A New Perspective on Clouds, the Circus and How to Throw a Party (Grammy Weekend in L.A.)By Linda Ferro
So, I thought it would be nifty to take advantage of my membership with the Recording Academy and buy some tix to attend the 52nd Annual Grammy Awards in L.A. (Folks in the industry refer to the Academy as “NARAS,” which stands for the “National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.”)
I was completely and utterly (which is a lot) sleep-deprived on the day I was to fly down there, since I had to set my alarm for 4 AM to make a 6:30 flight. As a musician and life-long nightowl, I’d much rather stay up till 4 than rise at that time.
Once in the plane, I was in a dreamy state from the droning sound of the engines (uh, propellers). Just after we climbed up out of the blanket of cloud-cover (one of my favorite things to do), I had a moment with a cloud. Yes, I did. There was a moment when I was flying eye-to-eye with this random piece of fluff. I pondered this perspective in metaphysical detail, and realized that I’m only accustomed to looking up at clouds or down at them when a plane rises above them. This whole thing really entertained me for a lot longer than it should have, and because I am prone to excessive anthropomorphism, I also assumed this cloud was traveling to L.A. just as I was!
As we flew on—me in an early morning stupor and the pilot hopefully not—I saw the most magical scene outside my porthole: Behind the plane was the almost-full moon in all its splendor and ahead of the plane was the muted crimson aura of a sunrise about to happen. I had trouble deciding which show to watch. (I probably looked like I was watching a tennis match!)
The rest of the flight was uneventful, until I got scolded by the fight attendant for not putting away my laptop quickly enough as we prepared for landing. In my defense, I had just bought my new Mac Pro and it was literally about the second time I had done a power-up/down. I hardly knew what I was doing, in terms of closing screens, making sure I had things saved, and navigating my way around the touchpad. The worst part about this mishap is that the attendant scooped up my coffee cup with my last sip that I was looking forward to. I know this doesn’t sound like such a big deal, except that I stopped drinking coffee a year ago and treated myself to just this one cup, so I’m thinkin’ that I had a pretty pathetic look on my face as the cup dropped into the garbage bag never to be seen again (at least not by me).
Fortunately, I soon had something else to ponder as the plane started to make the most incredibly steep bank to the right (my side of the plane) which, of course, made my head tilt accordingly, and as I looked out my window down at the ground, I was pretty sure that the entire perfectly symmetrical grid of square blocks of houses was dangerously close to sliding right off the face of the planet. Probably a good thing we’d be on the ground soon.
Maybe if I’d had that last sip of caffeine I wouldn’t have dropped the handle of my luggage as I was wheeling it to the baggage claim area. It kinda slammed down dramatically, my sleepy hands letting go while the bag stayed on the floor behind me, a pace or two back. Good thing I wasn’t trying to look cool or anything.
Got my bags without incident. Found the shuttle to get to my hotel. Also without incident. After the driver stopped to pick up more passengers, I got a little sampling of just how musical this weekend would surely be. One of my co-passengers began to whistle. That part was ok, except that the radio was on, and try as I may, I couldn’t find any of the notes he was whistling to be anywhere within the song on the radio. Couldn’t tell if he was indeed trying to whistle along to that song (the one we all heard), or if he had another one in mind. My ears gave up and I resolved to be happy for him that he was so cheery at 8 AM.
I had the rest of the day to scout around, get some requisite pampering, find a cool café, and meet up with producer/engineer friend Lenise Bent. Spent that last part of the evening enjoying my 12th floor corner window room, writing and pretty much resting-up for the BIG EVENT the next day.GRAMMY DAY: (sounds like some holiday for parents of parents….)
The Pre-Telecast Awards started in the afternoon and were presented in the West Hall of the L.A. Convention Center. It was an exciting and beautifully-produced awards ceremony, which featured nominations in 99 categories not covered during the telecast! It was in this room during this part of the Awards that Taylor Swift accepted her first Grammy of the evening. Most of the “big stars” didn’t come to receive awards here because, as we were told, they were preparing for the events later that evening. One of the presenters in particular was certainly hoping Beyonce would appear to receive her awards, but sadly, that was not the case.
After the 3 hours or so of the Pre-Telecast awards, I made my way over to the adjacent Staples Center. I was not happy to discover that the monitor for the section I was seated in was completely blocked by one of the main stationary cameras. So, I have to say this: If you watched the Grammys on TV then you got a better view than I did. Alas, next year I will pay even more to get better seats, because it is definitely worth it to be down closer to the action.
That being said, the entire evening was an incredible, almost overwhelming display of pulsing/flashing/glowing neon, dramatic contrasts of light and dark, and thumping live audio that I can only refer to as “galactic.” Sensory overload. It’s almost impossible not to get a thrill when so many favorite artists walk out onto the stage and are present. It was truly magical to be in the same room (if you can call the Staples Center a “room”) with such a glorious roster of entertainers. I absolutely loved watching the actual production of the show, seeing the awesome camera-folks racing around for the best angles, and watching the over-the-top set changes (one of the advantages of being up higher in the arena).
