Archive for the ‘Country Music’ Category

BACKSTAGE AT ACM PRESENTS LIONEL RICHIE & FRIENDS IN CONCERT

April 13, 2012

NOTE: I’ve placed a list of the performers and their songs at the end of the article for those that are looking for that information!

Usually each year I write an article called “Backstage At The ACM’s,” but I didn’t this year because while I was backstage at the show, I didn’t really pay much attention to it. That’s because I was so entertained by the rehearsals for the show the Academy of Country Music and Dick Clark Productions were taping the following night.

Like most music fans, I’ve always liked the music of Lionel Richie, through his time with the Commodores and during his solo career. I even saw him in concert once in Philadelphia during his tour supporting “Dancing On The Ceiling.” I’ll always remember the bungee jumpers featured during “Dancing” as back then, seeing people bouncing around on huge rubber bands was something new.

But I wasn’t sure basing a show around Lionel’s music in 2012 was the path to big ratings. If you listen to a recent Richie album, you’ll find he’s kept up with the times with a bit of house here and some silky R&B there but very little of his classic piano based ballads and no sign of the country stylings of songs like “Easy” and “Stuck On You.” But there’s no doubt Lionel’s new “Tuskegee” album brings it all back home, enlisting some of country’s biggest stars to join him on his greatest hits.

I was hired to work on “ACM Presents: Lionel Richie & Friends In Concert” as the researcher, and after last year’s “Girls’ Night Out” featured tributes to a long list of country divas, a show where we just featured the music of one star was like a vacation. Fortunately Lionel’s record company, Universal Nashville, had filmed an excellent interview with Lionel as well as lots of footage of Lionel recording with the various country stars, giving me a big head start on the job by the time we got to Las Vegas.

As in past years, while the rehearsals for the ACM Awards take place on the big stage in the MGM Grand Garden Arena, a band of Nashville pros led by Music Director Edgar Struble gathers in one of the large rooms in the arena hallway and one by one (and in this case, sometimes two by two when there was a duet with Lionel that needed to be rehearsed) the stars come in and work on their song.

Luke Bryan was first in on Thursday, performing one of Lionel’s more rocking tunes. Friday brought the first appearance of Mr. Richie, who sat in with some of country’s biggest stars like Kenny Chesney and Tim McGraw, who both appear on “Tuskegee.” You could immediately see what a great entertainer Lionel is, as he told stories about his career (including how he once performed with Eric Clapton and Clapton’s crew pranked him by pretending that Eric was mad Lionel had walked in front of him onstage) and sang directly to the various staff members watching to make sure everyone was having a good time.

As always, I was amazed by the vocals of Gary LeVox of Rascal Flatts. He may sound great on records and on stage, but there’s nothing like hearing him sing in a small studio.

Saturday included the rehearsal of one of the numbers that brought down the house at the show, as Marc Anthony and Sara Evans worked out their duet on Lionel’s classic, “Endless Love.” Marc made us laugh when he walked in and saw the staff seated at a long table that reminded him of the judges table in the audition room of a certain TV show. He faced us and said, “I’m Marc, 15, from the Bronx.” Then the vocal fireworks began between him and Sara…

Afterward, I saw that Sara had left her lyric sheet that she had written notes on of where she should sing. I was going to keep it as a souvenir, but I thought she might need it and so I gave it to her talent escort. Sure enough, she was holding it during her rehearsal in the arena, so I’m glad I gave it up!

Sunday was probably the most fun rehearsal. It started with Lionel playing the songs he’s performing solo on the show. No matter how many times he’s performed a song like “Three Times A Lady,” he still brings emotion and heart to it. We were then joined by another powerhouse vocalist, Jennifer Nettles, who will duet with Lionel on one of his number one hits, “Hello.” Next up was Kenny Rogers, who immediately started ragging on Lionel. It was like watching a great comedy team with Lionel the straight man. Kenny even stayed through the remaining rehearsals, just so he could offer complaints about the big hits that Lionel promised him that he never got to record, like “Endless Love” that he said Lionel played for him once and then somehow he could never get him back on the phone! You’ll get a taste of Kenny’s sense of humor on the show, as he gave a no holds barred commentary on the origin of his platinum hit, “Lady.”

