Each year an armada of musicians, manufacturers, DJ’s and music lovers descends on Anaheim, California, for the annual NAMM show. The January trade show features a dizzying array of new equipment and a plethora of private and public concerts at nearby venues. But the most impressive bash each year has to be the “Gibson Live At The Grove: Featuring Music Legends New Icons.” The company takes over the 1700 seat City National Grove of Anaheim and converts it into a giant lounge with tables for 1200 guests. The lucky invitees are treated to a full unrestricted open bar for 6 hours, a sumptuous multi-station buffet, and three hours of sheer guitar ecstasy.
The onstage festivities this year opened with a few riffs on the guitar by actor John Stamos who introduced Gibson President and CEO James “JC” Curleigh. After a short introduction, a unique three-hour jam session ensued. The show opened with a stunning jam of the Robert Johnson classic, “Crossroads,” featuring half a dozen guitar prodigies from the Gibson Generation Group (G3) class of 2020. G3 is Gibson’s two-year mentoring program for new generations of guitar players. According to Gibson, “G3 members are endorsed by Gibson Brands and showcased across Gibson’s channels, reaching hundreds of millions of viewers globally.” The young musicians were joined by a house band featuring Jimmy Vivino (guitar), Kenny Aronoff (drums), Darryl Jones (bass), and Jeff Young (keyboards). Vivino, who is best known as the bandleader of the house band on the Conan O’Brien show, is one of the most prolific live blues guitar players in southern California, showing up at countless jam sessions. Vivino and the backing band would remain on the stage playing the entire three-hour set. Guest keyboardist Mark Flanigan did take over for several ZZ Top covers. The young guitarists from across the globe each played impressive solos during the opening jam, but one particularly young musician stood out. Ten-year-old Jayden Tatasciore from Perth Australia seemed to channel Angus Young perfectly. The boys were joined by young singer-guitarist Emily Wolfe, on lead vocal duties.
The second jam featured another half dozen young guitarist from G3 shredding on the tune “One Way Out,” with Wolfe again on lead vocal duties. Singer and guitarist Ally Venable took over singing duties on the next song “Backwater Blues,” backed by the house band. The music took another turn on the next jam when singer and guitarist Tash Neal from the New York duo London Souls led the house band on a stirring cover of the CSNY tune, “Ohio.”
The music took a hard rock turn on the next jam when Jared James Nichols took the stage and led the house band in a cover of the Mountain classic “Mississippi Queen.” Nichols, an American blues-rock guitarist, and singer from East Troy, Wisconsin. He is best known for his 'pick-less' electric guitar playing technique. Nichols shared the stage for the next tune with young English guitar phenom Toby Lee. The young guitarist became a global sensation after playing guitar at BB King's blues club in 2015 when he was ten years old. The pair traded riffs on the Howlin' Wolf tune “Killing Floor.”
Blues singer Celisse brought another flavor of guitar drenched music to the next tune, “Get There,” which is one of her own. Jam band fans may know the talented musician from her work with Trey Anastasio and his side project “Ghosts of The Forests.” The bluesy guitarist also created a stir recently during an appearance on the SNL television show joining pop sensation Lizzo for a spirited live performance.
The sound turned back to classic rock on the next jam featuring the Bowie classic “Rebel Rebel.” The set featured a very animated Richard Ian Faulkner on guitar. The English musician is best known as one of the lead guitarists for the heavy metal band Judas Priest, since 2011. Lead vocal duties were taken over by Burton Bell. The hardcore singer and guitarist is best known as the frontman for the band Fear Factory, but he has also been involved in numerous other heavy metal projects.
The flamboyant Faulkner stuck around for the next tune to back up Heavy Metal singer-guitarist Lzzy Hale. She is most well known as the lead singer and rhythm guitarist of the American hard rock band Halestorm, which she co-founded with her brother Arejay Hale in 1997 in Pennsylvania. Joe Hottinger, the lead guitarist of Halestorm, also joined in on an ear-piercing rendition of the band's original tune, “I miss Misery.” Bassist Chuck Garric, most recently from the Alice Cooper band, also joined the jam.
In yet another musical direction, the next jam featured guitar legend Elliot Easton formerly of The Cars, joining with Vivino to offer up a guitar duet on the Tito Puente tune made famous by Santana, “Oye Como Va.” The current lead singer for the Santana band, Andy Vargas, took over lead vocal duties. The pair stuck around for yet another cover, this time of the Los Lobos tune, “La Bamba.”
Former Eagles guitarist Don Felder appeared next, singing and playing guitar on a cover of the Stevie Ray Vaughan tune “Pride and Joy.” The satiated crowd at the venue bolted to their feet from their tables for the next song by Felder when Slash joined him. The iconic guitarist is arguably the best living rock guitarist on the planet and has probably played more impromptu jams and benefits than any other performer. Slash is one of the premier ambassadors for Gibson guitarists. Felder strapped on a double-neck guitar and led a wailing version of the Eagles classic tune he helped pen, “Hotel California.” Slash stuck around to lead another guitar onslaught on the next tune, a cover of the Aerosmith tune, “Last Child.” Tash Neal and Jared James Nichols returned to the stage for the jam as well. They were joined by the young singer Marc Labelle from the Los Angeles retro rock band Dirty Honey. By this time, the well-oiled crowd was in a euphoric dancing frenzy.
But the elevated mood in the venue was about to reach an even higher level as Slash stayed for a third jam and was joined by another truly iconic guitarist, Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top fame. With Flanigan joining the band on keyboards, the pair led a sizzling rendition of the ZZ Top classics “Waitin On The Bus,” followed by “Jesus Just Left Chicago.” Slash joined a fifth jam featuring a young Sugarmill Slim, whose real name is Anders Lasource, playing a steamy harmonica on the Rolling Stones classic “Midnight Rambler.”
Another big surprise came next when the lead singer Robin Zander and lead guitarist Rick Nielsen of the classic rock band Cheap Trick took over the stage, joining Slash for a jam of their hit song “Big Eyes.” The group was then joined by Gibbons, returning to the stage to play another ZZ Top classic, “Tush.”
The finale featured a cover of the Led Zeppelin classic “Whole Lotta Love,” which featured Slash, Zander and Nielsen joined by Lzzy Hale. Zander also shared lead singer duties with Labelle mid-way through the song. In the end, almost every performer of the night crowded onto the stage, emphasizing just how much talent had been presented during the night. It was a unique gathering of generations of many of the best rock guitarists in the world.