I’d had too much coffee.
I could literally feel my blood pounding behind my slightly-bulging eyeballs as my twice-delayed, and jam-packed aircraft ponderously lurched off the ground from Vancouver, B.C., but I was airborne at last, and while I wouldn’t get to my first Rocky Mountain Audio Festival in time for the Thursday night industry drinks-and-dinner I’d planned on attending, I’d get there for post drinks-and-dinner drinks, which was fine by me.
I’d never been to Denver, so I was looking forward to seeing some of the city and especially the conspiracy-theory crazed airport there. Click here for a quick Google search and the cray-cray on Denver Int’l.
Once I finally got to Denver and settled into the hotel, I connected with hi-fi show circuit stalwarts Jonathan Derda, Brian Hunter, Malachi Kenney, John Darko, Michael Lavorgna and Scot Hull and commenced drinking. This went on for a few hours which then ended with Mal and I smoking outside in the cool night air before finally packing it in and hitting the hay (yes, I smoke occasionally; you should never; I should know better).
Friday was a blur of rooms, listening, interviews and photographs with fantastic people like John DeVore, Jonathan Halpern, Yazaki-san, Jeff Day, Charles King, David Cope, Norbert Schmied and if I’ve forgotten someone, I apologize, I was medicated.
Pit stops to hydrate and eat are essential if you want to go the distance at an audio show. The halls of these hotels during a show weekend are littered with the broken bodies of those less fortunate souls who didn’t realize the need to fuel themselves properly.
First pit stop after caffeinating all morning to the point where my hands were palsied was with Mal for a beer, and a wrap from one of the many authentic Denver food trucks parked just outside the atrium restaurant’s patio.
It was there that Charles King stopped by and shot the breeze with us for a while, and I got a whiff of his tape show that evening in the Audio Note room.
With priorities taken care of, I continued my Mad Hatter’s dash through several more rooms before seeking refuge with Jonathan Derda in the Mo-Fi room and his always most excellent set-ups which feature Koetsu carts and Avid turntables mixed with fantastic Japanese single-malt whiskey.
Not long thereafter, I was seated in the Audio Note room as Mr. King’s tapes reeled back the years with several of his utterly convincing master dupes (time travel for a few thousand dollars is cheap in my books).
After a fantastic sonic ride, and I was on my way out, my phone started blowing up in my pocket. It was Mal alerting me to drinks at a secret room location. He urged me to hurry.
Now, you have to understand, Mal has an almost preternatural sense of where alcohol is being served (he can also tell if the VTA is off on a tonearm/cartridge in less than 15 seconds of walking into a room) so when he vibes me to where the action is, I know it will be a great time. I found myself in a room whose patrons I cannot recall, but it was there that I saw my first raw vegetables in four days: I ate almost an entire tray of celery, carrots and cauliflower to myself.
Then it was off to a little hole-in-the-wall restaurant where we had to alternately climb over chairs or crawl under tables to seat ourselves: perfect.
A great first, full day at RMAF and as I tottered off to tuck myself in I couldn’t help but smile at how fortunate I was to know such great people in an industry I admire and love. Life is good. Once in bed, I aggressively spooned my pillows and promptly passed out.
Saturday dawned and I frantically scratched out a DeVore piece on the new Gibbon-X while desperately trying to get an effing coffee and bagel from the completely overwhelmed coffee shop in the Marriott lobby. Mal watched me fidget in line with what I think was pity in his eyes, it could have also been disdain, either way, that first cuppa was manna from heaven.
Camera thrown over my shoulder, pen and notepad in hand, hair askew and eyes agog, I took the grossly overloaded elevator to the top of the hotel’s tower. As I stepped out onto the 12th floor I felt like an old hand at this industry-show reviewing gig, I would positively roll through this shit today. I quietly inserted myself back into the human river that was snaking its way through the myriad hallways and the dozens of rooms packed with gear and zealous audiophiles.
I felt like a shark in a dolphin tank.
Two hours later I was standing in the 11th floor hallway like an island in a stream. I had become slightly traumatized, so there I stood: Immobilized of sorts. To my immediate right I heard a show goer pass me discussing how black his sonic backgrounds were since he had tied walnuts or acorns to his speaker cables and interconnects (I can’t exactly recall which nut he was referencing), and I felt a small glass rod inside me break. I bolted for the stairs and texted Mal to meet me in the hotel pub as I ran down the next 10 flights.
