I’m late. I know it from the sound of the hotel room phone. “Uh-huh?” I answer. (I don’t recall ever answering the phone with those words.) “Hey mate,” Dan says in his cheery British accent, “is everything okay with you?” “Umm…what time is it?” I manage to utter. “A little past 10. I was getting worried. Are you alright?” I was supposed to meet him for breakfast at 9. I’ll pull the jet lag card….
Dan and I are adjusting to the pace and feel of our company. Thus far, everyone we have met here is pretty laid-back. There is an exception: cab drivers. Dan pulls out his Blackberry and shows a Milan address to our driver, who gestures somewhat violently and utters quick, strong sounds. We get in the small car. “Well, let’s see how this turns out,” Dan says. We are treated to another display of commando-style driving, as our driver quickly and skillfully maneuvers in and out of busy city traffic. Fearless. Somehow he fits his vehicle into spaces that I consider inaccessible. He swerves, accelerates, gestures (left arm out the window) and brakes at amazing tempos, the whole time commenting on the lack of skill (I assume) of the other motorists. I’m sure he is providing colorful commentary.
After surviving the harrowing cab ride through the busy streets of Milan, Dan and I arrive at the Backline offices. We are greeted by Andrea Brusadelli, who says, “You have same name as me” when Dan introduces me. We take a quick tour of the offices, and he suggests getting some lunch at a Mexican ristorante. As we walk, I learn the Andrea is a product specialist for all the brands that Backline distributes. He will be our translator tonight at the Road Show. His English is pretty good, and I understand about 60 percent of what he says. At the restaurant he explains the menu, and once Dan and I have decided on our lunch, he orders all of us a plate of red pesto sauce spaghetti. “We will have pasta before you order. After you eat…maybe you want to change your minds…maybe not.” Pasta before the meal? I thought pasta was a meal. This proves to be a recurring event over the rest of my trip. My Italian hosts enjoy ordering my meals.
Taylor Road Shows are fun. The concept is very simple. At Taylor, we believe that the sound of a guitar is essentially the result of three factors: the body shape, the tonewoods used to build the guitar, and the player. So the formula is: Shape + Tonewoods + Player = Tone. One of the goals of the Road Show is to explain and demonstrate this equation. Have you ever been in a room where people are passing a guitar around? It’s really quite amazing how each player can make the same guitar sound so different. There are five body shapes and many wood combinations in the Taylor guitar line. Each shape has its own sound, feel and personality. We are in our fourth year of conducting Road Shows in the U.S., but this is only the second year of taking the show to Europe. It’s a new concept over here, and most of our dealers have never seen a Road Show. I’ve done close to 100 Road Shows, but I’m a little nervous about tonight’s event. Dan tells me to be succinct in my presentation tonight. “No street talk, mate, straight to the point, eh?”
We arrive at Lucky Music, walk in the door, and… a change happens. Ahh. I know this. This feels like home. Effect pedals. Guitars hung from the ceiling. Poorly played AC/DC licks. Customers. The smell of tubes and lacquer. The intercom. The hustle and bustle of retail. I have spent a good percentage of my life in music stores, and suddenly I am home away from home. Andrea, Dan and I set up guitars on a small platform that we will use for our demonstration. It’s two hours before the show, but already there are people milling around waiting for it. Amazing. What a buzz!
Dan starts the presentation with a discussion on body shapes. People are gathered around, wide-eyed, and listening with open ears. He delivers the message a line or two at a time and then pauses for translation. Andrea converts English to Italian, and when he gets stuck the owner of Lucky Music, Mauro, chimes in. Mauro is very engaged in the discussion, and I can tell that he wants to learn about Taylor Guitars. I throw in a couple of jokes, which seem to fall flat on the audience. I strum a few chords. Heads start to nod, and feet tap in tempo. People turn to their neighbors and make comments to each other. They get it. A connection is made. They don’t understand everything we say, but they relate to what they hear from the guitar. I play little snippets of classic guitar tunes, and the members of the audience shout out, “Neil Young!” or “Beatles!” when they hear a familiar chord progression or lick.
Music. The universal language. Powerful stuff.
After our discussion on tonewoods, we break for the “petting zoo.” This is the time set aside for guests to play all the guitars that we have just talked about. They reach for the guitars with great excitement and drift off to find a place to play. Many questions are asked, and with the help of Andrea, Mauro and Stefano, we do our best to provide helpful answers. The vibe is great. Players are adding their personal component to the tone equation, people are jamming together, and there are lots of smiles and nodding heads. In the end, three guitars found new homes, and we made some friends. My favorite quote of the night was Boreham’s wrap-up of his talk on shapes and tonewoods: “It’s really quite simple, mates. Shapes are like pasta, and woods are the sauce.”
After the Road Show, Mauro takes us to one of his favorite restaurants. The place is packed, and people are waiting for tables. We can barely get in the front door. As I start to wonder about the wait time, a waiter waves to Mauro and immediately seats us at a great table in the corner. We sit down, and Mauro and the waiter proceed to engage in (to my ears) what could be perceived as an argument. Voices are raised and gestures are made. There is passion in the exchange. This discussion goes on for a good couple of minutes. Boreham and I sit in silence. I look at Dan, who raises his eyebrows and shrugs his shoulders. The waiter walks off quickly, and I turn to Stefano and ask, “What just happened?” “He just ordered the meal for all of us,” Stefano replies. “Mauro just ordered for all of us?” I ask. “No, the waiter ordered.” Interesting.