Monday, February 8, 2010

GRAMMY Camp Journalist Nick Arnold - GRAMMY Week Review



It’s the Monday after the GRAMMYs and I can’t believe how many incredible events I have been to in the past week. Let me explain. Last summer, I was lucky enough to have been chosen for 1 of the 6 spots in the music journalism track at GRAMMY Camp. I never imagined that the week I spent at GRAMMY Camp would lead to my being asked to cover this past week’s GRAMMY events as the official high school correspondent for the GRAMMY Foundation. But it did!

Here’s how it all went...

WEDNESDAY, January 27, 2010

On Wednesday evening, I arrived at the Doubletree Inn in Santa Monica for a special performance by the GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles with special guests Mindi Abair, Brian Culbertson, and Boney James. I was happy to see that some of my fellow GRAMMY Campers from last summer had made it into the Jazz Ensembles for GRAMMY week. High school students from all over the country auditioned for this honor, and I believe only 28 were selected. Stiff competition!

I was blown away by the musical sophistication and skill of these teenagers. They were able to handle and master complex pieces, while performing alongside seasoned professionals. Needless to say, the audience was impressed and appreciative. It was a great way to start off the week! Even the guest performers were stunned. "I had no idea what level they would be able to play at, but honestly, I was unbelievably surprised!" (Brian Culbertson)


THURSDAY, January 28, 2010

I had to rise and shine bright and early to check in on the USC campus at the Thornton School of Music for GRAMMY Career Day at 7:30 a.m. The GRAMMY Foundation had arranged panels of professionals from all divisions of the music industry to speak to hundreds of L.A. high school students. There were record producers, entertainment lawyers, music retailers, video game soundtrack composers, DJs, talent managers, you name it. I was excited and a little nervous because I had been told ahead of time that I would be getting an exclusive one-on-one interview with Justin Timberlake. I was the only journalist he agreed to speak to at the event. No pressure there!

Before the panels even began, I waited to be called in. Right before the JT interview was supposed to start, I was thrown a curve ball. I was told that the interview was not just with Justin, but with a couple of his producing/songwriting partners, so I would have to quickly re-write my questions to apply to the whole group. No problem! A guy speaking about 90 miles an hour quickly gave me background information on the other two guys, but it wasn’t until I got into the room with all three that I learned who was with Justin: Rob Knox and James Fauntleroy work with Justin - and the trio call themselves The Y’s.

I won’t recap the interview here, as it’s being published online at : (http://www.popeater.com/2010/02/03/justin-timberlake-gives-insights-into-the-music-business/)... but I will say that it went very well. Justin, Rob and James put a lot of thought into their answers and made the conversation easy. By the end of the interview, I wasn’t nervous any more. They were just really professional and open. It made me feel like this week wasn’t going to be so hard or intimidating after all.

After the interview, I went to the Producers’ panel, which featured top record producers, but also artist who also do producing. Jimmy Jam, Keri Hilson, Anthony Hamilton, Eddie Galan and Danja spoke to a full auditorium of kids interested in music careers. They stressed being prepared, not expecting immediate stardom. They emphasized to the kids that you have to work your way up and pay your dues. The students listened attentively and I’m sure they got the message that you have to be realistic, and even if you are talented, you have to work really hard to break into the business.


THURSDAY NIGHT

The GRAMMY Foundation’s 12th Annual Music Preservation Project ——CUE THE MUSIC: A CELEBRATION OF MUSIC AND TELEVISION presentation at the Wilshire Ebell Theater

This was my first red carpet, but it was a friendly event designed to showcase the Foundation's efforts to preserve our musicl hertage, so I wasn’t TOO nervous. The theme of the evening was to showcase the importance of music in television programming. Numerous artists performed famous television themes and iconic TV tunes, and members of the GRAMMY Foundation gave speeches about the relevance of music, not just in television, but in our everyday lives.

On the red carpet before the production, I spoke to mega-successful record producer Jimmy Jam, who said "Music and television go together hand-in-hand. Whether it's Ricky leading the band on 'I Love Lucy', or anything on MTV, or my kids watching “Hannah Montana” and The Jonas Brothers, television has always had so much music in it."


The GRAMMY-winning lead singer from Train, Pat Monahan, was another friendly face on the red carpet. He even complimented my hair! He said his love of music had been influenced by “I Love Lucy” and other popular programs of his youth.

