The Art & Science of Audio & Video

Sweetwater’s Gear Fest ’08

The first annual Gear Fest took place on May 31st at Sweetwater’s new facility in Ft. Wayne, IN. I must say that for a first time event they were more than successful with approximately four thousand attendees. True to form Chuck Surack (President of Sweetwater) kicked off the event by personally introducing the first guest speaker for the day and who better to start with than Bruce Swedien! Those of you that have not had the privilege of visiting Sweetwater for any of their numerous seminars, training sessions and special events and are not familiar with Mr. Surack he is one that always insists on being personally involved with all the Sweetwater events simply for the love of it. He exudes a true sense of passion for our industry at every function he hosts and it’s immediately evident as soon as you walk through the door.

Simply put the Sweetwater facility is nothing short of amazing. It is a state of the art complex through and through from the architecture to the plumbing. Yes I said plumbing, to be more specific, urinals! It can be sensory overload for those visiting for the first time. Your eyes are darting from place to place not knowing where or when to pause and take in your environment. First the sheer scale of the facility consumes you and yet oddly enough it has a tremendous element of comfort. You enter into a grand hall first greeted by a reception desk (more like reception island) and a soothing lounging area accented with flat panel TV’s and sheik furniture. Curiously one detail I had never noticed until Gear Fest was the well-behaved acoustics of the massive hall. During previous visits for small training sessions or seminars the hall remained sparse and therefore relatively quite. During Gear Fest when the hall was full of people clamoring and the constantly changing compliment of instruments it remained a pleasantly comfortable space. To paint a picture I’m referring to a space constructed primarily of glass, metal, terrazzo and stone! That doesn’t even sound good on paper!? Yet they pulled it off with great success.

Once past the main entry there is a music store with a tantalizing albeit mere appetizer of what Sweetwater has to offer. Rather than filling the store with “dream products” for you to admire knowing that’s the first time you’ve ever seen one and probably the last. They managed to assemble a very well balanced palette of products from entry level to top shelf for you to browse, demo and of course purchase.

On the opposite side of the hall are the Sweetwater recording studios and they are a sight to behold. The vast majority of us will never have the opportunity to tour a state of the art recording studio outside the pages of Mix magazine and yet Sweetwater not only welcomes you but also encourages you to explore their facilities. The Sweetwater studios may not be outfitted with $250k – $500k Neve or SSL consoles however; they spared no expense when it came to the construction of these beautiful suites. They are first-rate top to bottom and no detail was overlooked they are truly a site to behold. Fill these impressive rooms with a compliment of Digidesign consoles, Adam monitors and tension tabbed screens with projectors for visual monitoring and you have three knock out studios. Last but certainly not least is their impressive mic collection which has its’ own room displayed for the world to see behind floor to ceiling glass. Cool blue, back lit display cases chocked full of pristine examples of some of the most sought after mics you can think of draw recording enthusiasts like moths to bright light and leaves them fogging up the windows trying to get a better look.

Sweetwater also lays claim to a Russ Berger designed Theatre that is a true gem. The list of unique features that make this room so special is far too long to cover here. One of the room’s most prominent features is the Lares acoustical enhancement system, which you have to hear to believe. This incredible room is an entire story in itself. A single paragraph being to anemic to do this room justice I hope to revisit it in a follow up story.

Continuing deeper into the massive building you find yourself in the midst of a grown up playground. Virtual golf, pool table, pin ball, arcade games and putting green just to name a few. On the opposing side you’ll find a café and deli along with a barber shop, bank, fitness facility (with trainer), instrument repair shop and even a warehouse observation deck that looks down over the truly impressive warehouse facility. It’s obvious that Sweetwater cares greatly about the well being of their employees and that care is reflected back through the employees themselves. Their entire staff from management on down should be complimented. They possess all the knowledge, technical expertise and artisanship that you would expect from a company such as Sweetwater without the stuffy corporate persona that is so typically associated with a corporation of that size. One of Sweetwater’s Sales Engineers, Ben Price, for example is also currently a recording engineer and recording artist (Disguise the Sky) that has recently been signed to an independent label. This is typical for an employee of Sweetwater, those who are enthusiasts themselves and passionate about the industry we work in.

All this fun and you haven’t even made it outside to the vendor areas and live demonstrations. There was a tent just for the all the guitar and bass players out there, which by the way also housed the Orange County Choppers “Peavey Chopper”. Fred Gretsch was on hand signing autographs with a gorgeous backdrop of Gretsch hollow body guitars. Another tent housed a barrage of vendors that was just like walking through a three dimensional rendition of a Sweetwater catalog. A little further down was the “flea market” tent, which included bargains on vintage gear to products still in the box. Sharing the parking lot were semi trucks from Crown, Soundcraft, Studer and Digitech.

If you wanted to see it, it was there. If you didn’t see it you weren’t looking hard enough! After reading this you may be thinking to yourself Sweetwater’s Gear Fest sounds pretty cool. Well you haven’t even heard the best part yet. First of all it’s open to the general public unlike some other similar events AND it’s free. So I guess some of the best things in life are free, all you have to do is register and they let you walk right in like you own the place!

by Jason Levert


June 6, 2008 - Posted by | A/V News | , , , , , , , , , , ,

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