass by the Ibanez area and slip in. I look for any of my contacts. The booth is pretty full today, and there's an artist signing happening on the far side (Timmons, Balducci). I spot Paul S. and proceed to do my best 'bowing before the master' motion. He laughs and asks if we enjoyed the show. I say to him, "Thank you so much for the website on the banner. That was an incredible treat." He states, "Jim G. thought you'd like that, and with all the hard work you guys have done, we thought it would be a nice little payback." I had seen Jim G. before, but never met him personally. Paul introduced us a couple of minutes later. We spoke for a few minutes about past and future events. Ibanez has been so great to work with the past 7 years, I'm sure we'll continue to do much of the same in the future. It's a very cool relationship.

I see my friends Tom McDyne and Gary Schutt over by the Peavey booth. I need to talk to a friend at Peavey, so I say, "Hold on Gary. I'll be right back." I talk to my friend and we say we'll email each other post-NAMM (for you first-timers, that means "not next week, but before the end of Feb.") I'd really like to do some stuff with Peavey in the future. We'll see how that goes.

Tom and Gary are waiting for me as I finish. Gary headlined at Jemfest last year, finishing off Friday with a great set. He and I have a mutual friend in NY, and Gary and I both run a Mac, so....now we're friends. LOL Tom works with Gary and plays with him in some of Gary's projects. He's also a hired gun that's worked with a bunch of other bands. Tom's about 6'6" with really long hair. You can't miss him in a crowd. He's a cool guy, but it's scary that he knows every RATT song- note for note! I let Gary know that my friend Hank at Spear Guitars is looking for an "American face" for his guitar line. I thought Gary might be a good match. A moment of brilliance, if I do say so myself. Damn. Threw out my shoulder again.

Gary says, "No promises, but I'll go check it out." He plays a ton of gigs each year, so he'd definitely get the company name out there. It might be a good match. We make our way to the Spear Guitars booth and I introduce everyone. Gary sits down and we get one of the guitars tuned up. Gary's futzing with the little 1x8 amp that's in the booth. How do pro players get such great tone from such little amps? I play through a full stack and it sounds like a dentist having a fight with a blown LeCar engine. Gary sounds like he's running a mod'ed Soldano through Celestions...but it's a little 1x8 jobbie. I'll never understand that.

Gary goes thru a few of the guitar models and trys out one of Hank's basses. He says he loves the finishes. As we're there, Neil Schon is perusing the wares down here in the basement. Gary did a show with Neil the previous night. A quick hand-wave to Neil's friend and Neil comes over and says "Hey man!" That was pretty cool. They've done a few NAMM shows together. I'll have to catch one sometime. Gary finishes up and we say thank you to Hank. He says that he will be in touch soon. As we head upstairs, Gary says, "they're nice guitars, but I need to think about it before I pick one company." Totally understandable. No need to limit yourself right off the bat.

Gary and Tom head in one direction as I head back to the AllParts booth. I'm sure I'll see them at Jemfest in 07 (they both live near Orlando). Back at the booth, it's back to work. Gabe stops by to say he's heading home. We'll settle up the hotel bill later (like we always do). I tell him to have a safe flight, and that we need to get the pics up ASAP. He agrees and cruises out the back door.

I say that I'm gonna grab some food then go check out the new Marshall JVM amp that's been burning up my IM and most of the internet forums. The buzz is good, which is kind of ironic for an amp. LOL The guitar guy from AllParts also wants to go check out the other new Marshall (Modern Vintage?), so we agree that after some grub we'll both jaunt over and do a quick check.

At the Marshall booth is my friend Eric Sands. Eric's a major Jemfest veteran, having played it 3 times. He's got a cool gig as a rep for Marshall and does the NAMM shows for them as a demonstrator (good move, Marshall!) I know where the amp room is in the Marshall/Korg "area", so we direct ourselves over there. Inside...it's Eric!
"Hey Kevan!"
"Hey Eric!"
We shake hands and do the quick catch up. There are a few dealers and store owners in the sound booth with us, so Eric's gotta do his salesman thing....with a guitar. LOL He goes through all the features on the new amps, including the Kerry King model (It's clean channel is about as clean as Helmet's first album. LOL). The new amps look and sound great, especially the JVM. It's very versatile. Hmmm....might have to try one out when I get back home. More dealers step in, and a Jimi impersonator (no kidding). Eric's back into sales mode. The AllParts guy and I wave goodbye, and I put my hands up doing the international sign for "I'll call you" as I word that to Eric. He says, "Okay. Later guys!", and off we go, back to the booth.

I try to get out of the booth after that, but it's just too busy. That's a good thing though. I like what I do. I decide to finish my 'rounds' just before the end of the show, and then come back to help pack up the booth.