The show was filled with stand-out performances: Colbie Caillat and Jason Mraz dueted on Sonny & Cher’s “I Got You Babe.” Solomon Burke’s delivered a powerful soulful version of “Woke up this Morning,” the theme from “The Sopranos,” from an ornate throne, and got great applause from the appreciative audience. “I Love Lucy” was a recurring theme all night, as GRAMMY winner Jorge Moreno and his band wowed the audience with a blazing bongo-driven rendition of Ricky Ricardo’s signature song, “Babalu”. Melanie Fiona, a rising new R&B star, came out in an elegant dress, looking like a movie star, and charmed the crowd with a sweet, sincere version of Kermit the Frog’s “Rainbow Connection.” Pat Monahan's rendition of The Bugles' classic "Video Killed the Radio Star" brought back nostalgic memories of the days when MTV was brand new. MTV played a vital role in the growth of the music industry, and Pat Monahan had something to say about that. "Without MTV, I don't think music would be as huge as it is today. I watched it all the time growing up." The Fray closed out the show with two of their own songs, most notably, “How to Save a Life,’ which has been featured in numerous television programs, incluing “Grey’s Anatomy," "Scrubs," and "The Hills." The capacity audience seemed to love it all. I went back to my hotel room tired, hungry, and humming those television tunes, which I could not get out of my head.


FRIDAY, January 29, 2010
GRAMMY Rehearsals, Staples Center

Friday were “open rehearsals” for the GRAMMYs, meaning with the proper credentials, media were allowed into the Staples Center to observe rehearsals and interview various artists. The first performance I saw was Maxwell preparing for his duet of “Pretty Wings’ with singing legend Roberta Flack, who joined him on her hit “Where is the Love?” The performance was smooth and moving, even in rehearsals.

The next thing I saw was Green Day’s “21 Guns.” It was not what I expected since the band was joined onstage by the cast of the upcoming broadway adaptation of their album-turned-musical, “American Idiot.” With at least 2 dozen singers joining Billie Joe and his bandmates, the song became an epic performance. The arena was filled with a monumental, palpable energy. After seeing only these two numbers, I was thinking that Sunday’s show was going to be bigger and better than any GRAMMY show I’d seen before.

Next up, The Black Eyed Peas. No surprise that they put on a visually impressive, over-the-top, energetic show. The group were launched onto the stage at the start of the number and proceeded to sing and dance “Imma Be” with their trademark enthusiasm. The number then morphed into “I Gotta Feeling” as more dancers joined them on stage. Both the Peas and their dancers were dressed in wild, futuristic outfits, which I figured could only be surpassed by Lady Gaga!

I’d seen three incredible run-throughs and I felt lucky just to witness such world class performers in action. If that’s all that had happened for the day, it would have been more than great... but then I got to talk to Dave Matthews. The day just kept getting better! I was able to ask him about the inclusion of GRAMMY Jazz Ensemble musicians in his performance of “You and Me” for the Sunday’s show. "Those kids were incredible, and they really came into their own after rehearsing for a while," Matthews told me. "I think the show will be a great place for them to be in the spotlight and show their skills." All this, and it was only late afternoon. I still had another big red carpet event to cover that night:


FRIDAY NIGHT
MusiCares “Person of the Year” gala dinner honoring Neil Young at the L.A. Convention Center

This was a REAL red carpet, with tons of stars arriving constantly. Legends such as Brian Wilson, Jackson Brown, James Taylor, David Crosby, Graham Nash and Stephen Stills stopped and chatted. Newer artists such as Everest, Jason Mraz and Colbie Callait, and Ozomatli also came by.

The “Person of the Year” event is a big annual gala which raises millions of dollars for the GRAMMY Foundation’s MusiCares program, which provides emergency funding to musicians in need. They have a huge silent auction before the dinner in which tons of cool trips, tickets, artwork and signed memorabilia (among other stuff) is bid on by the approximately 2,000 guests. There was a really cool Jeff Beck signature Les Paul up for auction, and I really liked some of the numerous pieces of artwork of honoree Neil Young.

Once the dinner began, so did the music. Every year a variety of artists perform songs originally written and performed by the “Person of the Year” honoree. It was clear that all of the acts on this year’s bill were TRUE fans of Neil Young, as was the emcee, comedic actor AND musician, Jack Black.

One of my favorite performances of the night was Ozomatli’s brass-drenched, latin-influenced version of "Mr. Soul". The Red Hot Chili Peppers rendition of “A Man Needs a Maid,” was an unexpected choice, and was an exciting debut for their previously unconfirmed new guitarist, Josh Klinghoffer. He can not only play incredibly well, but he can sing! Before the Chili Peppers took the stage, I was able to get an exclusive interview with their talented and hysterically funny drummer, Chad Smith. You can read it at: http://grammycampblog.blogspot.com/2010/02/grammy-camper-nick-arnold-interviews.html

