The Grammy Foundation’s Music Preservation Project holds a “One Night Only” event each year to promote music education and make sure the music never stops for the people of the world. Their annual event marks the official kick-off of Grammy weekend in Los Angeles and brings together a wide assortment of musicians from every genre.
This year, the Foundation’s decision to take a Reader’s Digest approach to the night only seemed to work about half of the time. True music lovers know that music serves not just as a means of enjoyment but also as a medium for bringing people together. From coffee houses to big arenas throughout the ages, music has been a driving force in communicating with the people of the world.
That said, poorly planned music can also quickly cut communication and flow remained a constant problem throughout this event, as there were extended delays between performances and speeches. They say dead air can ruin a radio show, it does twice as much damage live. Still, once the performances did start up they were truly mesmerizing.
Each set was meant to symbolize a different location in the evolution of live music. Naturally, the show began with the birth of jazz. As the lights came up, Trombone Shorty and Dave Koz, two of the biggest and best names in modern day jazz took the stage.
You have to realize Trombone Shorty is one of the few musicians on the planet that has the power to turn anything he’s involved with into magic. Allowing Shorty and Koz free reign on Louis Armstrong’s “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was a masterful stroke. Shorty has the voice and the talent to take the song to a new level and with Koz by his side they quickly got the whole audience involved.
At one point, Shorty got on the trumpet and let out a wail that must have lasted nearly five minutes. He gave that horn his every last breath and there wasn’t a single person in the audience that wasn’t blown away.
The Grammy Foundation might be in charge of the biggest names in the industry, but they need to remember the rules to making a good mix tape. The energy in the room was through the roof after Koz and Shorty took the stage that the decision to bring in the slow and tepid A Fine Frenzy to cover “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” was badly timed. You never slow things down that early in a show, it throws the mood off and sends everyone into a daze. A quick glance at the audience showed most of them checking their cell phones during the song. It’s not that A Fine Frenzy put on a bad performance but slowing the pace down that early in the show was jarring for everyone involved.
Thankfully the mood picked up again fast the moment legendary singer Mavis Staples took the stage. Although tiny Staples, once part of the 70s soul troupe The Staple Singers, has the kind of voice that is steeped in raw passion. Now that Koko Taylor is gone, it’s not unfair to call her the new reigning Queen of Soul. She might be getting a little old, but if anything, that has only helped increase the impact of her music.
Starting out slow, the tempo quickly picked up when she started her second song- her classic “I’ll Take You There.” The chance to hear her sing the song live is something that should be heard by everyone but what happened next can only be described as epic.
Just as Staples started the second verse of the song Shorty came on stage quickly followed by Koz. The combination is the modern day equivalent of Louis Armstrong, John Coltrane and Ella Fitzgerald all sharing the same stage. With each note the energy in the room grew and just when you thought it couldn’t get any better, Grammy nominated singer Ledisi walked on stage and began a duet with Staples bringing the song to an intense climax that had everyone on their feet dancing.
While the event was meant to be a celebration of watching live performances, there seemed to be a very gentrified quality in the audience. Co-host Sharon Osborne noticed it and, very bluntly, told the audience to “get on your feet and stop looking like you’re at a [expletive] bus stop.” That helped loosen everyone up a little but it was too little too late.
The second half of the night paid tribute to the legends of classic rock and those that worked in much larger arenas. Bringing in blues prodigy Jonny Lang was an interesting choice on the part of the Foundation. On the one hand, he can play blues guitar like no one else in the world. On the other, he’s remained relatively under the radar the last decade or so. Still, having him cover Bob Dylan’s “Like A Rolling Stone” was genius and he gave the song the power it deserved.
As the night drew to a close, there was still one more surprise yet to come. Many had seen him walk the red carpet and now it was his time to shine. Poison’s Bret Michaels played what was the equivalent of an encore for the event. He may have only sung three songs but he made them count. “I’ve been doing this 25 years and I think this is the closest I’m ever going to get to a Grammy. I told them if I see one lying around anywhere I’m just going to take it,” he joked with the audience. Something about Michaels’ performance got everyone where they should have been an hour before, on their feet dancing. Not wasting a minute he dove right into “Nothing But A Good Time” then a beautiful, harmonica-driven cover of “Your Mama Don’t Dance.” Saving the best for last he bid farewell to the audience with Poison’s classic “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” which, hearing it live, instantly takes you back to the late 80s.
That’s what the whole night was about after all, music’s ability to transport us to another time and place. The formatting may not have suited the material but the end result was achieved with style. Like the last song on a mix-tape “Every Rose Has Its Thorn” finished off the night by making you feel good and more than a little sad that it was coming to an end.