The final rehearsal featured Big & Rich performing one of the Commodores biggest dance hits. The band got the soulful sound just right and the singers proved they could front any bar band in the U.S.

Monday, we moved to the big stage in the Grand Garden Arena for the dress rehearsal. I was busy working on getting materials for a montage in the show and stayed in the production office for most of it. Besides, I knew I would be watching the show that night!

While the ACM Presents concerts have been a big success in the past three years they did them, this year was something special, as the audience had a lot more energy, getting up to dance at every opportunity and handing out standing ovations whenever they could. I was especially pleased to see Kenny Rogers get such a warm welcome as he’s been under the radar a bit the past few years (although he is working on a new album).

I didn’t even mention such great performers as Martina McBride, Jason Aldean, Lady Antebellum and Darius Rucker. It was a terrific show to see in person and I know you’ll enjoy it if you watch it tonight at 9:00 on CBS… even if Lionel didn’t sing my favorite of his songs, “Oh No.” Oh well, there’s always “Tuskegee 2”!

List Of Performers:

Big & Rich: “Brick House”

Blake Shelton (with Lionel): “You Are”

Darius Rucker (with Lionel): “Stuck On You”

Jason Aldean: “Say You, Say Me”

Jennifer Nettles (with Lionel): “Hello”

Kenny Chesney (with Lionel): “My Love”

Kenny Rogers (with Lionel): “Lady”

Lionel Richie: “All Night Long (All Night),” “Three Times A Lady, “Easy”

Lady Antebellum: “Truly”

Luke Bryan: “Running With The Night”

Martina McBride: “Still”

Rascal Flatts (with Lionel): “Dancing On The Ceiling”

Sara Evans & Marc Anthony: “Endless Love”

The Band Perry: “Penny Lover”

Tim McGraw (with Lionel): “Sail On”

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GIRLS’ NIGHT OUT: COUNTDOWN TO THE SHOW!

April 4, 2011

Today rehearsals for tonight’s “Girls’ Night Out” show began at 10:30 AM, with Vince Gill working up his rendition of “Jesus Take The Wheel” with the house band in a rehearsal room. I’m a longtime Vince Gill fan (he was at his peak of popularity about the time I got into country music and his songs of heartache matched my state of mind perfectly back then), so I was very glad he finally participated in the ACMA festivities, as he hadn’t attended since I started working on the show.

In “American Idol” parlance, Vince “made the song his own,” and I realized how important his guitar sound is to his music.

After running through the song a few times, Carrie Underwood arrived and they worked on their duet (from this point on, I won’t mention the songs, as I see the spoilers have been picked up here and there on the web). Around this time, the performers who were scheduled for rehearsal afterward all started to arrive, with Reba, Rascal Flatts, Jennifer Nettles and Ronnie Dunn all adding to the star power and hanging out in the room at the same time. One thing about country music: everyone knows everyone else and they all get along, with the singers not rehearsing all bobbing their heads to the music and singing along. They were especially impressed by Carrie’s singing on her duet with Vince, with everyone clapping at the end.

As the other acts ran through their songs together, I was busy watching for my chance to get Vince’s autograph, but he was busy conversing with the various musicians hanging around. I thought I had lost my chance because I thought he’d left, only to see him a few minutes later sitting in a chair alone in the public hallway, listening to Carrie’s version of “Jesus Take The Wheel” on his phone, still working on his performance. I took my shot and Vince was more than happy to sign a few CD covers I had brought to Las Vegas. I told him how he was one of the artists that got me into country music and he joked how he ruined me for life and thanked me. As super nice as expected, and surprisingly tall. Taller that me anyway!

Rehearsals have now moved to the big stage in the arena. Time to take a look!

BEHIND THE SCENES AT THE ACMA’s 2011: SHOWTIME!

