Kevin Johnstone – a Life and Career in Harmony

August 22, 2012

The Face2Face Series is sponsored by MarketArt.

Step into the shoes of Kevin Johnstone and you might see what he means when he declares: “If I wasn’t me … I’d want to be me.”

Because from all appearances, this director of trade shows for the NAMM Show seems to have it all. When he’s not busy overseeing one of the largest annual music product trade shows in the world for the National Association of Music Merchants, Johnstone is a man who enjoys wearing many hats, including golfer, trumpet player, private pilot, devoted husband, proud father and passionate road warrior.

“I am an avid touring motorcyclist, and when I can I like to be out on the road, preferably a winding road with few cars,” Johnstone said.

He added, “I’m active with the American Legion Riders, a group of motorcycling veterans who support veterans and wounded warriors, (as well as) the Patriot Guard Riders, who escort returning troops and attend military funerals to support the families.”

But ask Johnstone about NAMM and it’s obvious he truly enjoys his primary vocation and the industry he serves.

“At NAMM, we represent the music industry,” Johnstone said. “We have the instruments, the musicians, the retailers and the manufacturers.Every inch of the show is full of live music and the people that make their living creating music.”

He added, “and probably best of all, there’s a reunion that takes place at the NAMM Show each year. Everyone is smiling and having a great time.”

Although Johnstone’s upbeat personality seems to be a perfect match for the events industry, the Chicago native’s adventurous career path began in a more heroic direction, with stints as a volunteer firefighter, paramedic and Navy corpsman, which included a brief tour in Vietnam with the Marines.

“I really wanted to go back into the fire service when I left the military, but I had damaged my lungs and couldn’t pass the physical exam to go to the fire academy,” Johnstone said. “I started volunteering to work at the Los Angeles Open Golf Tournament and ended up moving up the ladder to tournament supervisor and then general chairman.”

He added, “I found that I really liked the event business and I seemed to have a knack for it. It was exciting, challenging and fun.” 

After serving as account executive and vice president of sales at United Expositions Service Company, Johnstone made the leap into show management at Advanstar Communications before landing at NAMM three years later, where he has remained since 1994.

But no matter how much enthusiasm a show manager may feel about the event he or she oversees, any trade show can bring its fair share of headaches and nightmares.

Held at the Anaheim Convention Center each January, the NAMM Show is a trade show behemoth that attracts nearly 100,000 attendees and spans more than 585,000 net square feet. So would it be fair to assume that the bigger the event, the greater the potential pitfalls?

It all comes down to having a solid plan in place for every conceivable scenario, including major disasters, Johnstone said.

“A couple of fires over the last several years during the show have probably been the biggest potential nightmares, however we had planned and drilled for such events and the nightmare became nothing more than an inconvenience,” Johnstone said. “We have had several occasions when one of our attendees misbehaved and had to be dealt with.”

He added, “Multiple medical events happen each day (during the show) but a great EMS plan and a wonderful partnership with local police and fire make most of those events relatively routine.”

So does anything ever trouble this jovial trade show veteran enough to keep him up at night counting sheep?

“Molly the bed hog dog and once in a while the Carlsbad Fire Department, where I still volunteer,” said Johnstone. “Seldom does anything having to do with work keep me awake.”

And while Johnstone entertains not-so-distant dreams of slowing down and traveling the country with his wife Kathy in a Class A motorhome with motorcycle in tow and experiencing all the places, national parks and historic sites he’s only ever flown over, it’s obvious he hasn’t exactly satisfied all of his professional aspirations as of yet.

“Hopefully, a few events will hire me as a consultant or a floor manager or something to help me pay for the fuel in the motorhome,” Johnstone said.

He added, “Maybe I’ll even produce one of the events that has been in my head for years and bring together some of the incredible event people I have encountered to help me pull it together.”

While there may be more for him to accomplish, Johnstone admits that he has a lot to look back on that gives him a strong sense of achievement.

“I’ve grown the NAMM Show from a great trade show into an incredible event (and) in the process I’ve kept the attendees safe and created ways for them to have a great time,” said Johnstone. “I played a major part in the very successful 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles as well as the U.S. Open Tennis Tournament in New York just weeks after 9/11.”

He added, “I’m proud of the support I’ve given and will continue to give to our veterans and I’m very proud of my own military service. I am incredibly proud of my daughter Amanda who pursued her dream to be a special effects artist in the film industry, resulting in three Academy Awards. That’s just a partial list, as I have an amazing number of reasons to be proud as I look back.”

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