Where else but at the Grammys could you observe a dazzling pop star twirling and dripping water high above, listen to a dashing blind Italian tenor and a New Orleans Jazz quartet, and witness 5 award-winning bandmates confess to being wasted on national TV – all under the same roof? Nuff said.THE CELEBRATION: (The After-party, Which You Didn’t See On TV)
After the last award was presented at the Staples Center, we all headed for the exits and were corralled down the sidewalk back to the West Hall, where the Pre-Telecast awards had been presented. We all mooed and/or marched toward the entrance, drawn by the enticing glow of neon and the unmistakable sound of this party gettin’ started.
During the time that guests had been inside the Staples Center, the airplane-hanger size West Hall had been transformed into a dazzling 3-ring circus. Hard to imagine I had just been in this same building. I feel like I’m about 6 years old – like the “child within” really needed to go to a circus!
At the entrance, I am greeted enthusiastically and invited in (with full drama) by a circus “barker” sweeping his arms around in wide gestures and calling out from high above on his brightly lit platform.
A full-spectrum of color had been splashed everywhere since I had last been inside. Enormous “big top” canopies arched high above, creating a colossal carnival vibe. In the performance rings, which were strategically located, were clowns, aerial artists, weighted oversized hoop artists (I’m sure there’s an official name for this amazing performing arts form, but sadly, I know it not), contortionists and mimes in action.
Roaming about this insta-circus, are people-creatures hopping about on all fours, classic stilt-gents, as well as various an’ sundry rogue, rambling characters of all designs. (I learned later that this fabulous journey thru whimsy was designed and produced by “Along Came Mary Productions.”)
Somehow, I hadn’t managed to eat before the Awards ceremony and didn’t want to leave while it was still going on, so I’m now on a mission to find food. Don’t have to look far! There are so many banquet tables set up that the lines for this multitude of partiers aren’t long at all. The lavish, organic foods of Asian, New Orleans and American flavor have all been prepared by chef extraordinaire Wolfgang Puck. (Dang! What a gig for him!) Serving-dish upon serving-dish filled with fresh, organic delectables, too many to mention. However, what MUST be mentioned are the two 8-ft banquet tables in the building that are literally piled high with fresh cracked crab and prawns, all chillin’ on a bed of ice. Gotta take a picture of this. Crab is truly beautiful, although I must admit I prefer to see my crustacean brothers and sisters whole and swimmin’ rather than chillin’. (Speaking of parts of food, you’ll be happy to know, as I am, that all unused/leftover food would go to “Angel Harvest” in L.A., distributed through various programs. That’s beautiful and so right.)
With all the sensory stimulation I’m succumbing to, I’m not surprised that I am compelled to respond in Pied Piper fashion to a booming voice announcing the arrival of performing artist Ne-Yo to the main stage. We’re talkin’ R&B sensation, here: three-time Grammy winner. The Gentleman. He’s absolutely mesmerizing, sliding along from one side of the stage to the other in a flash. Workin’ us – workin’ the band. Being real.
He asks the audience: “So, any couples out there tonight? You know, like boyfriend/girlfriend, or husband/wife?” He looks out at us, and seeing the small show of hands, he responds with a wry grin: “Oh right. This is L.A.” He is so defining “smooth.”
Jamie Foxx just happens to be in the neighborhood and joins Ne-Yo onstage, reminding me that the former can really SING. (Definitely worth checking out YouTube postings of this show if they’re out there.) Jon Batiste Band, Soul Legend and Grammy winner Sam Moore (of Sam and Dave – you know, “Soul Man” and “Can’t Turn You Loose”) were so polished as they delivered hit after hit. I feel honored to get to hear such an iconic performer such as he, and his voice is still simply amazing.
The band is, well…let me say that at one point I’m lookin at a six-piece horn section, and seven keyboards, so you get the picture.
So guess who else happens to be in the neighborhood? Brenda Russell comes onstage and puts her heart out there singing with Sam and then performs the song she co-wrote: “None of us is free! (when one of us is chained).” So powerful!
Now then, here’s where the people-watching fun begins:
I’m on the dance floor moving and writing and all caught up in the production – mind and body transported by the music – when a gal next to me taps me on the shoulder, points and says with alarm, “That guy is PEEING!!”
Sure enough, Mr. “Bad apple” is standing right up at the base of the main stage right below Sam Moore and he decides that this moment, with glamour-gals dancing all ‘round, is a really great time to pee. Or, more likely, he didn’t think at all. Seems like the gal next to me and I are the only lucky ones to witness this. I decide right then and there that there should be some word much stronger than “disgusting.” Okay, it’s Grammy night. “It’s L.A.” Anything can happen.
Fortunately, I can get over it, and as the show is ending, Sam Moore’s manager calls out to him, ‘They want some more Sam Moore, Sam Moore!”
After the encore, I decide to walk off the pulsing dance floor (okay, the floor wasn’t pulsing, but the sound was bouncing off the walls, and so were the dancers. Ok, maybe they weren’t….)
