Bleu enjoyed at National Association of Music Merch

by Clay Howard

Sometimes stories just write themselves.

I set out to write a review of Summer NAMM, the showcase for the National Association of Music Merchants, which took place a couple weeks ago in Nashville, Tenn. I thought, “What better to write about than a musician at one of the largest musical instrument trade shows?” But, like I said, some stories just write themselves.

I guess I should explain.

I do a lot of freelance design work, and one of my clients is a guitar company based in Nashville named Waterstone Guitars. In fact, I am their director of marketing, or at least that is what my business card says. Since Summer NAMM was in Nashville this year, it was a no-brainer for us to have a booth. As we are also celebrating our 5th year of business, it was also fitting to hold a celebration, so we did just that. We booked three of the best independent artists out there – Bleu, Miles Nielsen and the Nines to play an open house celebrating our five-year anniversary. I will not bother you with descriptions of the artists’ music – do yourself a favor and look them up. You will not regret it.

The story begins with the NAMM show.

Saturday morning, not even 30 minutes after the doors opened for NAMM, I was approached by a young blind guy named Kevin Reeves, probably 25 or 30 (that’s right, I said young…) asking if we were holding an open house with Bleu performing, and if he could attend. He explained that he had been waiting five years to see Bleu live (Bleu’s last official solo release was 2003’s Redhead.) Kevin also told me how much of an inspiration Bleu’s music had been to him personally and as a musician.

Of course, I told him to come out and bring his friends with him, to enjoy the trade show, and then said goodbye.

An hour or so later, Bleu and his manager stopped by the Waterstone booth to say hello. I mentioned that Bleu’s biggest fan had stopped by. We had a small laugh, and I forgot about it.

Nine hours later and we were in the midst of an open house gone awry. Our PA had stopped working in the midst of our second act, an excellent band, the Nines, from Toronto. Like the pros they are, they entertained in spite of the technical issues, but things were getting questionable for pulling off one more act, which was Bleu. The Nines finished their set, and we scrambled to make something good come out of the PA.

We got through two songs and then Bleu, who plays guitar in a non-standard tuning, broke a string and dropped a guitar. When it rains it pours. The monitors also quit working.

But rather than just call it a day, Bleu decided to play a true acoustic set – no amplification. He moved to a smaller riser in the room and we gathered our chairs closer to hear him.

About a third of the way through his second acoustic song, I heard the sound of two voices, Bleu and some incredibly great backing vocal. Guess who?

That’s right, Kevin Reeves, sitting at the front table, with a smile that I will see for years to come, and singing perfect two-part harmony with his favorite recording artist.

At the end of the song, Bleu exclaimed, “I don’t know who that guy is, but he knows my tunes and can sing his ass off.” And a truer statement has not been uttered.

As the show progressed, Kevin sang along with Bleu – no complaints from anyone.

Open house: salvaged.

It was my pleasure to introduce the two guys after the show, and it is now my understanding that Bleu is going to have Kevin sing some backing vocals at another show in Nashville later this month.

The NAMM show was a success. I saw a bunch of guitars, a bunch of people and Waterstone made a bunch of contacts. But what I will remember about that trade show had nothing to do with the trade show at all.

What I will remember is that I was able to play a part in one guy getting to sing with one of his musical inspirations. What musician doesn’t dream of playing with the artist they admire the most?

What I will remember is the feeling that got me into music in the first place.

It was not guitars, meeting rock stars, or putting out CDs.

It was the dream.

By the way, it turns out that Kevin Reeves has a free CD available for download on his site at

In a better world, this guy would be famous.