From Small Stages To The GRAMMY Stage: How Four Venue Professionals Became Presenters At The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show

The Apollo Theater

Photo: Roy Rochlin/Getty Images


From Small Stages To The GRAMMY Stage: How Four Venue Professionals Became Presenters At The 2021 GRAMMY Awards Show

Operators and staff at the Station Inn, the Troubadour, the Apollo Theater and Hotel Café appeared during the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show to petition viewers for help—and promise an epic party for them if they do

GRAMMYs/Mar 24, 2021 - 07:43 pm

The Recording Academy reimagined everything about the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show on a more intimate scale, and the choice of presenters was no different. When it came time to announce the Best Country Album winner, the person who appeared on screen wasn't a slick Nashville superstar, but a soft-spoken, older man who's unrecognizable to a global audience but beloved in the Music City. His name was J.T. Gray, and he grinned ear-to-ear on national TV.

In a segment recorded a month prior, Gray showed the camera crew around the Station Inn, the 145-person-capacity bluegrass venue he'd owned since 1981. Despite the room receiving almost no income for a year due to the live music industry shutdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, Gray was rosy about the future. "Getting to reopen the Station Inn, that's going to be a celebration like never before," he promised. "It's going to be a big party." He then announced the winner, Miranda Lambert, to the world. Gray was naturally quiet and reserved, a closed book. Not after that shoot, though.

"He was just beside himself the whole time," Jeff Brown, the Station Inn's marketing director, tells "He just never believed it was happening. He just didn't believe that his little venue was being recognized on that kind of scale, that those many people in a place with the GRAMMYs and the Recording Academy's recognition actually paid attention. He just couldn't believe it." On Sunday, March 14, Gray astonishedly watched himself on CBS. The following Saturday, he passed away after a struggle with compounding health problems.

Gray might not get to attend the "big party" when things open up. But 9 million people heard his message.

For a year, venues worldwide have been hanging on by a thread: struggling to pay their rent, waiting in vain for federal aid, and given no clear finish line as to when they can reopen. That's why, with the Recording Academy's blessing, Executive Producer Ben Winston asked Gray, as well as representatives from the Troubadour and Hotel Café in Los Angeles and the Apollo Theater in New York City, to present at the 63rd GRAMMY Awards and talk about their economic struggles during the pandemic. Together, they sounded a shared refrain to the world: We matter to our communities, and we need help.

The venues that spoke their piece during the 63rd GRAMMY Awards were members of the National Independent Venue Association (NIVA). An assemblage of independent venue owners and promoters from around the country, NIVA formed directly in response to the 2020 lockdown. "We figured we'd better find a way to come together and lobby for federal assistance," Audrey Schaefer, a board member and the Communications Director for NIVA, tells "Because otherwise, we're all going under."

The Steel Wheels at Station Inn in 2015. Photo: Erika Goldring/Getty Images for Americana Music via Getty Images

Last year, NIVA, along with the Recording Academy and other music organizations, lobbied Congress via the Save Our Stages Act and succeeded. On Dec. 27, the decree became the Shuttered Venue Operators Grant and passed along with the COVID relief package. "In that grant fund is $16 billion," Schaefer says. "For an organization that didn't exist before … nobody gave us any hopes of being able to secure that kind of funding. But we did. We got the law passed."

However, venues have not yet seen that money. "We understand that the applications will start at the beginning of April," she adds with relief in her voice.

In the meantime, Scheafer mulled over how best to convey to the world the existential crises venues face. "I was thinking that the GRAMMYs couldn't possibly be at the Beverly Hilton like it normally is—in a big ballroom—because we can't be together," she says. "I thought, 'What if the GRAMMYs were to have the award show, and instead of having all the performances under one roof, they were to have them in independent venues?'"

To try and give this idea legs, Schaefer reached out to Daryl Friedman, Chief Advocacy Officer of the Recording Academy's Advocacy division. "He said, 'Listen, Audrey, I think that's a great idea, but they have a million great ideas. So, let me take it to them and we'll see what happens,'" she recalls. Schaefer persistently followed up. "I kept asking Daryl, 'What do you think? What are you hearing?'"

But unbeknown to her, the Recording Academy and the production team were already independently planning to highlight independent venues and their employees as an advocacy initiative and add a personal moment to the broadcast. "And then I found out that, oh my gosh, they do want to do it," she adds with awe.

Billie Eilish at the Troubadour in 2019. Photo: Neilson Barnard/Getty Images for SiriusXM

Granted, the Recording Academy didn't agree to host performances at independent venues. But Schaefer calls the idea they decided to go with "so much better." Instead, venue professionals would take viewers on a tour of their workplaces, illustrating their value to their communities and why they desperately need help. Participants included the Station Inn's Gray; Rachelle Erratchu, the night manager at the Troubadour; Billy Mitchell, the tour guide and overall house cat at the Apollo Theater in Harlem; and Candice Fox, a bartender at the Hotel Café in Hollywood.

