Archive for April, 2010

LIVE BLOGGING THE ACMA’S

April 18, 2010

Here’s something I’ve never tried… a live blog! Let’s try it… and there’s no better day to do it than here behind the scenes at the Academy of Country Music Awards!

11:00 – Right now the Production Office is pretty calm and quiet. They’re in the midst of the final dress rehearsal for the show. It’s an interesting mix of the real acts (Laura Bell Bundy drew a crowd to the TV’s here in the office to watch her high energy dance number) and stand-ins standing beside the mikes and pretending to play invisible instruments.

The real action is outside the building, where fans have already taken their place behind a small fence at the Orange Carpet (orange thanks to sponsor Home Depot) and talent escorts are getting their final instructions. There’s also an interesting sight at the stage entrance, where wheeled platforms with the drum kits and instruments for each band on the show sit waiting.

11:30 – Taylor Swift just rehearsed what should be a pretty cool moment on the show. I’m proud to say I added something to her performance in a small way by gathering the photos that will be seen on the screens behind her. Lady Antebellum are onstage now, running through “American Honey.”

12:00 – Miranda Lambert onstage with more photos I gathered on the screens behind her.

12:01 – I highly recommend Whitney’s hilarious blogs about the ACMA rehearsals from the past few days at ew.com.

12:30 – Brad Paisley is rehearsing his new ode to summertime, “Water.” Originally Brad wanted to be in a tank of H2O onstage, but the heaviness of water made the producers rule out the idea. Of course, Brad’s guitar solo is all the magic you need.

12:40 – Off to a Jennifer Hudson rehearsal for the Brooks & Dunn show.

2:00 – Back from the Jennifer Hudson rehearsal. When the background singers applaud, you know you have something special. Of course, then Jennifer and her entourage walked outside the rehearsal room and hundreds of country fans walked right by them without a look.

3:00 – Back from lunch. Not much happening on the red carpet just yet. Time to change for the Awards!

3:20 – Just scored a ticket to the All Star Jam, the incredible party that follows the ACMA’s. Star after star comes over to the Marquee Ballroom across from the Arena to jam with an all star band. Last year, I made the foolish mistake of going to dinner after the show and missed Kenny Chesney, but did see John Rich, Randy Houser and best of all, Carrie Underwood after she won Entertainer of the Year.

4:20 – The crowds leading into the arena are huge! Fortunately I had a pass that helped me push through the crowds! Off to my seat! Have fun watching the Awards! I know I will…

9:15 – Turned out I had a terrible seat, but was able to move and sit next to my friend, Dick Clark Productions’ ace archivist Jeff James. The show was full of highlights. I especially liked Brooks & Dunn, Keith Urban and Laura Bell Bundy. Now I’m off to the All Star Jam! Goodnight internet!

REHEARSAL DAY FOR “THE LAST RODEO”

April 18, 2010

So for the past two days, I’ve been hanging out in the MGM Grand Garden’s Studio 2, watching the cream of country music rehearse for “ACM Presents Brooks & Dunn: The Last Rodeo.” There’s nothing like being in a small room and hearing great singers like Faith Hill and Rascal Flatt’s Gary LeVox wailing away just a few steps away from where you’re seated. And while I can’t reveal who’s performing what Brooks & Dunn song on the show, I will say that I was walking around singing some of B&D’s lesser known hits after hearing them done in powerhouse rehearsal performances.

Of course, I got some face time with the stars. Kenny Chesney was first on the schedule, and while Kenny joked he was suffering from a wild night, he still sounded great and was nice enough to sign a CD cover from his live album for me. I got a laugh from him when I said that while I hoped he would finally get that vacation he keeps announcing he’s going to take, I was glad he was making a new album first. Tim McGraw and Faith Hill came in together and you can tell they’re still romantic with each other, kissing a few times during their rehearsal. I got a chance to tell Faith how much I love her song “Paris” off her “Fireflies” album, even though I’ve never quite understood what it’s about. She thanked me and said she didn’t understand it either!

While most of the acts are backed up by Brooks & Dunn’s touring band, a few of the performers were playing in a more stripped down way. Sugarland for instance have a very dramatic performance planned. Their take on a Brooks & Dunn classic reminded me a bit of Bruce Springsteen, with some beautiful piano and harmonica playing. They’re doing one of my favorite B&D songs, and I also got to hear the original version by Kix and Ronnie, as they rehearsed a few of their classics on the main stage. For the ACMA’s, the fans are voting on which song Brooks & Dunn will do in their final ACMA performance together, so they have to be ready with a few of them. And yes, while they know all their own songs, they still have to rehearse so the director and cameramen know how to shoot each performance.

As always, the sheer niceness of the country artists was on display. Brad Paisley clapped me on the back as he walked by, and when Taylor Swift came in for the last rehearsal of the day, she started off by giving a hug to everyone in the band and just about everyone else standing around the room. And of course, it’s always fun watching great singers work on a song. Every artist took just two tries to get things exactly the way they wanted it. And you’ll see what that is when “The Last Rodeo” hits the air in May.

