There were several questions associated with the first post-pandemic edition of the Meinl Drum Festival. After all, it is common knowledge that the entire world economy was hit hard by the spread of the virus, let alone the music industry. As a result, even leading global corporations were forced to implement savings programs, which has also affected Meinl and their festival. For example, this year all those interested had to travel to the place at their own expense (coaches were not provided). Will this translate into poor attendance guests from other countries? Will the event be an overall attendance success? Will it be organized with the panache known from previous editions, or will there be visible savings?
Traditionally, everything was organized with German precision – from the performances by the star drummers and autograph signing sessions, through to the exhibition of the kits used by the artists during the performances, along with Meinl cymbals and percussion instruments, Meinl Stick & Brush sticks, mallets, brushes and rods (you could see the full range including new products) as well as Tama drum kits and snare drums. As always, there was also a playing room, where it was possible to play a few drum kits, great catering and all the necessary amenities. No savings were seen in this regard. Was there a turnout flop? Definitely not. We did not get the impression that the number of drum maniacs attending decreased compared to previous years. There seemed to be about the same number – easily fifteen hundred to two thousand people.
As far as the performances are concerned, there was no lowering sights in any way.
Before the artists took the stage, Alex Meinl officially opened the event, welcoming all the guests. After that, head of A&R, Norbert Saemann, remarked that the return of the festival after a break caused by obvious reasons is proof that the Meinl family, but also the drumming family in general, had not come apart. He also announced the release of two new signature sticks: from El Estepario Siberiano and Zack Grooves.
The performances were kicked off by the Anika Nilles / Santino Scavelli duo. Anika is not the kind of drummer to put on a gimmicky show. He doesn’t get up. from her throne, doesn’t jump, doesn’t even twirl her sticks, doesn’t wink at the audience – she “just” plays. And, boy, how does she play… Her groove is just perfect. It was no coincidence that she found herself playing with the late Jeff Beck, who, after all, could have worked with anyone. Santi is a real wizard of percussion instruments, and he’s got diplomas to prove it. His kit during this performance included probably every possible Meinl percussion instrument. There was room for him and Anika to do a solo. Both were great (it couldn’t have been otherwise), but the most important during that performance were the grooves, the soundscapes and the wonderful cooperation between both artists. Nice!
Greyson Nekrutman is one of the two drummers who have created the most buzz on social media over the last 12 months or so. Earlier this year, he landed a gig with Suicidal Tendencies, but we also know him from videos where he performs jazz. No wonder he was perhaps the most anticipated performer of the day. Announced by the great Swedish educator, Siros Vaziri, he kicked off with an engaging, improvised solo played with broomsticks, but also utilizing two bass drums. Then, he played along to backing tracks in fusion style (also from the repertoire of Weather Report – co-creators and legends of this style), as well as swing. The guy plays with youthful energy, hunger for performing, he goes from matched to traditional grip and back, crosses his arms, shines onstage through great technique, but does not forget feeling and groove. He presented a solo on the whole kit, also using his hands, during which the tremolo on the snare drum was especially delightful. If his career continues as planned, he could be untouchable in 30 years.
Mike Malyan can count his first performance at an international drum festival as very successful. The drummer with the band Monuments laid down some serious metal and djent grooves, but enriched them with elements of drum’n’bass and dubstep. He also served up a track, which he said was inspired by Anika Nilles and Mark Guliana. Watch out for this guy. Your time won’t be wasted.
Mike Johnston addressed his speech to drum teachers. He talked about the nature of the teaching process, how he breaks the ice during the first lesson. He invited a member of the audience to sit behind his drum kit, and then asked two educators on stage and performed several exercises related to overcoming shyness with them. Let’s not forget, however, that Mike is an excellent drummer and as such performed a piece called “My Voice” by Will Kennedy, who he studied with and who helped him find “his own voice” in drumming. It was an excellent performance, with all the elements of Mike’s style that we know and love, such as: amazing groove, powerful punch or choking the cymbals with a stick. At the end, we heard the song “Colorado“, written by Mike’s student Jerry Gibson, and in the background we saw a video of other Johnston students performing the number. Mike himself beat his drums so hard that he cracked the head on the snare drum. Mike’s shows or clinics are a must-see, especially for drum educators.
Jost Nickel is in a class of his own. One of the most outstanding representatives of the generation of German drummers that has finally confirmed of the myth about the genetically “rigid” playing coming from the land of Goethe officially overthrown. Jost’s refined pop/funk/fusion style appealed to the audience, with whom he immediately made good contact, despite the fact that (similarly to Anika Nilles) he “only” played the drums. No frills, that is. Do we need to emphasize that Jost’s solo was amazing? This goes without saying, but there is never enough praise of this kind. Just like there’s never enough performances of this kind.
Brody Simpson presented great breakbeats, and Dan Mayo played excellent grooves (we’ve never seen an audience react so spontaneously to the first notes of a groove itself) with an unusual sound concept. As a duo, the gentlemen served up percussion compositions, sprinkled with fat grooves. For many of those present, it was the sensation of the day, and certainly a discovery of this year’s edition of the festival.
Zack Grooves really does groove. He does so using a rather modest, but cleverly thought-out kit. This applies to both his cymbals (stacks) and drums (timbale-tom-snare-tom configuration set as if they were all toms). The artist presented rhythms largely based on rudiments and serious gospel chops against fusion backing tracks. It is safe to say that he is one of the most outstanding young drummers who continue in the vein of such masters as Gerald Heyward or Thomas Pridgen.
Benny Greb Brass Band. This time around, Benny performed at the Meinl festival with his small brass band (trumpet, trombone, bass horn). To be honest, we weren’t entirely convinced. Benny’s album with his brass band is already quite old and we thought of it a bit like of an old chestnut. We were sooooo wrong! The band took the stage walking across the hall in New Orleans funeral procession style (Benny playing a marching snare), performing the standard “When the Saints Go Marching In” at a slow tempo. This already captivated the audience and put them in a good mood, although everybody was clearly tired after many hours of listening to drummers in the heat. The groove, tastefulness, dexterity and musicality of the leader and the other instrumentalists, as well as the enthusiactically received solo performance completed the “work of destruction”. The band left the stage the same way they entered it, to thunderous applause of the audience.
Calvin Rodgers is credited as the player who has revolutionized gospel drumming. In Gutenstetten, he showed what he is capable of and made use of every element of his extensive kit. Gospel chops of the highest quality turned out to be a great way to close the performances during this year’s Meinl Drum Festival.
Add to all this handpan workshops, a drum circle with Meinl Percussion instruments, NINO Percussion activities for kids, the opportunity to visit the factory or high-five the artists (Michael Schack or El Estepario Siberiano – the other recent Internet drumming sensation – also appeared at the event) and just a great atmosphere, we will get another great edition of this festival. Despite slightly greater difficulties coming to the festival grounds than in previous years, we can safely say that all those who didn’t make it should regret it.
Take a look at an extensive video report from Meinl Drum Festival 2023!