Bob Weir talks old school ‘viral marketing,’ opera at the NAMM 2018 Breakfast of Champions – Daily Breeze


A massive line that included hundreds of musicians, instrument and technology manufacturers, businessmen, producers, studio and venue owners, members of the international media and more snaked around the Anaheim Hilton well before 8 a.m. Thursday morning as they eagerly awaited to get inside the Pacific Ballroom for the NAMM Breakfast of Champions.

The popular and often standing-room-only event serves as the official kick-off to the annual National Association of Musical Merchants (NAMM) trade show, which takes over the Anaheim Convention Center and surrounding hotels and concert venues Thursday, Jan. 24, through Sunday, Jan. 28.

As one gentleman was struggling with his map, looking around like he was lost and lugging around his gear, one patron quipped, “He’s got to be a NAMM newbie.” After the remark, he immediately went to help the man. That’s how NAMM is. It’s a ginormous gathering of music lovers – who work in all aspects of the industry – who come together once a year in Orange County to show off their latest innovations and wares and conduct business.

A big part of that is celebrating the innovators and entrepreneurs who took big risks throughout their careers. NAMM CEO and president Joe Lamond led the Breakfast of Champions session and chatted candidly with industry leaders such as Lee Anderton of Anderton’s Music, Pat Quilter of Quilter Sound Company, Martin Szpiro of Jam Industries, Lori Rubinstein of the Entertainment Services and Technology Association (ESTA) and George Hines of George’s Music and the Alliance of Independent Music Merchants (AIMM).

Each special guest shared their struggles and triumphs in an effort to energize the up-and-coming generation of music industry leaders. Anderton improved his company’s online sales from $1 million a year to $40 million a year by creating a YouTube channel to showcase his products in a new and interesting way. Quilter, who is currently celebrating his 50th anniversary with QSC, got his start building basic guitar amps in a small shop in Costa Mesa. The company went through numerous “boom to bust” scenarios before finding his footing which he called a “17-year overnight success.”

Hines found that by bringing independent music merchants together, they were stronger as a unit. “The best way to predict the future is to invent it,” he noted. Now celebrating the 20th anniversary of AIMM, Hines said that “adversity creates opportunity” and that the merchants thrive by embracing change and reacting as quickly as possible to the ever-growing demands of the music industry.

The guest of honor and the recipient of the 2018 Music For Life Award at the Breakfast of Champions was Grateful Dead co-founder and Dead & Company guitarist Bob Weir.

“You can say his band is one big experiment in unconventional thinking,” Lamond said as Weir hit the stage.

Weir humbly summed up his career by saying it was a “combination of trying to figure things out and going with your gut.”

“It’s all an experiment in faith of sorts,” the 70-year-old San Francisco native continued. “We assumed that nothing was going to come easy to us … that our footsteps would find us a path through everything.”

Lamond said that the Grateful Dead was Facebook before there was Facebook, citing the band’s very loyal and diehard following that was kept abreast of the bands happenings via a sharply written and often published newsletter. Weir said it was successful because the band allowed fans to debate and include their own opinions of the band, quite simply because, “we couldn’t be right all of the time” and that it was “okay for people to point that out.”

Early on, fans realized that the Grateful Dead would change up its setlist from evening to evening and even some of the arrangements of the songs, which is why they started bringing microphones and various recording equipment to the shows so they could make and later swap tapes of performances.

“We’ve been credited with starting that sort of viral marketing,” Weir said with a laugh.

In reality, he added, people started bringing in the equipment to record and in order to put a stop to it, they’d have to hire security and they weren’t about “being cops” at their shows. When the record label freaked out and ordered them to take care of it, the band resisted saying “If you want to shut it down, you do it.”

When the label responded, “We can’t, we’re a record company,” Weir said the band shrugged and said, “Well, it looks like it’s not gonna get done.”

Weir shared that even after five decades of playing music, he’s still discovering new things. He’s currently working on an opera that’s keeping him up at night.

“The story is still unfolding,” he said. “I mean, come on, what else is there to live for?”

He’s still touring and writing new music with Dead & Company, which features fellow members of Grateful Dead and Grammy-winning singer-songwriter and guitarist John Mayer. To Weir, inspiration is everywhere, it’s just a matter of being open, he said.

“You just need to retain some of that wonderment,” he said. “Anything will open up and tell you its story; there’s a story in anything. Every artist, first and foremost, is a storyteller … it’s what makes life worth living.”

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