Tomorrow, it’s the ACMA’s!

EATING MY WAY THROUGH THE ACMA’S

April 15, 2010

This post is being written in Studio 9 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena, home to the Production Office for this year’s Academy of Country Music Awards as well as “ACM Presents Brooks & Dunn: The Last Rodeo.” I just rocked along to Jason Aldean rehearsing my favorite Brooks & Dunn song inside the arena. I won’t say what it is, because one of the ideas behind “The Last Rodeo” is that Brooks & Dunn themselves won’t know going in which song each act is performing. So I can’t say who’s doing what song just in case Kix and Ronnie are reading this (delusions of grandeur anyone?)…

But what I really wanted to talk about is the array of food available when you’re working on the ACMA’s. First of all, each of the staff gets passes to eat meals at the MGM Grand employee cafeteria, which is buffet style with lots of choices. Then as the show gets closer, Chipolte opens up an on-site restaurant. But the real danger to your diet is in one of the production offices, where the craft service table lies in wait. In the morning, there’s Krispy Kreme donuts and various boxes of cereal to choose from (I’ve been starting the day with a bowl of Apple Jacks…). Then throughout the day, you have your choice of candy, packages of cookies, fruit, Cheetos,  Fritos, ramen soup and water and soda. Then at 5:00, they’ve started a tradition of bringing in some kind of snack. One day we had mini-milk shakes, another Chicken McNuggets. But the worst thing was when I had just polished off a package of Soft Batch cookies when one of the staff walked around the office with a plate of cookies her mother baked. Well, you can’t say no to that, can you?

Maybe my next show should be “The Biggest Loser”… as a contestant!

ON THE ROAD TO “THE LAST RODEO”

April 12, 2010

So I’ve spent the past three weeks working once again at Dick Clark Productions as a researcher on “ACM Presents Brooks & Dunn: The Last Rodeo.” This is a show in the mold of last year’s “Artist Of The Decade” tribute concert to George Strait, where the biggest stars in country music perform the songs of the honoree. This time out, producer RAC Clark has rounded up another great slate of artists to salute the career of Brooks & Dunn, including Carrie Underwood, Darius Rucker, Faith Hill, George Strait, Jason Aldean, Jennifer Hudson, Keith Urban, Kenny Chesney, Lady Antebellum, Miranda Lambert, Rascal Flatts, Sugarland, Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw and Reba McEntire. Many of the performers will also appear on the Academy of Country Music Awards, which will air live on CBS on April 18th. The Brooks & Dunn special will tape the following night and will be aired May 23rd. Because the George Strait show did so well in the ratings last year, CBS is placing “The Last Rodeo” in sweeps against tougher competition, the finale of “Lost.”

My main job on the show has been convincing the performers’ publicists to set up short phone interviews so I could talk to the artists about their memories of Brooks & Dunn and how they feel about the contribution the much awarded duo has made to country music. The show’s writer, Fred Bronson, would then take what I found out and use it to craft what each singer would say about Brooks & Dunn before performing. Naturally, while I talked to a few of the artists in the week leading up to when the script was due, I think due to the previous week being Easter week, quite a few of the performers came through with interviews on deadline day, making it a challenge for Fred to finish the script in time. He did though, and we got some great stories about the real Brooks & Dunn behind the scenes, who in addition to being great singers and songwriters are fun-loving guys who love to play practical jokes and are always helpful to new artists on their way up.

This year, I also agreed to help find the photos that will go in the background screens during various performances on the Academy of Country Music Awards. I’ve been tracking down photos of some illustrious country music couples as well as some country music legends, and while I won’t say exactly which performances they’re for, I will say that they should help create some strong emotional moments for the audience.

One thing you might not know about television is that every image used has to be “cleared.” That is, if you don’t own a photo or footage you want to use, you have to get permission from the owner and sometimes even pay a fee for usage. This can be a huge headache for the clearance department when there’s a lot to get cleared in a short time. I think this year it was easier for me to set up interviews with big stars like Tim McGraw than it was finding a useable photo of Johnny and June Carter Cash. Fortunately many of the photos I needed were of artists from Sony Music. Rather than approach the artists’ managers one by one, I took a chance that I could get all the photos I needed from the art department at Sony. They really came through for me, delivering everything I needed from them. I finished the photo side of the job on Friday when within five minutes of each other, both the Country Music Hall of Fame and the Hank Williams Museum sent me photos of Hank Williams. You probably could hear my sigh of relief wherever you were!

Tomorrow I depart for Las Vegas, where I will be based in the production office at the MGM Grand for the coming week. Hopefully all the work I completed prior to going will enable me to kick back and enjoy the rehearsals, meet the stars and get a few CD covers signed. I should also have some time to blog about what’s going on behind the scenes during the run-up to the Awards and “The Last Rodeo,” so check back during the week.