April 3, 2011

So I haven’t had any time to write a post until now, just two hours before showtime. The dress rehearsal looked great, at least what I could see on the monitor in the production office. I’m looking forward to finding out the identity of Carrie Underwood’s surprise guest for her performance. Many people online were guessing Steven Tyler. I was thinking it might be Celine Dion, at least until I read Britney Spears was seen in Las Vegas this weekend. That’s who I would put my money on, but we’ll see!

Most of my duties have been preparing for the show they’re taping tomorrow, “Girls’ Night Out,” which will be broadcast on April 22nd on CBS. The reason I’ve been so busy is we keep changing things on the show to make them better, right up until the last possible minute. Mostly we’ve been improving the tribute packages, which are a glimpse into the early lives of our honorees. I’ve been asked to find photos of their hometowns, their families, and their early performances. Some of my favorite material came from Carrie Underwood’s management, who sent us footage of Carrie performing in a school assembly and even on a Tulsa Oklahoma TV station when she was in the seventh grade. Turns out she was a seasoned performer even then!

My favorite moments so far occurred at the rehearsals for the “Girls’ Night Out” show. As always on the second show, the house band sets up in a small room and the artists drop by to work on their songs. The great John Fogerty is performing two songs, including a duet with Wynonna Judd on one of his Creedence classics. Yesterday, John spent some time rehearsing his performance of a Judds song, followed by a run-through of “Proud Mary.” First the band did it like the original record, which sounded great. But then John announced that was the first time he’d played it that way in 40 years and that he’d taken a tip from the Tina Turner version and sped it up a bit, so they played it that way and that’s the way you’ll hear it on the show. And did I mention that John spoke to me? Sure, it was only to thank me when I got him a bottle of water, but still! Just observing him, you could see he was the nicest, most humble rock star you would ever want to meet.

Enjoy the show!

ACMA’S 2011: THE COUNTDOWN IS ON!

March 28, 2011

This year’s run-up to my annual trip to Las Vegas to work on the Academy of Country Music Awards has been especially hectic. It seems just when I think I’m getting close to the finish line, they move the end of the race a few miles further!

You’ll remember that the past two years have featured tribute concerts taped the night after the ACMA’s, both of which I’ve been the researcher for. Two years ago, they celebrated George Strait winning the Artist of The Decade accolade, while last year, the concert commemorated the careers of Brooks & Dunn on the occasion of their last hurrah together. This year, one act wasn’t enough. The Academy decided to pay tribute to seven artists at once, with Carrie Underwood, Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland, the Judds, Loretta Lynn, Martina McBride, Miranda Lambert and Reba McEntire all getting the star treatment on “Girls’ Night Out: Superstar Women Of Country.”

“Girls Night Out” is a bit more intricate production wise than the past two tribute concerts. Rather than just have an artist come out and talk a little bit about the honorees before performing one of their hits, we’ve prepared tribute packages about the artists. In some cases, we even sent crews to their hometowns to talk to people that knew them growing up. In fact, one of my first jobs when I started on the show a few weeks ago was to help organize the shoots and get in touch with the people we wanted our crew to interview.

A few of the tribute packages include glimpses of our honorees as children. It turns out that every one of these artists were dynamic performers long before they became superstars. I especially enjoyed the footage of Jennifer Nettles with her high school 4-H group, Clovers & Co., as well as Carrie Underwood performing at an Oklahoma TV station while she was still in seventh grade.

In addition to organizing shoots and gathering footage, I’ve also been pitching in trying to locate photos we can use in the background screens during various performances. You’d think that would be as easy as just entering someone’s name in Google Images, but it’s more complicated than that. First, you need photo files big enough to fill the screens, and then you have to be able to clear the photos. What this means is we need to get permission for every photo and bit of footage we use. Naturally we try to use video from past ACMA shows, but you also get sent material by the different management companies of the artists and every single thing you use, you have to identify where it came from, find out who owns it and get them to sign off on using it. It’s a really big job and Dick Clark Productions has a clearance department to handle it, but as I’m the person who’s getting the stuff in, it’s up to me to keep track of everything!