For Erratchu, the problem extends further than keeping the lights on at the Troubadour; the entire live music ecosystem is in trouble. "We need everybody else to survive so that we can survive," she tells "If we don't exist and all the other venues across the country don't exist, the tour circuit as we know it and have relied on it for decades won't exist anymore."

For Billy Mitchell, the Historical Tour Manager and overall global representative of the Apollo Theater who has earned the title of "Mr. Apollo," his job isn't a means to an end; he lives and breathes it. Mitchell's time at the Apollo began in 1965 when he ran errands for James Brown and his band. During the telecast, Mitchell relates a funny story of how the Godfather of Soul sent him all the way home to the Bronx to get his report card, threatening to put his job on ice if he didn't get better grades.

COVID forced the Apollo to temporarily furlough some its staff. To be forced to stop, it was heartbreaking, to be honest with you," Mitchell tells "I give tours to people from all over the world, and they're unable to visit because of COVID restrictions and things like that." While the not-for-profit has offered digital programming in the meantime, most of it has been free as not to burden fans. Thankfully, at press time, all staff members have returned full-time.

Billy Mitchell at the Apollo Theater in 2009. Photo: Jemal Countess/WireImage via Getty Images​

The Apollo has been lucky, in a sense; corporate and private donations have kept it afloat. Still, they're not out of the woods yet. "Donations are needed so that when we do reopen, we can pump out those great shows and bring back our staff," Mitchell says. "We want to bring back our staff as soon as possible." 

In the clip played during the 2021 GRAMMY Awards show, Mitchell addressed viewers from the empty audience. "We miss our audience and we can't wait until our doors open up again," he says. "We just can't wait."

Candice Fox, a bartender at Hollywood's Hotel Café, believes there will be an outpouring of activity at her workplace once it's safe again. "I like to believe people are going to want to make up for lost time," she tells "I know that people are itching to perform. People are so excited to experience that exchange of energy again. So, I think it's going to explode."

In line with Erratchu's thoughts on the overall music ecosystem, Fox notes that Katy Perry cut her teeth at the 65-capacity room on Cahuenga Boulevard. "She wasn't the big pop star she is now; she was just a girl with a guitar," she says. "So many artists' careers and the GRAMMYs couldn't exist without small, independent venues like the Hotel Café because you've got to start somewhere." In her clip, Fox ruminates on the regulars she's missed for a year, pouring a Boddingtons and mixing an Old Fashioned to an array of empty stools.

Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds at Hotel Café in 2015. Photo: Christopher Polk/Getty Images​   

At the end of every venue vignette, each venue representative announced the winner of their assigned categories: Best Country Album for Gray (Miranda Lambert's Wildcard), Best Pop Solo Performance for Erratchu (Harry Styles' "Watermelon Sugar"), Best Rap Song for Billy Mitchell (Beyoncé's and Megan Thee Stallion's "Savage Remix") and Album Of The Year for Fox (Taylor Swift's folklore). All four were thrilled to appear and encourage viewers to support their workplaces—whether by donating directly, paying for a livestream or purchasing a T-shirt. 

That way, the lights at the Station Inn, the Troubadour, the Apollo and Hotel Café can flare up again, ensuring these cultural hubs don't become figments of the past. And if you want to know how memorable the inevitable "COVID is over" parties will be, just look at Gray's blazing smile during the GRAMMYs.

"I can probably count a very [small] number of times that I've seen him truly smile," the Station Inn's Brown reflects. "But truly smiling—that's what he was doing here."

Click here to support the Station Inn.

Click here to support the Troubadour.

Click here to support the Apollo Theater.

Click here to support Hotel Café.

Click here to support NIVA.

Capturing Los Angeles' COVID-Closed Venues


GRAMMY SoundChecks With Gavin DeGraw

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 05:06 am

On Aug. 28 Nashville Chapter GRAMMY U members took part in GRAMMY SoundChecks with Gavin DeGraw. Approximately 30 students gathered at music venue City Hall and watched DeGraw play through some of the singles from earlier in his career along with "Cheated On Me" from his latest self-titled album.

In between songs, DeGraw conducted a question-and-answer session and inquired about the talents and goals of the students in attendance. He gave inside tips to the musicians present on how to make it in the industry and made sure that every question was answered before moving onto the next song.


