Drum Shows This Week On Both Coasts: Labors Of Music And Love


There are drum shows in many states these days, including Delaware, Pennsylvania, California, Connecticut, Virginia, and Illinois, home of the biggest and oldest show in the country in Chicago. There are probably small shows in a few other places as well. But Sunday, April 22 marks a kind of peculiar milestone in the US: two drum shows on opposite coasts on one weekend.

Out in Newington, Connecticut, Rick Smith is hosting his 14th Connecticut Drum Show, making it one of the oldest. And, in Oceanside, California, Edward O’Connell, owner of DrumFlip, is putting on the SoCal Drum Show, which is where this writer will be. O’Connell promises some great exhibits from local West Coast builders including Doc Sweeney, Vessel, Boneyard, Barton, and others, plus accessory builders and some larger companies like Sabian, Tama, and Porkpie.

So there’s no excuse for drummers in San Diego County or the New York/Boston axis to say there’s nothing to do.

The Travails Of The Drum Show Promoter

Putting on a drum show is no small feat. You have to rent the venue, sell booth space to exhibitors, advertise, sell tickets, plan events, and take care of a thousand small details from handling money to handling the occasional upset customer. When I called Smith in Connecticut three days before the show, his complaint was that he was printing signs and was too busy to even use the bathroom. Having put on events in the past myself, I knew where he was coming from.

The Connecticut show draws more than 50 exhibitors and attendance is usually in the 450 range, according to Smith. “When I first started the show it was a drum tag sale,” he says. “Then [drum educator] Larry Levine planted the idea in my head that I needed presentations, so we started education sessions. First we took up one floor and now two floors. I built at 18′ x 6′ riser for clinics. Now we hold them in an adjoining auditorium so there’s 300 seats in the clinic room.”

A lot of drum shows began as vintage gear gatherings and have grown from there. Smith says the attendees are a combination of young and old. “There are younger people, who often come with their parents for education, and then there are collectors and people just looking to hang out. There are some who don’t care about prizes or clinics, just drums,” Smith says.

The drum shows often are the places where cool vintage pieces show up, and when they do buyers have to act fast. “One year I actually had someone bring in a 1920s [Ludwig] Black Beauty, engraved, in the small accordion hard cases they made back then,” Smith says, as he remembers the one that got away. “I saw the guy bringing in the case [and wanted to see it] but I was busy with customers. Somebody seriously snapped it up, before I could even say ‘boo’ to the guy. Now I have about a dozen people helping but back then I was doing it more myself.”

Balancing Drums And Entertainment

Programming a show is always a balance, Smith says, between making sure there are people on the show floor kicking the tires and talking to exhibitors, and clinics or entertainment sessions interesting enough to keep drummers engaged.

When there is a particularly good educational session, drummers leave the show floor, which can make exhibitors unhappy. Out in California, O’Connell makes sure to continually post times so show visitors know what is coming up, whether it’s an educational program, a door prize, or other event. And he keeps enough free time in the schedule for customers to look or buy.

Love And Money

A small drum show, even a successful one, won’t make you rich. But promoters get paid in currency that goes beyond money. “In the last week I got two emails from people telling me they are so fortunate to have this environment and family type atmosphere when they come to the show,” says Smith. “They thanked me for doing this,” adding that he gets this response from the drummer community all the time.

SoCal Drum Show

Connecticut Drum Show April 22, 10 p.m. to 5 p.m., Sphinx Shriners Center, 3066 Berlin Turnpike Newington, CT 06111. Clinicians include Gregg Bissonette and Richie Morales.

SoCal Drum Show (Drumflip): April 22, 1 p.m. to 7 p.m. QLN Conference Center & Meeting Facility, 1938 Avenida Del Oro , Oceanside, CA 92056. Meet and greet with John Tempesta. Local San Diego clinicians include Becky Russell, Tim Newton and James Coleman.