It's a little after 4PM and I walk down to DiMarzio to see the guys from last night. Blucher and his guys thank me for the ride. I said it was no problem, but next time we get to play *normal* trivia on the way to the show. LOL I check the directory that's at their booth. I need to find Boss/Roland. Oh- far wall. Cool. On my way. I say goodbye to Blucher and his crew and walk over to the far edge of the main floor. Boss/Roland has a MASSIVE area. I'm looking for a guy named Chris B. We've talked via email a bunch, but have never met face-to-face. I said I'd stop by during this NAMM show. I wish he'd sent me a picture. There are about 200 people working in their area. LOL He'll be over in the Boss section....somewhere. I walk into their "arena" where all the pedals are. There are a few guys demonstrating pedals on little mini-stages. I hear, "Hey Kevan!" and see a hand raise up. I guess that must be him. LOL I said, "How did you know who I was from 50 feet away?" He replies, "Nice shirt." We both laugh. I like putting faces with names. Chris shows me some of the new stuff Boss has coming out. Their " '59 Bassman" pedal sounds really nice. Too bad I'm not really a pedal guy. We talk for a few minutes about the Tremol-No and how he'd like to get some of the Boss endorsees hooked up with them. I say that's a great idea and we'll get with AllParts and work out the details.

Just then the voice comes over the PA system, "The NAMM show is closed. Thank you for attending this year." I tell Chris that we'll talk soon and walk briskly back to the AllParts booth. The guys have already starting taking down the parts. People come up to the booth and ask to buy parts. We explain to them that only the bodies and necks are for sale (to save some shipping costs on the return trip), and that the parts need to be put back with the display and taken to the next show. 99.9% of the people understand this, and most of the bodies and necks go to new homes on Sunday. One guy, though, just didn't get it. He asked the owner, "Can I buy XXXXXXXX part from you guys?" The owner says, "Sorry, but we only sell the bodies and necks at the end of the show." The guy asks again, "Well, can I buy XXXXXX?" The owner says again, "Only the bodies and necks." I was sure that it wouldn't happen again.
I was wrong.
The guy asks one more time, "Can I buy XXXXXX from you guys?" The owner, who was packing up a box of parts, looks up at us with a 'you've got to be kidding me' face, and turns to the guy and says in a very normal, sedate tone, "We only sell the bodies and necks at the end of the show." It was comical, but also a little scary. The guy FINALLY got the message. And a catalog. :)

About 5:30PM one of our crates has arrived, and we begin to pack it up with all the parts boxes. Hmmm...where's the other crate? The one for the main booth parts isn't here yet. The owner suggests we go get some dinner and it should be at the booth when we get back. Good call.

Iain shows up just in time to join us, and we head to dinner. The owner of AllParts is all curious about New Zealand and asks all sorts of questions about it. I guess ya learn something new every day. I sure did. Dinner was great, and as we're heading back to finish packing up, I try to get a pic of our crew. I sprint ahead of everyone while powering up the camera. I turn around and try to frame the shot. The guys think it's funny as they break off into multiple directions, turing my photo into a Rorschach test image. They looked like a Blue Angles squadron performing a maneuver. Oh well, so much for that idea. LOL

Back at the booth, the 2nd crate *still* hasn't arrived yet. This is odd. Very odd. Normally our crates are there before we even go to dinner. We wait a little while, check the loading dock area where the forklifts and loaders are buzzing like ants all around the back lot. It's now a little after 8PM. Still no 2nd crate. The owner is upset, and understandably so. He makes a few calls, then comes back to tell us "They say our other crate is on it's way. We'll see." At 9PM our other crate shows up. This is uncharacteristic of the way shows have gone in the past. We rip the rest of the booth down in no time flat. We're packed up, bolted up, latched up, labeled up, and out the back door by 9:35PM. One of the guys who helps us in LA, Bob, is a friend of the owner. He's a session player in CA and has been friends with the owner of AllParts for more than 20 years. I tell Bob that I have a present for him back at the motel. We all walk the little road back to the motel. I say goodbye to the AllParts guys letting them know that we'll talk soon. Bob, Iain and I walk the extra 50' to the motel room. There's Bob's present: a 3-day old cooler. It's full of beer, soda, water, iced tea. He says, "You guys don't want this?" I say, "It's all yours. Bring it next year if you want." He explains that he doesn't need any of the beer as he doesn't drink, but the rest of the stuff he'll gladly take home. We all sit down after a long day. Bob and Iain begin swapping guitar licks as I start to pack up. I have an early flight in the morning and want to make sure I have all my gear.