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year


Juan Gabriel named 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person Of The Year

Annual star-studded gala slated for Nov. 4 in Las Vegas during 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Week celebration

GRAMMYs/May 15, 2017 - 01:36 pm

 Internationally renowned singer/songwriter/performer Juan Gabriel will be celebrated as the 2009 Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year, it was announced today by The Latin Recording Academy. Juan Gabriel, chosen for his professional accomplishments as well as his commitment to philanthropic efforts, will be recognized at a star-studded concert and black tie dinner on Nov. 4 at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nev. 

The "Celebration with Juan Gabriel" gala will be one of the most prestigious events held during Latin GRAMMY week, a celebration that culminates with the 10th Annual Latin GRAMMY Awards ceremony. The milestone telecast will be held at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas on Nov. 5 and will be broadcast live on the Univision Television Network at 8 p.m. Eastern/7 p.m. Central. 

"As we celebrate this momentous decade of the Latin GRAMMYs, The Latin Recording Academy and its Board of Trustees take great pride in recognizing Juan Gabriel as an extraordinary entertainer who never has forgotten his roots, while at the same time having a global impact," said Latin Recording Academy President Gabriel Abaroa. "His influence on the music and culture of our era has been tremendous, and we welcome this opportunity to pay a fitting tribute to a voice that strongly resonates within our community.

Over the course of his 30-year career, Juan Gabriel has sold more than 100 million albums and has performed to sold-out audiences throughout the world. He has produced more than 100 albums for more than 50 artists including Paul Anka, Lola Beltran, Rocío Dúrcal, and Lucha Villa among many others. Additionally, Juan Gabriel has written more than 1,500 songs, which have been covered by such artists as Marc Anthony, Raúl Di Blasio, Ana Gabriel, Angelica María, Lucia Mendez, Estela Nuñez, and Son Del Son. In 1986, Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley declared Oct. 5 "The Day of Juan Gabriel." The '90s saw his induction into Billboard's Latin Music Hall of Fame and he joined La Opinion's Tributo Nacional Lifetime Achievement Award recipients list. 

At the age of 13, Juan Gabriel was already writing his own songs and in 1971 recorded his first hit, "No Tengo Dinero," which landed him a recording contract with RCA. Over the next 14 years, he established himself as Mexico's leading singer/songwriter, composing in diverse styles such as rancheras, ballads, pop, disco, and mariachi, which resulted in an incredible list of hits ("Hasta Que Te Conocí," "Siempre En Mi Mente," "Querida," "Inocente Pobre Amigo," "Abrázame Muy Fuerte," "Amor Eterno," "El Noa Noa," and "Insensible") not only for himself  but for many leading Latin artists. In 1990, Juan Gabriel became the only non-classical singer/songwriter to perform at the Palacio de Bellas Artes in Mexico City and the album release of that concert, Juan Gabriel En Vivo Desde El Palacio De Bellas Artes, broke sales records and established his iconic status. 

After a hiatus from recording, Juan Gabriel released such albums as Gracias Por Esperar, Juntos Otra Vez, Abrázame Muy Fuerte, Los Gabriel…Para Ti, Juan Gabriel Con La Banda…El Recodo, and El Mexico Que Se Nos Fue, which were all certified gold and/or platinum by the RIAA. In 1996, to commemorate his 25th anniversary in the music industry, BMG released a retrospective set of CDs entitled 25 Aniversario, Solos, Duetos, y Versiones Especiales, comprised appropriately of 25 discs.   

In addition to his numerous accolades and career successes, Juan Gabriel has been a compassionate and generous philanthropist. He has donated all proceeds from approximately 10 performances a year to his favorite children's foster homes, and proceeds from fan photo-ops go to support Mexican orphans. In 1987, he founded Semjase, an orphanage for approximately 120 children, which also serves as a music school with music, recreation and video game rooms. Today, he continues to personally fund the school he opened more than 22 years ago.   

Juan Gabriel will have the distinction of becoming the 10th Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year honoree, and joins a list of artists such as Gloria Estefan, Gilberto Gil, Juan Luis Guerra, Julio Iglesias, Ricky Martin, and Carlos Santana among others who have been recognized. 

For information on purchasing tickets or tables to The Latin Recording Academy Person of the Year tribute to Juan Gabriel, please contact The Latin Recording Academy ticketing office at 310.314.8281 or

Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013
Grizzled Mighty perform at Bumbershoot on Sept. 1

Photo: The Recording Academy


Set List Bonus: Bumbershoot 2013

GRAMMYs/Dec 3, 2014 - 04:22 am

Welcome to The Set List. Here you'll find the latest concert recaps for many of your favorite, or maybe not so favorite, artists. Our bloggers will do their best to provide you with every detail of the show, from which songs were on the set list to what the artist was wearing to which out-of-control fan made a scene. Hey, it'll be like you were there. And if you like what you read, we'll even let you know where you can catch the artist on tour. Feel free to drop us a comment and let us know your concert experience. Oh, and rock on.

