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The Journal Gazette

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Sweetwater Sound’s annual Gearfest draws music lovers from around the world to northwest Allen County.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Elmo Szetela, right, helps David Taylor test a Wampler Pedals Inc. pedal during Gearfest at Sweetwater Sound on Saturday.

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Michael Rodriguez, left, helps Austin Jones with an Aviom A360 personal mixer during GearFest at Sweetwater Sound on Saturday. VIDEO/GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Carson Bull, of the band Overlook, sings and plays guitar on the Harman truck stage during GearFest at Sweetwater Sound on Saturday. VIDEO/GALLERY

  • Rachel Von | The Journal Gazette Guests enjoy listening to the band Overlook on the Harman truck stage during GearFest at Sweetwater Sound on Saturday. VIDEO/GALLERY

Sunday, June 24, 2018 1:00 am

Thousands descend on local Gearfest

JAMIE DUFFY | The Journal Gazette

It’s hard to describe Sweetwater Sound’s Gearfest, a free two-day event for musicians, music producers and techies, singers, songwriters and music lovers that draws an international clientele to the company’s roomy headquarters on U.S. 30 at Kroemer Road.

The vast choice of musical instruments and audio gear at the heart of the company’s product is only one aspect of the weekend that makes people hit the road from all over the U.S. and fly in from countries including Brazil, Japan and Australia to come to Gearfest. This year, more than 15,000 people thronged the halls inside and outside the complex, according to Heather Herron, Sweetwater’s new spokeswoman.

Dan Thornton from St. Joseph, Michigan, made the 21/2-hour drive for the second year in a row and this time brought friends John Allegretti and Mike Tacy and granddaughter Jocelyn Thornton, so they could experience it and get their guitars restrung for free, a service offered at Gearfest.

“This festival is just about the best thing in the world,” said Thornton, who is a musician and knows how to restring his guitar but said he couldn’t pass up the offer. The service is normally offered at low cost at Sweetwater with the purchase of a set of strings and the staff will help restring an instrument, a Sweetwater technician said. He estimated Sweetwater would restring about 350 guitars over the two days.

The building configuration impressed Allegretti, who said “the way this place is laid out is so unique.”

The festival featured top names in music such as Adrian Belew, a former member of the band King Crimson; Rich Chycki, multiplatinum engineer; Russ Kunkel, a drummer who performed with Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young and Bob Dylan, among others; and Buddy Miller, a Grammy award-winning guitarist and vocalist.

Broadway was represented by Andres Forero, a Tony, Grammy and Emmy award winner who was the drummer for the shows “Hamilton,” “In the Heights” and “Bring It On,” according to Sweetwater literature.

At one of the many workshops, music producers Fabrice “Fab” Dupont and Neal Pogue, among others, participated in a panel attended by about 300 people.

Dupont, based in New York City and who has brought “the French touch” to mixing and producing, has worked with Shakira and Jennifer Lopez. He told people to charge for their services, network and get out with their fans.

“Don’t sit in your basement,” said Dupont, who grew up in Paris, adding that now is the best time to make music.

There’s no need to move to a big city, Dupont told the crowd, since then “you have to compete with everybody.”

He recommended finding people where you are. “There are the same percentage of badass people everywhere,” Dupont said to laughter.

One future project is collaborating with internationally acclaimed Belgian house/rap artist Stromae, whose album should appear in two years. “His music is beautiful,” Dupont told Pogue, after the panel discussion.

The man behind Sweetwater, president and founder Chuck Surack, greeted people at the front door and walked through the crowds. People come for the seminars, to meet famous people and improve their craft as a musician, he said.

The first Gearfest attracted about 1,000 people; now it brings in folks from New York, Los Angeles and Nashville and internationally. A map set up in the lobby allowed people to place a star in their home state, and it appeared every state was represented.

Nearby in the cornfields and woods that surround the headquarters, Surack set up campgrounds for guests to park their campers and RVs while others filled up the local hotels, Herron said.

Perhaps one guy from Chicago said it best when he called Gearfest a “Disneyland for musicians.”

That made Surack smile. 

jduffy@jg.net