Grammy Nominations concert brings starts of all stripes to Nashville

3:23 PM, Dec 2, 2012   |    comments
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 By: Dave Paulson

 It will fly by in an hour when it's broadcast live on CBS this Wednesday, but "The Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!" has come a long way to make its Music City debut - and there's still plenty of work to be done before it airs.


Ken Ehrlich, executive producer of the nominations concert as well as the Grammy Awards, estimates that between 200 and 250 people will work on the concert, between the production team, talent and arena staff. Set-up at the arena began last week, and much of the team arrived in Nashville over the weekend to start ensuring that eight best-selling acts will have time to perform for a live TV audience.

A few years ago, announcing the nominees wasn't nearly this complicated - or exciting. The Recording Academy would traditionally reveal the nominees at an early-morning press conference. In 2008, Ehrlich and Recording Academy president Neil Portnow were ready for a change.

"It was my feeling, and Neil shared that feeling, that the announcement of the Grammys was an event on its own," Ehrlich said. "And it deserved more than just 60 media people in a room with some cameras."

Since then - with the inaugural show co-hosted by Taylor Swift and LL Cool J, who reprise those roles on Wednesday - the "Grammy Nominations Concert Live!!" has been an annual primetime event. Now in its fifth year, it's seeing its biggest changes. The Nashville move marks the first time the show has been held outside of Los Angeles, and Bridgestone Arena is its largest venue to date.

Portnow said a number of factors made this year's move possible, including a "landmark" 10-year agreement the Grammys struck with CBS last year, which also ensured the continued annual broadcast of the nominations concert.

"It gives us the liberty and frankly, the incentive to think about what's next for this project," he said.

What was next was Nashville - and among those helping Portnow and company reach that conclusion was a multi-pronged effort by Mayor Karl Dean, the Music City Music Council, the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau and others.

"It was just serendipitous that we could find the right place, the right time, the right circumstances," Portnow said. "And to the city's credit, they stepped up and helped us with any economic and business issues that would be a concern, which it would be for us, any time that we're outside of Los Angeles. There are additional elements, costs and processes that we have to handle, and we don't get paid differently by the network whether we're in L.A. or whether we're in Timbuktu. The city did a great job of making sure that we were whole and comfortable and taken care of."

Wednesday's event marks the closest thing to a Nashville-hosted Grammy Awards since 1973 - when Music City hosted the awards for the first and only time. Just like Wednesday's show sees rappers, rockers and country singers sharing the stage at Bridgestone, the Nashville Grammys brought together the likes of Johnny Cash and Aretha Franklin, Ringo Starr and Curtis Mayfield at the former Tennessee Theatre on Church Street.

Ehrlich said Wednesday's show will make a nod to its return to Nashville, airing a clip from the 1973 Grammys in which Cash sings a Grammy-themed spoof of "Rock Island Line." The late Cash will be a part of Wednesday's show, too, as Nashville-based country stars Dierks Bentley and The Band Perry will team up for a tribute to the "Man in Black."

Bentley remembered being impressed by last year's nominations special, and said he was "thrilled" to be invited to perform on Wednesday. While city officials believe the show is a big win for Nashville's image, Bentley thinks the national TV audience is the real winner.

"It might sound biased, but I think it's a wonderful opportunity for the rest of the country to see what Nashville's all about," he said. "In my mind, I don't know anybody that's like, 'Finally, they get to see what's going on here.' We know what's going on. We know we have the best musicians and the best songwriters. I think it's smart for the Grammys to come here and be a part of that."

In February, Nashville's nominated artists will once again do the traveling, as the Grammys are once again staged at Los Angeles' Staples Center - marking 40 years since its stint in Music City. But the main event's return to Nashville - or moving to another music hub - is still on the table, according to Portnow.

"Every year is more or less a fresh canvas to paint on," he said. "We have complete discretion and options to be wherever we want, and to do whatever we think makes sense. So the simple answer is, it's certainly possible. And that's something that we certainly would be looking at in the coming years, as we would for other major music cities."

Contact Dave Paulson at dnpaulson@tennessean.com or by calling 615-664-2278.

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