But don’t cry for me, country music fans! Tomorrow I’m off to Sin City for a week of hanging out with the biggest stars in country music… although I have to admit I’m more excited about some of the non-country performers. No, not presenter Robert Pattinson! I’m eager to try and meet James Taylor, who’s performing with the Zac Brown Band on the ACMA’s, as well as another rock legend who’s not officially booked yet for “Girls’ Night Out,” but I’m keeping my fingers crossed! I’m also psyched to see Vince Gill, who will be singing a Carrie Underwood classic on “Girls’ Night Out.” This will be the first time he’s been on one of the ACM country shows since I’ve been working on them, and he’s one of the first performers I really liked when I started listening to country music.

Keep your eye on my blog for more backstage scoop from Las Vegas later this week!

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.

TOP TEN POP CULTURE MEMORIES OF 2009

December 21, 2009

Credit where credit is due: Whitney Matheson of USA Today’s Pop Candy blog put together a list of her Top Ten Pop Culture Memories of the past year, which included parties, screenings and concerts.  Loved the idea,  so I copied the idea. Here we go…

10.  “THE AMERICAN MUSIC AWARDS”:

Not quite as fun as the 2008 version, when I hung out during the show with friends who were hunting autographs and photos to impress their kids in the dressing room hallway. We  spotted such stars as Mariah Carey, the Jonas Brothers and Coldplay, who were more than happy to pose.

Still, the AMA’s make the list because this is the year I realized that with a Production Pass, you could just take an empty seat in the back of the hall during the show. But that wasn’t good enough for one of my friends who used to help coordinate the audiences for big events like this. He asked one of the staff to sit us in the front row for a while, and while we only made it to the third row (they were saving the empty front row seats for Marc Anthony as his wife Jennifer Lopez was about to perform), we still were darn close for J. Lo and Whitney Houston…

9.  “THE AMAZING RACE”:

I had the chance to spend a week in Dubai this year, so I loved seeing the two episodes of the Race that were shot in the Emirates. Like the contestants, I visited the Burj Dubai, the Gold Souk, the indoor ski resort Ski Dubai and the Madinat Jumeriah resort. I didn’t make it to that fateful water slide, but unlike Mika, I would have went down it if I had…

8.  “THE ACM ALL STAR JAM”:

While I was in Las Vegas to work on the event you’ll read about at  # 2, I got a chance to attend “The Academy Of Country Music Awards.” And while it was a great show, the real winner was the one that wasn’t on TV. Every year the ACM hosts an informal concert right after the Awards in a ballroom at the MGM Grand. And while I missed an appearance by Kenny Chesney because of a late dinner, I really enjoyed what I did see, including John Rich, the Zac Brown Band and best of all, the newly crowned Entertainer Of The Year, Carrie Underwood in the most no holds barred performance I’ve ever seen her give…

7.  THE “TERMINATOR SALVATION” PRESS DAY:

For years, I’ve been filling a copy of “The Greatest Batman Stories Ever Told” with the autographs of everyone who has added to the legend of the Dark Knight, whether in comics, movies or television. So far I have fifty autographs (including the late Bob Kane, the creator of Batman who was the first person to sign the book) and not one person has personalized it by writing “Thanks, Brian” or anything like that. I’d like to keep the book pristine in that way, but it bothers me that I might have to skip getting someone’s signature for that reason. Which brings me to Christian Bale…

I’ve never seen Christian Bale sign anything without asking for a person’s name to personalize it. I brought my “Batman” book to two previous interviews with Mr. Bale, yet never brought it out for that reason. But there I was sitting beside him at the “Terminator Salvation” roundtables and I decided to chance it. Sure enough, he asked who he should make it out to. I said, “If you wouldn’t mind, could you just put your name?” Christian said, “How do I know you won’t put this on E-Bay?” Fortunately, one of the other interviewers piped up and said that would never happen, as I’ve been getting the book signed for years now. So Christian actually signed it and I breathed a sigh of relief. Now let me point you to my auction on E-Bay… Never!

6. THE “AMERICAN IDOL” FINALE:

This was just a great day, starting with lunch with Neil Sedaka and my friend Fred Bronson, great seats for the finale at the Nokia Theater (with the Kiss appearance and the announcement of the winner being the highlights) and ending with the “19” party which featured appearances by not just this year’s contestants, but many from past years. I especially enjoyed the moment when Kris Allen’s father was telling us about how people were already leaving messages on their porch for Kris and David Archuleta piped in and said, “That’s nothing. We have people walking right into our house!”