There were so many other stand-outs... Ben Harper was joined by three female vocalists for an emotional, moving cover of Young’s “Ohio.” The three women were seated next to an also-seated Harper, who accompanied himself and the trio on a steel slide-guitar. It wasn’t one of the raucous numbers of the night, but certainly one of the most beautiful. What WAS raucous was John Fogerty and Keith Urban, along with Booker T, on a blazing version of “Rockin’ in the Free World,” which brought the crowd to its feet. One song which snuck its way into the line-up was one not actually written by Neil Young: a video was played of Jimmy Fallon’s dead on impression of Neil, singing a funny piece called “Pants on the Ground.” The clip has been huge on youtube for a few week, but the laughter was so loud in the room, I suspect that most of the audience had not seen it. Neil was laughing along too, and clearly thought it was funny. Too bad Jimmy Fallon was not there in person...

It’s hard to not mention every single song that was done, because so many of the performances were truly exceptional - but I’ll just mention Crosby, Stills and Nash closing the show with “Human Highway”. It was amazing to see three of Neil's closest bandmates from his entire career perform one of Young's rarities so beautifully. After NARAS President Neil Portnow made a speech about what an inspiration not only Neil Young’s music, but his philanthropy, were, the man himself was called to the stage. He clearly was not expecting to have to speak, but he winged it and managed to be both poignant and funny. He joked that he had forgotten how many good songs he hand written and assured the crowd that he was not done, that he intended to keep on writing and performing. He said when he saw those clips of himself when he was young, he did not even recognize that man. Clearly he enjoyed the night and was appreciative of all the performances. I heard people all around me in the huge hall saying that they had been to many of these MusiCares dinners, and apparently a number of the guests felt that the Neil Young event was the best they had ever been to. That’s pretty high praise.


SATURDAY, January 30, 2010:

The rehearsals were closed to press, but I managed to get a pass to go in as a “civilian,” but not until the evening. The timing was right because I needed to work on getting my Justin Timberlake and Chad Smith interviews written up during the day. Since I knew it would not be appropriate to try to get interviews with any of the artists I saw at closed rehearsals, I decided to just kick back and enjoy the show. When I got there, Stephen Colbert had finished doing the run-through of his portion of the show, but was still watching the rest of the rehearsals with his daughter. I was able to get an introduction, and when he found out that I was going to be on the red carpet before the actual GRAMMY telecast the next day, he pointed to my red and black beanie (which is my signature - I never go anywhere without it on) and asked, “are you going to be wearing that hat?” When I told him I would have it on, he told me he would look for me. I smiled, but didn’t expect too much... but since I am writing this after the fact, I won’t wait until tomorrow’s entry to say that in the media room at the GRAMMY telecast, after he won a GRAMMY for “A Colbert Christmas” he came back to take questions from the press. He saw me and pointed at me, and called out “The Hat, man!” And with that, out of all the reporters in the room, I, the lowly 15-year old, was allowed to ask him a question! See tomorrow’s blog entry to find out more...

Other than my Colbert encounter, I was privileged to see Jeff Beck rehearse his tribute to Les Paul. After that, Lady Gaga and Elton John came onstage, but the producer, Ken Ehrlich (who is so awesome at what he does, and really nice, by the way) asked everyone not working on the show to clear the arena... but I was able to watch the rehearsal from the remote comfort of the sound mixing truck, which was a fascinating experience. About 8 guys were crowded into this trailer, all discussing how to get the very best sound out of the song performance. I was sort of glad they chased me out of the Staples Center or I would not have been able to see that and get a better understanding of what a complicated, collaborative effort it is to put on a show like the GRAMMYs. All during rehearsals, everywhere you looked, there were hundreds of people racing around with walkie talkies, all working to try to make the best show ever. It was a pretty cool thing to see.


SUNDAY - THE BIG DAY - THE GRAMMY AWARDS

This is it. The big day. The 52nd Annual GRAMMY Awards. Even though the show tapes at 5:00 p.m. and does not air until 8:00 p.m., I had to be down at the Staples Center to get my place on the red carpet at 11:30 a.m. The Red Carpet opens at noon and lasts until 4:30. You would think maybe nobody would come early, but in fact, Elvis Costello and some other major named did come by before the mad rush of late afternoon. Slowly but surely, once it got closer to be time for the broadcast, bigger artists started floating by on the carpet. I was a new kid, so I didn't expect to be able to attract the attention of many artists or their publicists, but in fact I was able to talk to some of my favorites, including Weird Al, Paramore, and Silversun Pickups.

One of the highlights for me was talking to Alice Cooper, because he has always been one of my heroes, and to talk to the Master of Musical Horror himself was so exciting. I was even more thrilled after I got a chance to ask him some questions and he had complimented me for knowing knowing so much about his most recent album, "Along Came A Spider." I was also able to talk to Rob Halford of Judas Priest, which was pretty cool. And even though I didn’t get to have meaningful conversations or ask them questions, I did get to meet a lot of other artists, including George Clinton, Sugarland, The Lonely Island, Miley Cyrus, Booker T, and more that I can’t even remember now, I am so tired.

