At The Grammys
February 8, 2004 - Los Angeles, CA

I was fortunate last fall to be asked to play for several functions put together by the Recording Academy. The highlight of all of them though was undoubtedly getting to play for the Grammy Awards Post Party and along the way getting to attend the Grammy Awards telecast. Unfortunatley through a weird mishap, my trusty digital camera wound up in Jerry Marotta's luggage a few weeks earlier and was chilling nicely in Woodstock, NY during the event so I only managed to get a few pictures from my friend Jason who went with me, but... hopefully the words tell the story well enough!

The Post Party which I was scheduled to play at was held at the Biltmore hotel in downtown LA, about a mile from the Staples Center where the awards were. I was scheduled to arrive at the hotel to setup about 2pm. I pulled into downtown LA about 1pm, only to spend the next half hour or so trying to navigate the street closure's and one way streets... yuck. I finally gave up trying to find a "perfect" solution and at the instructions of the Grammy staff, put on my hazards, drove between some cones and parked in a red zone in front of where I need to load in (can I say that on here? Shhh...) Helpfully, my friend Jason (who after much coercing gave in and agreed to help me at the show) showed up about the same time.
Helpful Jason gets dressed up

We spent maybe an hour setting up gear with the sound tech for my room, then it was off to check into the hotel and prep for the awards show. As we got our credentials, we got shown to my green room. It was shared with Paul Oakenfold. I didn't know the name, but Jason did. People have since told me he's a major DJ/remix artist (I'm still feeling ignorant on this... although someone told me today he did one of the Elvis remix albums?)

(photo by Jason Thornton)

Around 4 or so we caught a shuttle to Staples. It dropped us off in front of a big "Green Carpet." I thought at first that this must be like the "B grade entrance" for the not so famous types... with the more famous getting the "red carpet." We found ourselves soon in a big tent covered green carpet walkway with more or less body to body people. I started to wonder if we were in the right place, so I asked someone with a credential on... only to realize it was a performer's credential for the telecast... not staff. Oops..

Eventually the tunnel tent ended and we were in what I guess you'd call the "media area" of the carpet. Clearly a division here... with famous people on the left talking to media booths and the rest of us continuing on to the right. I noticed a media sign saying something about the "red carpet"... but all the carpet was still green. Hmm... I actually thought for a minute maybe it was some weird TV colorization effect, till Jason pointed out Heineken was the presenting sponsor... and probably wanted it green just because. Ahh...

Lots of famous people here, but I was actually getting a little nervous about finding our seats on time knowing they supposedly close the doors at 4:45 and it was roughly 4:30.... so we didn't even really stop to look. It was then that I started to realize I'm not much affected by celebrity anymore. Weird tangent here, but I can remember years ago being tongue tied to meet Pat Metheny... or Tuck Andress.. Tony Levin.. even Jerry Marotta... somewhere in the past few years or so that's kinda faded. But I I walked by BB King... heard some fans shouting and turned to see maybe.. Paris Hilton... I dunno.

We wandered inside a bit (after the metal detectors of course), found some programs and eventually our seats which were at quite an interesting angle to the stage. They called our section "Scenery seating"... although I'm not sure if that's because our view was partially blocked by the scenery or because we were meant to be part of the scenery. Hmmm... The seats were on the right side of the stage though (audience perspective and literally the side) but only maybe 12 rows or so back from the stage.

I don't know if you could tell this from the TV broadcast, but the whole stage basically had three areas.. kind of left, right and center. Center was where the presentations happened. The left and right were used for performers, and when no one was performing they were covered with large... well... set coverings that flew in from the rafters (lots of things shooting up and back from the rafters all evening). From our vantage point, if someone was playing on our side of the stage, we had amazing seats. I felt like I could actually hear the direct sound from amps, drums and maybe even some vocals. But.. when some one was performing on the "other" side... we couldn't see a darn thing. Scenery.

So thanks to scenery.. we missed viewing Prince and Beyonce's opening. BUT we did get to see all the setups on our side which I though was fun. 10 minutes before the broadcast began, there's Dave Matthews, and three other guys I didn't recognize standing ready.. and I'm thinking.. I thought Dave's current band had more people than this... and I don't really see anyone that looks like Tim Reynolds or Trey Anistasio. Hmmm.. An announcer kept counting down the time to air over the PA.. when it finally got down to three minutes, along comes Sting and takes the bass from the person who had it. Ahhh.... the Beatles tribute, that's what this was! When Prince started, Sting ran back (bass on) to peek around the scenery. It was funny to see him. I felt like that wild raucous Police era punkery was still a little bit present in how he acted off camera.

