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Burger with Relish: What I learned at the Grammys

Published February 15, 2012 3:56 pm

Music • Tribune critic David Burger reflects on spending a week covering the awards.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

It has been nearly a week since I attended the Grammy Awards for the first time, but I am still thinking about becoming a vegetarian.

That's because although much of the attention during the 54th annual awards ceremony at Los Angeles' Staples Center was devoted to honoring Whitney Houston, who died Saturday, the real honoree of the weekend was Sir Paul McCartney.

The famous vegetarian, besides performing twice during the televised show, was feted Friday, Feb. 10, at a gala inside a ballroom at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It was a fundraiser for MusiCares, a nonprofit charity run by the Grammy Foundation that helps musicians in need. For reasons only God knows, I was able to attend the gala celebrating The Cute One. And after a vegetarian meal — specially made for McCartney and his guests — that included a puff pastry stuffed with a portobello mushroom served on a bed of lentils, I could entertain the idea of becoming a vegetarian. That is, if only every vegetarian meal was that good, and not a Hot Pocket stuffed with broccoli and processed cheese sauce.

Frankly, though, the music at the gala rivaled the candied apple for dessert. An impressive lineup of music luminaries performed for McCartney and his guests, including Foo Fighters (performing "Jet"), Alicia Keys ("Blackbird"), Alison Krauss and Union Station ("No More Lonely Nights"), Tony Bennett ("Here, There and Everywhere"), Duane Eddy ("And I Love Her"), Norah Jones ("Oh! Darling"), Katy Perry ("Hey Jude" with the intro to "Live and Let Die"), Neil Young and Crazy Horse ("I Saw Her Standing There"), Sergio Mendes ("Fool On the Hill"), Coldplay ("We Can Work It Out"), James Taylor ("Yesterday") and Diana Krall ("For No One"). Best of all, McCartney opened and closed the show, kicking off with "Magical Mystery Tour" and "Junior's Farm" and closing with "My Valentine," "I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter" and the "Abbey Road" numbers he unleashed for the Grammy Awards ceremony: "Golden Slumbers," "Carry That Weight" and "The End."

Being at the MusiCares benefit more than made up for being at Staples Center for the Grammy Awards, but not actually being at the Grammy Awards. All of the media were housed in a media center adjacent to the auditorium, and we all watched the ceremony on TV, just like people at home. But I'm not complaining, because instead of kids bothering you during the show at home, every once in a while inside the media center a star such as Adele or The Beach Boys comes by to answer questions.

Questions dominated my life for the entirety of Grammy Week, which included many more events than just the awards on Sunday night. All week, I was trying to come up with the most insightful, probing, interesting questions to ask on the red carpet during all of the events, but in the end, you're left uttering banal queries such as "How does it feel to be at such-and-such?" Even if I had come up with great questions, by the time Sunday came along, most of the questions were reduced to asking people their reactions to Houston's death.

The McCartney gala and Grammy Awards were the most frenzied of the red carpets, so less high-profile events during Grammy Week provided the best experiences. One of those was the Special Merit Awards ceremony the Saturday before the Grammy ceremony, where Diana Ross, Glen Campbell, The Memphis Horns, George Jones and the Allman Brothers Band were given Lifetime Achievement Awards. I was able to talk to Campbell, Jones and more than a half-dozen members of the Allman Brothers. Meeting celebrities in person is always different than talking to them on the phone, which is how I do about 90 percent of my interviews. On the phone, you don't immediately realize that the Allman Brothers are an interracial band, for example.

It's interesting to note the relative dearth of print newspapers at these events, compared with the proliferation of tabloid TV shows that became the bane of my existence on red carpets because the TV show hostesses have sharp elbows. And although most publicists with the Grammys are polite and professional, one time a publicist asked me if The Salt Lake Tribune was a radio show.

But the experience was worth it, if only to talk to people like Utah native Jenny Oaks Baker, nominated for Best Pop Instrumental for her "Wish Upon a Star" album. Although she lost to the legendary Booker T., just hearing her emotion and seeing her excitement at attending what's called music's biggest night refueled my passion for experiencing and writing about music. Music sustains, even as you come to the realization that you need protein, even if you're a vegetarian.

Maybe I will just do meatless Mondays.

dburger@sltrib.com

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