Five minutes later, with a beer in my left hand and a cigarette bummed from Mal in my other to steady myself, I realized what an amateur I’d been. “You fool!” I hissed to myself… somehow thinking I could negotiate the tower without some kind of bolstering elixir to calm the mind and spirit? Had I learned nothing the day before? Coffee is a sad prop against the relentless tide of audiophile gear I was attempting to make sense of. I sighed and took another long pull on my cigarette just as Mal returned with another round of beer. “Now…” I said to myself, taking the proffered pint, “You’re ready.” My lips curled into a cruel, knowing smirk as I left the pub and I pushed against the sea of humanity that was the Marriott lobby as I fought once again to make my way back to the tower to do battle.
The elevator ride up nearly did me in. The people I was crammed in there with were foaming at the mouth, babbling about a new DAC and DSD… I immediately sought out the Mobile Fidelity Sound Labs room where I knew I could take temporary refuge. Jonathan Derda took one look at my haunted visage and ushered me into the bathroom for a rather large, and ultimately calming pour of Suntory single malt. This was just the tonic I needed to really steady myself. We clinked glasses and I threw my head back and laughed as I downed the glass with Jon. With a knowing wink I muscled my way past Norbert Schmied who was vainly trying to help me by blocking my attempt to leave the Mo-Fi room and enter the fray again.
With my spirits buoyed I was able to make my way through several rooms until it was time to head back to my own hotel room for a shower in preparation for drinks and dinner with John DeVore, Jonathan Halpern, John Darko, Scot Hull, Michael Lavorgna, David Clark and his lovely wife Carol, and the SPEC Corp. boys, among others.
Drinks consisted of some spectacular Brooklyn Gin tonics courtesy of Mr. DeVore that got everyone beautifully lubricated, and before long laughter and quick-witted banter were the hallmarks of what would be an amazing evening and meal with some of the best people I’ve met on this little planet.
This dinner was a true blur, but I do remember tears streaming down my cheeks several times from laughing so hard. As I literally staggered back to the hotel with Scot Hull – so full I felt as if I was rolling down the street – I once again gave thanks for my great fortune at sharing time with such stalwarts of taste, humor and bonhomie.
Sunday morning coming down saw my water intake quadruple, as well as a bolstering of my Advil self-medicating regimen. With roughly a dozen more rooms to still take in from my barely legible list of “must listen” I gamely packed my bag and lugged it up to the Tone Imports room to stow until I had to catch my flight later in the afternoon.
Sunday is always a quieter day, a reflective day at these industry shows, a day to revisit rooms that you just didn’t get enough time in the previous days or perhaps just couldn’t get to before. I took my time and made it pretty much every room I’d wanted to nail down, Devialet and Volti Audio in particular.
I wrapped things up with a healing Brooklyn Gin and tonic that John DeVore graciously poured for me after seeing the pain in my eyes as I sat slumped in a chair listening to him spin vinyl through the gorgeous-sounding (and looking) SPEC gear that was feeding his Gibbon X loudspeakers.
As I leaned back in the chair, the Brooklyn Gin propped against my chest, and closed my RMAF-weary eyes while DeVore spun Erik Truffaz and Nils Frahm, I cast my fragile, eggshell mind back to Thursday night and the opening round of drinks and laughs that kicked-off this dreamlike, (almost Greek) odyssey of audiophile adventure and I sighed a long sigh of contentment.
I had done it, I had navigated a litany of perils and too-numerous alcoholic beverages as I sailed through these turbulent Denver seas of hi-fi. Lashed to the mast of my small ship I had weathered the storm and awoke on this far distant shore (where John DeVore was a DJ) as a better, and once again, more educated listener in the ways of the audiophile. All of it thanks to the many friends who helped me on my journey and made sure I found safe harbor.
Thanks Denver, and thanks to everyone who looked after my sorry ass, you’re all welcome to come and visit me in Vancouver, I have plenty of room and if there’s a lack of sleeping space some lucky soul will get to bunk with me.
I get the right side though, and I get to be big spoon.