Our first viewable performance was the version Sting, Dave Matthews, Vince Gill and (drummer I'm spacing on) did of "Saw her standing there" was great. Totally classy having Dave and Sting share a mic like back in the day and maybe it was just sitting that close, but.. Stings bass feel and tone and his voice.. wow. The first of a few times during the night I actually got goose bumps.

And so the show proceeded as televised.. but one of the things I came to appreciate was just how good many of these people really are. There were a number of performers I've heard on the radio, or maybe just heard of.. that hearing live I was really impressed with. Whether it's from years of practice, or maybe just years of touring/recording or whatever, the "pro polished" sound almost everyone had was really impressive live and up close. Voices sounded great, the mix was really clear, and for many of these people, their music took on a degree of reality for me that it maybe hadn't had before. Viva live music.

About 2/3 of the way in I had to leave to get back to the hotel in time for "performer's dinner." Kinda silly in hindsight as I wasn't scheduled to play till 9:15, and the food at the party was.. well.. we'll get to that. But...leaving early I did get right onto a staff bus and missed any crowds.

When I got back to the Biltmore, I found that the Academy had assigned a "person" to me. Kinda fun.. but I think I was probably way too low maintenance to make him feel really needed (he did have a name too of course, but I'm spacing on it now). Still.. he checked in on me every so often, and made sure that like the mountain of 7up products (a sponsor) and water I had were sufficient. Did you know they now have a caffeinated 7up? Who knew? Came complete with an upside logo and a picture of Gollum! Come 9pm, my "person" (whose name I really wished I remembered) walked me down to my area... I felt a little silly being escorted, but.. so be it ;)

The party... the Academy basically took over the Biltmore. They had a total of 8 performance areas inside, plus high school jazz bands outside greeting guests on the red carpet (this one really "was" red.) I was on what was basically the second of three levels used in the hotel, in a Japanese restaurant. The other performers who were spread throughout were Espino, The Poncho Sanchez Band with Pete Escovedo, The Barkays and Con Funk Shun, The Peter Erskine Quartet with Alan Pasqua, George Garzone and Dave Carpenter, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Rick Trevino, Steve "Silk" Hurly and the aforementioned Paul Oakenfold.

Angry looking Tom
(photo by Jason Thornton)

Probably the most interesting thing to happen while I was playing was seeing this "medium length" haired guy walk past who kinda smiled and gave an approving sort of nod to me. It took me a second, but I realized.. oh.. Steve Vai! He's somehow connected to the Grammy's (a trustee maybe?) so it made sense that he was there. What I didn't expect though was that he came back 5 minutes later, and took up a spot right in front of me where he hung out for maybe 40 minutes.

I was scheduled to play from 9:15 till 12:45. A long one... but.. with breaks at my discretion. I used my breaks to try to run around as much as I could and take things in. The food.. I promised I'd get to the food. They contracted a number of big name LA restaurants who set up little buffets all over the event. From the program it looks like there was about 14 in all. I tried to get around to all of them, but... failed. What I had though was great. Of course playing in a Japanese restaurant, I had my fill of Sushi.

As I started my second "set" there was a noticeable change in my room... fewer people, but more attentive people. Whereas the first set was a lot of people talking to each other and not necessarily paying attention, the second set people were really listening and clapping. Eventually though I took another break... tried to eat the rest of the food... and came back a little before midnight.

Tom behind bars
(photo by Jason Thornton)

Come maybe 12:15 things were winding down, so they let me stop early.. and I dragged my things up to my room. Of course my "person" (he really does have a name!) was back.. and ready to do anything to help. I mentioned that I'd missed getting one of the Grammy gift bags many people had. Next thing I know, he's making calls on his radio and not 5 mins later, a girl shows up with one after several staff members had searched around for leftover bags. Somehow I really don't know what to do with service like that! The bag's contents though fun were certainly not exciting enough for me to have a team of people combing the hotel to find one. In fact most of the contents were a bit... well.. feminine...some candy, trinkets (like a 7up pen with a real working mini etch-a-sketch as the body.. cool!) but mainly cosmetics.. hmmm.. of course for the guys there was something called "ManPower homeopathic oral spray"... but I won't go into that here.

So finally... bed by 2:30.. and up by 7 to make my way to LAX and pickup Hideyo Moriya (of CGT). Thus ended my Grammy experience. It's funny... the more years I acquire, the more shows I see, and the more music I'm around.. the more I worry about becoming jaded.. or unimpressed by much of what I may hear.. but.. the talent involved with the awards show and party... both in the performers and in the technical crew and production crew was very impressive. I really feel lucky to have been involved!

--Tom Griesgraber