By Alexa Zaske

This past Labor Day weekend meant one thing for many folks in Seattle: Bumbershoot, a three-decade-old music and arts event that consumed the area surrounding the Space Needle from Aug. 31–Sept. 2. Amid attendees wandering around dressed as zombies and participating in festival-planned flash mobs to Michael Jackson's "Thriller," this year the focus was on music from the Pacific Northwest region — from the soulful sounds of Allen Stone and legendary female rockers Heart, to the highly-awaited return of Death Cab For Cutie performing their 2003 hit album Transatlanticism in its entirety.

The festival started off on day one with performances by synth-pop group the Flavr Blue, hip-hop artist Grynch, rapper Nacho Picasso, psychedelic pop group Beat Connection, lively rapper/writer George Watsky, hip-hop group the Physics, and (my personal favorite), punk/dance band !!! (Chk Chk Chk). Also performing on day one was Seattle folk singer/songwriter Kris Orlowski, who was accompanied by the Passenger String Quartet. As always, Orlowski's songs were catchy and endearing yet brilliant and honest.

Day one came to a scorching finale with a full set from GRAMMY-nominated rock group Heart. Kicking off with their Top 20 hit "Barracuda," the set spanned three decades of songs, including "Heartless," "Magic Man" and "What About Love?" It became a gathering of Seattle rock greats when, during Heart's final song, Pearl Jam guitarist Mike McCready joined for 1976's "Crazy On You."

Day two got off to an early start with performances from eccentric Seattle group Kithkin and Seattle ladies Mary Lambert and Shelby Earl, who were accompanied by the band Le Wrens. My highlight of the day was the Grizzled Mighty — a duo with a bigger sound than most family sized bands. Drummer Whitney Petty, whose stage presence and skills make for an exciting performance, was balanced out by the easy listening of guitarist and lead singer Ryan Granger.

Then the long-awaited moment finally fell upon Seattle when, after wrapping a long-awaited tour with the Postal Service, singer/songwriter Ben Gibbard returned to Seattle to represent another great success of the Pacific Northwest — Death Cab For Cutie. The band celebrated the 10-year anniversary of their album Transatlanticism by performing it from front to back. While a majority of attendees opted to watch the set from an air-conditioned arena, some of us recognized the uniqueness of this experience and enjoyed the entire set lying in the grass where the entire performance was streamed. 

Monday was the day for soul and folk. Local blues/R&B group Hot Bodies In Motion have been making their way through the Seattle scene with songs such as "Old Habits," "That Darkness" and "The Pulse." Their set was lively and enticing to people who have seen them multiple times or never at all.

My other highlights of the festival included the Maldives, who delivered a fun performance with the perfect amount of satirical humor and folk. They represent the increasing number of Pacific Northwest bands who consist of many members playing different sounds while still managing to stay cohesive and simple. I embraced the return of folk/pop duo Ivan & Alyosha with open arms and later closed my festival experience with local favorite Stone.

For music fans in Seattle and beyond, the annual Bumbershoot festival is a must-attend.

(Alexa Zaske is the Chapter Assistant for The Recording Academy Pacific Northwest Chapter. She's a music enthusiast and obsessed with the local Seattle scene.)

Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam

Photo: Michael Kovac/Getty Images


Neil Portnow Addresses Diversity & Inclusion, Looks Ahead During Speech At 2019 GRAMMYs

Jimmy Jam helps celebrate the outgoing President/CEO of the Recording Academy on the 61st GRAMMY Awards

GRAMMYs/Feb 11, 2019 - 10:58 am

As Neil Portnow's tenure as Recording Academy President/CEO draws to its end, five-time GRAMMY winner Jimmy Jam paid tribute to his friend and walked us through a brief overview of some of the Academy's major recent achievements, including the invaluable work of MusiCares, the GRAMMY Museum, Advocacy and more.

Portnow delivered a brief speech, acknowledging the need to continue to focus on issues of diversity and inclusion in the music industry. He also seized the golden opportunity to say the words he's always wanted to say on the GRAMMY stage, saying, "I'd like to thank the Academy," showing his gratitude and respect for the staff, elected leaders and music community he's worked with during his career at the Recording Academy. "We can be so proud of what we’ve all accomplished together," Portnow added.

"As I finish out my term leading this great organization, my heart and soul are filled with gratitude, pride, for the opportunity and unequal experience," he continued. "Please know that my commitment to all the good that we do will carry on as we turn the page on the next chapter of the storied history of this phenomenal institution."

Full Winners List: 61st GRAMMY Awards