Gabe calls us and says, "Guess where I am!" I thought he'd be at home by now.
I was wrong.
"It's snowing in Phoenix. I've been stuck here for hours. If all goes well, I should be home by 3AM." Damn. That's a helluva layover.
Wait a second- snow.....in Phoenix?!!? Well, so much for that whole global warming thing. :)

I'm finally packed. About the same time, Bob calls it a night and takes the cooler (it has a handle and wheels) around to his car. Iain uploads some pics from my camera to his laptop. We check out some of the shots Gabe took last night. That night was great. It makes up for my sore feet. LOL Iain packs up and says he'll text me from wherever he ends up tomorrow (he's staying an extra day). I say goodbye to him and set my alarm for the morning.
Crash time was about 2AM.

My cell phone buzzes at 7AM. I have a 9:30 flight out of Long Beach. I'm up and out of the hotel by 8:30AM. Checkout was painless, and traffic was light back to the airport. It's about a 25-minute drive. I drop the rental off at Enterprise, and they toss me my reciept. I take my time as I walk to the airport terminal. It's a beautiful day in Long Beach. I check my 2 bags at the main ticket counter, and get through security in about 60 seconds. I literally walk onto the plane with zero waiting. I take my seat and pull out my book for the flight home.

I reflect for a moment. It's been a great trip. I had a great NAMM show, and a wonderful time seeing all my industry friends. I also got to hang out with one of my guitar heroes- at his house no less- and go to a very exclusive concert featuring that hero.

It was a great trip.


©2007 Kevan J. Geier.
All Rights Reserved.
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another virtuoso
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so uh, you gonna get this published or what? lol
i'll be back to read chapter 2 later lol
glad you had such a great time! i wish i could have gone to NAMM!
Kevan
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Thanks.

BTW- The title got cut off. It should read:
Winter NAMM 2007- My Weekend With Steve Vai & Stevie Wonder.
vaigod
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Fantastic article/story man. Really well documented. Sure wish I was eating some Indian food. :)

~D
fyrie
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You sir are one lucky dude.
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cbr1000f
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Thanks for your story! Great read! :)
GregN
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that nice man, i got to like chapter 5 and then stopped but ill read on.

The "Hardcore" bad that you said opened...was it between the buried and me? I thought i heard something about them being there as their guitarists play ibanez, they are actually my fav. band


and just for the record they arent hardcore :wink:
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b2
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Yes a great long storry. Maybe a picture also could be nice :D

I have for some time now had Stevie Wonder "in my brain" because
I love some of his songs but have none albums. So I have to
shop some Stevie Wonder albums soon, just have to figur out
which ones. There are some "best of" albums but there are always some
songs missing on these.
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ClarkyNZ
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Best forum post. Ever. 8)

For that weekend, I wish I was you. :D
acoates
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ClarkyNZ wrote:Best forum post. Ever. 8)

For that weekend, I wish I was you. :D
Agreed
Kevan
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GregN wrote:that nice man, i got to like chapter 5 and then stopped but ill read on.

The "Hardcore" bad that you said opened...was it between the buried and me? I thought i heard something about them being there as their guitarists play ibanez, they are actually my fav. band


and just for the record they arent hardcore :wink:
Yep- that's them!
They were a good band, just not really my style. I did do a double-take from the bar when I heard them break into a Queen cover. THAT was interesting (and well done).

They're not hardcore? Hmmm...okay. The gain settings on their amps told me otherwise. :)

Thanks for all the compliments everyone. I appreciate it. I'll post pics right after Mikey does. (hint, hint Mr. Mesker. LOL) He takes MUCH better pics than I do anyway. :D
It wasn't really luck that got me there; it was a ton of hard work. The lucky ones were the Jemfest contest winners.
GregN
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Kevan wrote:
GregN wrote:that nice man, i got to like chapter 5 and then stopped but ill read on.

The "Hardcore" bad that you said opened...was it between the buried and me? I thought i heard something about them being there as their guitarists play ibanez, they are actually my fav. band


and just for the record they arent hardcore :wink:
Yep- that's them!
They were a good band, just not really my style. I did do a double-take from the bar when I heard them break into a Queen cover. THAT was interesting (and well done).

They're not hardcore? Hmmm...okay. The gain settings on their amps told me otherwise. :)
Haha well if your going by that i suppose its an understandable mistake.

but if you want to be technical about it...i think they are called technical math/metal core.

but screw genres they dont make sense after a while anyway :roll:

Still a great band in my opinion, while im sure the vocals are not most peoples here fancy, they are known for writting really awesome intrumental stuff.
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another virtuoso
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well, a few days later, i finish this story. That was really cool man! You were making me wish I were the one with the sore feet for a while haha!

I wonder what other artists have had signature models as long lasting as Steve's? hmm...






to the 95% who looked at the length of this post and quickly hit the "Back" button on your browser... you should read through it, it's a really cool post.
funnyguy12
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So what about the pics man. U said u got some pictures right? Can we see them?
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