5.  TERRY FATOR AT THE MIRAGE:

This year I went to my first Cirque Du Soleil show, “O,” at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In spite of all the raves I’ve heard over the years, I certainly wasn’t bowled over. I found the show unfocused, meandering and not all that exciting. But that same week, I did see a show I loved, Terry Fator at the Mirage. I had never seen Terry during his winning season on “America’s Got Talent,” so I was amazed by his ability to sing without opening his mouth. Terry proved to be a master impressionist and a great singer all at the same time, combining great music with plenty of laughs…

4.  “STAR TREK”:

I have been a “Star Trek” fan since high school, and while I wasn’t too worried that J.J. Abrams would screw up the reboot as I really liked his work on “Mission Impossible III,” I never imagined this new “Trek” would be so well done, so exciting and respectful to what came before. I literally had tears in my eyes watching it, because I was so happy the movie was so good…

3.  THE “LOST” SEASON FIVE FINALE:

I love “Lost” more than anything else in pop culture right now. The Season Five finale was a true game changer, with answers revealed in the opening scene, and one of the biggest “Lost” shockers ever when we learned John Locke wasn’t quite John Locke. I can’t wait for Season Six to start…

2.  “GEORGE STRAIT: ACM ARTIST OF THE DECADE ALL STAR CONCERT”:

I was the researcher on this show and I don’t think I’ve ever enjoyed working on a project so much. First I got to stay a week in one of my favorite places, Las Vegas. Then I got to attend the rehearsals by each performer as they worked out their songs with the house band. It was like having a private concert by the greats of country music, including Brooks & Dunn (Ronnie Dunn’s voice in person is amazing!), Alan Jackson and Keith Urban.

I was especially pleased when Taylor Swift arrived at the rehearsals and read her script for the show. She was extremely happy with it, and after she learned it was because I had done a phone interview with her about how George Strait had changed her life, she came over and gave me a hug.

But as nice as that was, it was nothing compared to sitting in the audience at the concert and watching performer after performer show their love for the man known as King George. They did it through their words and they did it through their music.  Truly an unforgettable evening…

1.  THE “LOST” PANEL AT COMIC-CON:

It was exciting enough that I actually made it into the “Lost” panel without staying overnight in line, but I never would have guessed how entertaining it would be. Kudos to the “Lost” production staff for working so hard to make this a special occasion for the fans, complete with funny videos, revealing videos and great guest appearances by the actors. Michael Emerson’s interruption of Jorge Garcia was probably the funniest thing I’ve seen all year, and it may have been topped by Nestor Carbonell’s Christian Slater impression. And it bears repeating: I can’t wait for Season 6! I wonder if anything will be able to beat out the “Lost” season finale for number one on this list come next year…

BACKSTAGE AT THE “GEORGE STRAIT: ACM ARTIST OF THE DECADE ALL STAR CONCERT”

May 27, 2009

In less than 24 hours, CBS will broadcast the “George Strait: ACM Artist Of The Decade All Star Concert,” which I worked on all through March until the concert was taped on April 6th.

As the researcher on the show, I had a number of duties. The first thing I did when I got the job was learning about the life of George Strait and developing fact sheets about each of the songs the performers would be singing. This task was helped along by the fact I still had the 72 page booklet that was included in George’s box set, “Strait Out Of The Box.” The book had George’s thoughts on all the songs in the 4 CD set, as well as a year by year chronology of George’s life, and it really came in handy when I wrote up some questions that George was asked during an interview at his ranch for the show.