Around 15 minutes before the telecast began, the biggest artists came through, including Green Day, Taylor Swift and Rihanna. The publicists protected their artists from the shouting camera crews and reporters, trying to rush along the artists who could not spare a moment of time. They did few (if any) interviews, and passed up almost everybody before heading to the arena to see the opening performance by Elton John and Lady Gaga.


Elton and Gaga's medley was visually and sonically stunning, due not only to the wild costumes and stage displays, but also due to the beautiful blending between these two icons' voices .I watched the show through a television monitor in a remote room in the arena called "the media center." The print division of the media center is a place where writers from publications from all around the country, online and on paper, sit and watch the show, type live reports of any notable news throughout the day (and which there were plenty of them). Basically the reporters all watch the telecast for any surprises. After the winners are announced, some of them come back into the print media room to answer questions. A couple of times I was lucky enough to be chosen to pose questions. As I mentioned in Saturday’s posting, Stephen Colbert remembered having met me, so after he won and came back stage and called on me, I asked him if he had been influenced at all by fellow comedy nominees Spinal Tap and Weird Al. He answered, “Yeah, sure, absolutely. I’ve listened to them for years. I’ve been listening to Spinal Tap for 25 years. I think March 2 is the anniversary. I’m a little bit of a fan.”

After T-Pain came off stage he also picked me to ask a question, but in the end, he didn’t really answer it. I asked him how Slash came to included in the number he did with Jamie Foxx and Doug E. Fresh, but he sort of rambled on about something else, which just goes to show that even if you get called on to ask a question, you won’t necessarily get an answer.

There were as many performances on the telecast as there were awards presented, and both kept people inside and outside of the arena on the edge of their seats. There were many surprised faces in the media center when the Kings of Leon won Record of the Year for "Use Somebody." When Green Day won for Best Rock Album, I know I was more than pleasantly surprised, because there had been too many successful records in that category to make a safe call as to who would win. In my humble opinion, “21st Century Breakdown” never received the critical support or sales success it should have, so I was really pleased for this band. I first went to see them in concert when I was 10 years old, and they are the first group I was truly passionate about. I have learned that it is OK to be a writer AND a fan. I am biased on this one. I was really happy for their win.

Many people have summarized the night’s events so I won’t take up endless space commenting on every single number and award. I will just highlight a few that I really enjoyed: Not surprisingly, I thought Green Day’s collaboration with the cast of the upcoming “American Idiot” musical was very cool. And kust as they had in rehearsals, The Black Eyed Peas came to entertain. They did just that in their performance, nailing every dance move, lyric, and energizing the crowd. Dave Matthews' performance was very smooth and had a positive feeling filled the whole room when he was on. It was really effective how the staging started out with a single spotlight just on Dave, plucking away at his acoustic guitar, but in the end built to a full band with a string and brass section. I was especially happy to watch for the kids with the horns, since they were from the GRAMMY Jazz Ensembles! I thought that was definitely one of the best numbers of the night.


The tribute to Michael Jackson in 3D was very moving, and honored his legacy. I thought Jennifer Hudson, Celine Dion, Smokey Robinson, Usher, and Carrie Underwood all gave impassioned, great performances of their parts for Jackson's classic "Earth Song," in front of the cinematic feature created for his scheduled concerts in the O2 arena. The performance brought many in the audience to their feet, and it seemed that everyone in the arena remembered a time where the king of pop still ruled.


Closing out the show, Eminem, Drake, and Lil' Wayne were a rap group the likes of which the GRAMMY stage had never seen before. Accompanied by Blink 182 drummer Travis Barker, the rap-megastars proceeded to bust rhymes so hard and fast that they were even able to inspire Taylor Swift to stand and move to their beats. Although I will admit that I am not generally a huge fan of their work, I was entertained and captivated by the incendiary performance. SO was the crowd. It was a fitting final performance going into the last awards of the night.

At the end of GRAMMY Week, I look back and wonder how I was able to do it all! I know how lucky I am to have met and spoken to the people I interviewed. I learned so much about what it takes to have a career in music, and what it takes to put on a production the size of the GRAMMYs. Every event I attended was so professionally organized and entertaining. I am in awe of the people who made all of the GRAMMY Week events come together so flawlessly. I am honored to have been selected to not only attend, but participate. I am only 15, and I have already experienced things most people can only dream of… and it all began with GRAMMY Camp! Pretty cool…

21 comments:

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