I venture out into the hallway to check out the adjacent Petrie Hall venue that is turned into an authentic Jazz Club ala clown fun-house. So slinky and smooth and classy. This is definitely an alternate form of feel-good. Had a nice chat with a gal who was going skydiving the next day.
I check out the dessert table, and, lo! and behold, of all the awesome forms of sugar offered, my hand automatically reaches for the Rice Krispy Treats. Had to text my son Dave in Portland who had given me a Rice Krispy Treats cookbook for Christmas. (My addiction to them is legendary.) I am in my happy place with one in hand on the way to mouth.
After enjoying the Jazz and the vibe, I return to one of the performance rings in the main building. In the center of the ring, I see a forlorn-looking clown dressed in brown rag-clothes. He is on his knees looking up longingly at the nymph hanging by her ankles by long cloth ribbons hanging from the suspension apparatus high above. (I have heard this referred to as “Aerial Silk.”) The clown rises to his feet and with grand, exaggerated arm movements, throws fairy dust up at her as though he just might be able to transform himself into her celestial world, or bring her to him. Alas, he resigns himself to following her around the arena, fanning her with giant white feather plumes – worlds apart.
I turn away from the clown for a few moments to try to see what the crowd at another ring is cheering about. When I look back at the clown, he is suspended just a foot or two above the ground on his stomach, held around his midsection by the draping cloth cradle. He is flapping his wings furiously, trying his best to impress us. The look on his face tells me he knows he’s failing miserably. Just a shtick, but it was actually pretty poignant. (Or the Passion Martini was kicking in.)
As is usually the case at any event, there is never a shortage of entertainment provided by the people watching the show. Case in point: Across the ring from me, a pretty young brunette just grabbed both her breasts and lifted/shifted them. Looking down at herself, she seems pleased with the results.
I wander over to the Hard Rock Café memorabilia tent, and host Carlos sees me taking notes. He shows me around a little. My eye catches a most dramatic entry on display: a custom-made blue and white feather outfit worn by Charles Neville during 2 Mardi Gras parades in the 90’s. Then there’s a display case housing a black shirt worn by Jeff Beck “during many stage performances.” Oh, and a light blue jean shirt worn by James Taylor.
Moving from famous shirts to no-shirts, I wander over to one of the other performance arenas and see a half-naked, whole-graceful young lad hanging from his ankles by the silks. He has sparkles all over his body. Even his feet are sparkling! I absolutely can’t help but stare at his body (which, of course, I’m supposed to do). I notice a tattoo on his ankle and try to figure out what it is. Can’t tell. Looks like a blue blob. Have to go look at it when he dismounts from his perch. I CAN make out the prominent rather large star tattoo on his back, which flexes with his twists and turns. Every muscle in this young man’s body knows precisely what to do. Every one of mine hurt just watching him!
As he dismounts, I walk over and ask about the tattoo on his ankle. He shows me a planet earth (that explains the blue blob I saw) in its galaxy. How perfect for a guy who sparkles and flies around in the sky.
Okay, so not everyone is having a good time here. I am staring at an older woman who is slouched in her chair, arms hanging limply at her side, chin to her chest and deeply asleep. I imagine snoring, but can’t hear anything over the booming music bouncing around the room. I remember that I saw her just like this quite some time ago. She’s having a very nice nap not more than twenty feet from the stage.
In stark contrast to the apparently comatose figure in the chair, I see a vibrant woman in a wheelchair spinning around and being spun by her friends on the dance floor. Pam is simply radiant and full of joy. When she wheels back over to her table, I follow her and give her a high five with a big appreciative grin. She holds onto my hand briefly, and we wordlessly communicate about our perspective on life in that single moment. I tell her she is beautiful. (She senses, accurately, that I am not drunk!) She tells me that I am beautiful too and bids me farewell with “God is great!” I notice that she is holding a lavender hydrangea from the gorgeous floral centerpiece on her table. Pam tells me I should pick a rose out and take it home with me, which I will do.
When the bands are finished, DJ extraordinare Mick Boogie relentlessly stirs the dancers up into a frenzy. Or a froth…or something like that. I flail around for a while myself, but then decide that it’s time for another sampling of spirits. I find a table and a final snack. It is right there and then that I decide that I could die happy here, if I could just freeze-frame this moment when I have music in my ears, mango margarita on my lips and fresh cracked crab under my fingernails.
Absolutely, without a doubt, the best party ever!
Leaving the circus, it seems fitting that at the end of the evening, I should offer a report from the ladies room. I just closed the door on the stall and the next thing I know, an earsplitting, panicky young voice screams, “Where’s the f_____ toilet!” Nuff said about that, too.
Me, I’m just grateful to be in good-enough shape to remember which little round silver floor-number button to press in the hotel elevator….
Once in my room, I have a moment of panic as I realize that I had needed help from a housekeeper to zip-up my dress earlier that evening. I am truly grateful I can still feel my fingers, and hope that I could actually exit from the dress on my own. Mission accomplished. Soon, I’m more than ready to turn out the light, pleased to see one more time, on the nightstand, the circus-colored rose from Pam’s table.