The annual GRAMMY Awards telecast is known as Music's Biggest Night, but, in the hours leading up to the telecast, music enjoys a pretty big day as well. This year, approximately 70 of the 78 GRAMMY categories will be announced at the Pre-Telecast Ceremony on Feb. 12, with the final categories showcased on the CBS telecast. While there's no denying the unique excitement that's part of every GRAMMY broadcast, the Pre-Telecast has come into its own as a major stand-alone event with a distinctive character, an expanding audience, GRAMMY-style live performances, and, of course, no commercial interruptions.
"There's been a real effort to up the overall production value of the day," says Bill Freimuth, The Recording Academy's Vice President of Awards. "We approach it as a great way to showcase the genres and subgenres of music that very often don't make it onto the telecast."
The Pre-Telecast typically draws a crowd of 3,500 nominees and guests at the Los Angeles Convention Center, immediately adjacent to the CBS telecast's home in Staples Center. Serving as co-hosts for this year's ceremony will be MC Lyte, hip-hop artist, entrepreneur and Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter President, and Dave Koz, current GRAMMY nominee and Board member for the GRAMMY Foundation and Recording Academy Los Angeles Chapter. Koz will also perform with musical director Larry Batiste's orchestra, with other scheduled performances including folk singer/songwriter Steve Earle, opera singer Joyce DiDonato, the Rebirth Brass Band, and a special Ladies of Gospel performance featuring Kim Burrell, Kelly Price, Le'Andria Johnson, and Trin-I-Tee 5:7. Artists confirmed to present awards include last year's Best New Artist Esperanza Spalding, Chick Corea, OK GO, Corinne Bailey Rae, and GRAMMY-winning producer and Recording Academy Chair Emeritus Jimmy Jam. Those not lucky enough to be a nominee (or a close friend of a nominee) can still see the event streamed live online via GRAMMY Live, beginning at 1 p.m. PST.
"We're actually developing a fan base for the Pre-Tel as a very interesting alternative to the telecast," says Freimuth. "The audience for the streaming has gone from 300,000 three years ago to over 750,000 last year. That actually surprised us a little bit, but I think for a lot of people the music that's being honored at the Pre-Tel is the music that they prefer."
Koz's GRAMMY nomination this year is the seventh of his career, and he's always made a point of attending the Pre-Telecast.
"The event has definitely evolved since I've been going to them," says Koz. "The Pre-Tel has this energy now that it didn't always have — live music, full stage, a roomful of top nominees and big name stars. The TV show is great, but because it's TV there's a much more rigid schedule to stick to. At the Pre-Tel there's a much more relaxed feeling. Not as many pyro explosions, but in some ways a lot more fun."
"Weird Al" Yankovic, a three-time GRAMMY winner who is up for Best Short Form Music Video and Best Comedy Album this year, also looks forward to the opportunity to attend the Pre-Telecast.
"The [CBS] telecast may be a bigger deal, but that means people have to behave themselves a little more," says Yankovic. "The Pre-Tel is more like hanging out with your friends. It's an extremely cool hang with an extremely cool, diverse group of people. It's always a fantastic day to share with my peers."
In recent years, high-profile artists have taken the Pre-Telecast stage. Country stars Carrie Underwood and Taylor Swift have accepted awards at the Pre-Telecast. And when legend Neil Young won the first performance GRAMMY of his career last year, he was there to accept his award on the Pre-Telecast stage. But the day also serves as a tremendous personal and professional validation for artists working outside of the big mainstream categories.
Dennis Scott is a two-time GRAMMY winner for his work on children's recordings. This year, he and his fellow members of a Beatles tribute band, the WannaBeatles, are nominated as producers in the Best Spoken Word Album (Includes Poetry, Audio Books & Story Telling) category for Fab Fan Memories — The Beatles Bond, a recording documenting Beatles history from the fans point of view. Scott and his bandmates will attend this year's Pre-Telecast with a special guest, George Harrison's sister Louise, who served as a "host" on their album. However, the first time Scott was at a Pre-Telecast, his guests were closer relations.
"I brought my parents with me the first time I was lucky enough to be nominated," recalls Scott. "When my name was announced as a winner, my mother screamed loud enough that I think I'm still having hearing issues. My parents had seen me in all the stages of my musical career, but I think it was at that GRAMMY Pre-Telecast that they finally got a sense of what their son does for a living. I think they soaked up every bit of everything that was going on in that room, saw their son end up with a GRAMMY Award, and thought, 'Yeah, this is good.'"
(Chuck Crisafulli is an L.A.-based journalist and author whose most recent works include Go To Hell: A Heated History Of The Underworld, Me And A Guy Named Elvis and Elvis: My Best Man.)
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