begins its season in Daytona. The Harleys first come out of the garage for Bike Week
, also in Daytona. NHRA
drag-racing starts its season with the Gatornationals, in Gainesville. It's only fitting, then, that the audio show season began this year in Jacksonville with the Stereophile-sponsored Axpona
To the diehard audiophiles who came from the land of frozen tundra, the sunny days and temperatures in the mid-60s must have seemed heaven-sent, and strolls in shirt-sleeves were common. Locals, however, wore jackets as they spoke of the region's most severe winter in decades, hitting the local citrus industry hard.
A similar relativity in perspectives was evident amongst exhibitors: the many newbies shone with enthusiasm in their new enterprises, while those with decades of experience spoke with cautious optimism after having survived one of the worst years ever for the audio industry. The upbeat attitude seen at CES and THE was still seen, but the less-manic venue allowed for a more measured contemplation of the market.
The signs of recovery were there: several manufacturers and distributors spoke of having posted record months recently, and foreign brands which had left the US market had returned. Most encouraging of all, a number of new brands made their first appearances in the show world.
Despite being home to a many well-known audio manufacturers and several famous audio salons, Florida hasn't hosted an audio show in ages. Those attending Axpona seemed enthusiastic, if perhaps a bit older than the attendees seen at RMAF. Such is Florida.
While RMAF's site is amidst a number of other hotels and corporate headquarters in a suburban sector, the Wyndham Riverwalk
is in an old section of downtown Jacksonville, in an area which seems to be undergoing rehabilitation and reinvention as a center of nightlife and entertainment. The Wyndham is located on the bank of the St. Johns River, which empties into the Atlantic east of the city.
Jacksonville itself is a bit of an enigma to urbanites; in area, it is the largest city in the US, at nearly 900 square miles. That enormous area also envelops the largest population of any city proper in Florida, of more than 800,000. In terms of atmosphere, Jacksonville has more in common with southern agricultural and distribution centers like Memphis or Little Rock, than with Miami.
The show itself seemed fairly relaxed as well. Preliminary attendance estimates are about 2,000 attendee days, similar to the first year or two of RMAF. Organizers Steve Davis and Andrew Spaulding spoke of the possibility of similar shows in other cities, and Washington, D.C. was mentioned as a potential site. It's unclear at this point what that means for the future of a show in Jacksonville.
Whatever happens, Axpona at Jacksonville will be remembered as a first, positive step in the renewal of a season and of an industry. Surely, that's not a bad thing.
Up soon: Axpona 2010 will be commemorated by Audiogon's exclusive room-by-room photography by Albert Porter and crew, and soundbites! A world-exclusive feature from Audiogon.