11 to 75: A Bird’s Eye View of the GRAMMY Awards

In January 2018 the GRAMMY Awards were to be held in New York at Madison Square Garden.  In November and December of 2017 I was traveling in Asia with my martial arts colleagues during which time Royal and I had to transact the purchase of GRAMMY Award ceremony tickets via our sketchy online communications.  Tickets go on sale to Academy members at a singular moment in time and the likelihood of slipping through the online purchase site before it all crashes is daunting.  (I later learned of someone who had attempted to buy her ticket at the exact moment and was told she was #562 on the waiting list.) Royal, however, was successful and was able to purchase 2 tickets for us in the nosebleed seats for $200 each.  Seats near the stage go for up to $1400 each.  Nominees and VIPs, of course, get their tickets for free.

There are approximately 15,000 submissions in 86 categories.  The process is first to be considered (which COPUS was) and then that is whittled down to the 5 nominees in each category or from 15,000 down to 810.  We were not in that 5%.  However, making the most of the situation as always, our newly-hired booking manager and I bombarded New York clubs to secure a COPUS gig during GRAMMY week to make the trip doubly worthwhile.  COPUS is a member of the Indie Collaborative, a group of 2,000 independent musicians, and they had organized a show at Feinstein’s 54 Below in Manhattan, so we would be able to perform one song there during the evening.  We also landed a gig at an arthouse in Brooklyn.  3 of the 6 members of the band were able to make the trip, so off we went.

We stayed at a hotel only 5 blocks from Madison Square Garden, so Royal and I were able to walk there.  To witness the swarm of streets barricaded and limos and glitzy outfits was fun, like a kid in a candy store.   The afternoon show, from 3-6pm, is not televised.  75 awards were handed out to artists in the genres that don’t make enough huge money to be on the TV portion:  reggae, world music, Americana, classical, jazz, new age, spoken word, etc.  This part of the event is held in a mid-size theater for several hundred people.  The show was phenomenal with such highlights as the powerful singing of Jazzmeia Horn, the light and beauty of India Arie, and an emotional acceptance speech by Reba McIntyre who said that it was our job as artists to heal hearts.  And then there was new age pianist/composer Peter Kater who has been nominated 13 times and finally won.  Paul Shafer and his band did a brilliant job of playing 45-second interludes while winners approached the stage; each interlude was in the style of the winner.  His witty – and a bit edgy – banter about winners who didn’t show up to accept their awards made a strong statement. 

The televised portion of the GRAMMY Awards was to begin at 7:30pm, so we followed the crowd toward the Arena.  Here the Academy was to present 11 awards to the biggest money-making artists in the music business.  Meanwhile, hungry by now, we joined the masses in purchasing over-priced either popcorn or pretzels or burgers from vendors.  There was nowhere to sit, so people in tuxes and gowns were leaning against walls or sitting along the floor to eat junk food.  The place was freezing and women in sleeveless gowns had to decide whether to look cute and freeze or to look not so cute and be warm.  After the unsatisfying ‘dinner’, we made our way to our seats.  The energy of 18,000+ people was palpable..  To add to that a show being aired live, the tension of the biggest competition in the music business, the anticipation of seeing stars, the lights, and just to be a part of this huge crazy phenomenon was exciting.  Performances by Elton John with Miley Cyrus, Sting, Sza, Bruno Mars, Lady Gaga all were enjoyable, but the emotional impact of Keshia surrounded by singing ladies in white and Kendrick Lamar’s opening “XXX” number about gun violence in America were definitely the powerhouses.   The crew was incredible.  To watch the smoothness of set and lighting changes and grand piano moves during the length of commercial breaks was quite amazing.  During all of the glitz, I did have intermittent visions in my head of Royal and me sweeping up the Cell Space performance studio after a gig one night with still to look forward to moving equipment to the car and then double-parking on a busy street to again move equipment to the 3rd floor apartment, but regardless I still had a great time. 

It took awhile to exit the arena as the escalators were not working and people were struggling to descend in high heels.  Royal and I walked back to our hotel, stopping by a corner store to buy some wine.  The man behind the counter mumbled something about all of the traffic and streets closed and I replied that it was because of the GRAMMY Awards 5 blocks away.  He answered: “Oh, was that tonight?” Royal and I had a good laugh about that as we toasted each other on the patio outside the hotel, freezing our butts off in New York.  What an experience!

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