Another job I had was gathering materials like photos and videos that would be used in the montages saluting the past ACM Artist Of The Decade winners. The producers also needed extra photos of those previous winners to project behind the performers who were singing their songs during the concert. Garth Brooks sent us plenty of exciting concert footage, so I was easily able to check him off my list. Alabama was a little trickier. Since they are no longer an active group, RCA Records donated all their memorabilia to the Country Music Hall Of Fame, so there wasn’t much available. Fortunately, Dick Clark Productions had featured Alabama many times on their shows and had even produced a one hour special about the group, so in the end, we found what we needed. As for Loretta Lynn, her tour manager Jim Hill was a huge help, sending us plenty of great photos from throughout Loretta’s life. I also enjoyed researching the life of Marty Robbins, in which I was helped by Marty’s son, Ronny, who came through again and again for us. Not only did he send us some great photos, but he was able to identify some footage of Marty we wanted to use. It turned out to be from a show that Ronny himself owned!

My most important task on the All Star Concert was also the most fun (at least until we got to Las Vegas during the week of the show itself!). The show’s writer, Fred Bronson, asked me to try to get phone interviews with all of the artists performing on the show to find out what George Strait and his music meant to them, as well as why they picked the song they were performing. Now while in the past I’ve worked for months to get an interview with a single rock singer, I talked to just about every artist I needed within a week of starting to arrange the interviews. Those that couldn’t find time in their schedules or were overseas that week sent e-mailed replies to my list of questions. This is a tribute to the stars of country music, their accessibility and their work ethic. I especially want to single out Kix Brooks of Brooks & Dunn who left his sickbed to call me and Blake Shelton who told me some very funny stories and was hilarious in a self depreciating way.

Fred tried to stick as close as he could to what the stars told me during their interviews. In fact, once we got to Vegas and started rehearsals, Taylor Swift couldn’t believe how Fred captured her admiration of George, at least until Fred pointed out to her that he just used what she had said in her interview with me, whcih caused Taylor to come over and give me a hug.

While the rehearsals for the ACMA’s went on in the Grand Garden Arena, the performers that were also on our show came by to rehearse in a huge ballroom across the street. I thought it was funny that while fans had staked out the entrances to the Arena in an effort to meet their favorite stars, no one knew about our rehearsals so there were no fans hanging out around the ballroom where they could have easily spoken to a long list of country superstars. Wait, I take that back. There was one fan getting autographs: me! I was well prepared, having brought a tall stack of booklets from the various Greatest Hits CD’s in my collection and was rewarded with signatures from Dierks Bentley, Keith Urban, Montgomery Gentry, Taylor Swift, Toby Keith and Lee Ann Womack.

Unlike on the Awards where all the singers played with their touring bands, each performer on our show (with the exception of George Strait) was backed by a house band, which had set up their instruments in a corner of the ballroom. It was exciting to see the singers come in one by one and communicate what they wanted their song to sound like. Some just ran through the song once or twice and were satisfied, while others experimented with tempos and sound.

There was one sad moment during the rehearsals. While Alan Jackson was rehearsing “The Fireman,” he asked who had chosen to perform my favorite George Strait song, “The Chair.” The answer was no one, and Alan said he’d wished he’d known because he would have sung that. And as if that wasn’t bad enough, those long legs of Alan’s carried him out of the ballroom before I was able to ask him for an autograph! Still, I’m not going to hold it against him. In fact, during the actual concert, I was up and dancing while Alan was onstage and the cameraman in the audience took a shot of me, so hopefully you’ll see me if you watch the show. I’m the bald man in black…

While the stars you’d expect to be great on the show are just that, some others who aren’t as well known (or even aren’t well known for country music) provided some of the highlights. For instance, R&B and movie star Jamie Foxx received a well deserved standing ovation for putting a Marvin Gaye spin on George’s “You Look So Good In Love,” while up and coming country star Jack Ingram turned “All My Ex’s Live In Texas” into a pulse-pounding rocker.

I just wish you had all been at the show, because there’s no way the producers will be able to fit everything that happened that night into just two hours (maybe you start making plans now to attend the Next Artist Of The Decade Concert in 2019!)  Each star would speak from the heart about George or the  earlier Artist Of The Decade winner they were paying tribute to, perform their song and then talk some more about George, which usually lead to a handshake or hug between George and the artist. It was all very emotional and you can see it for yourself tonight.

And if you do, you’ll see it before me, because I’ll be overseas on a new job. Check back in a few days for the adventures of Brian, International Courier…