Bob Dylan to perform at the Grammy ceremony alongside Mumford & Sons and the Avett Bros.
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In the days leading up to Sunday’s Grammy Awards, which Pop & Hiss will be covering live, this blog will tackle various Grammy artists, personalities, categories and just plain oddities. For even more Grammy info, check Awards Tracker and The Envelope.
The producers of the Grammys want a show for the ages, but they also want a show for all ages — which is why Bob Dylan will be bringing his acoustic guitar to perform this weekend on the same stage as Justin Bieber, Drake and Katy Perry.
The official announcement is expected Thursday that the great bard of rock will sing at the 53rd Grammy Awards — which air Sunday on CBS — marking just his fifth performance on the show despite a recording career that dates back to the Kennedy administration. He’ll perform alongside two rising folk-rock bands whose work draws from the same well: Mumford & Sons and the Avett Brothers.
Dylan is just three months shy of his 70th birthday, but he may bump into some generational peers backstage — Barbra Streisand is scheduled to sing one of her signature 1970s hits, while Mick Jagger’s participation in a tribute to the late Solomon Burke will result in a bit of history, since the Rolling Stones frontman has never before performed on the Grammy stage.
Dylan’s first performance on the Grammys didn’t come until 1980, when he and his band were greeted with a standing ovation as they played the opening notes of “Gotta Serve Somebody.” That show was also the first Grammy broadcast produced by Ken Ehrlich, who has done every one since; Ehrlich and Neil Portnow, president of the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences, have been working to secure Dylan’s booking for months.
“When you see that name and think about what it represents, those are the things that we want to be part of the show — those are things that have to be part of the show,” Ehrlich said.
This year’s show also features performances by Eminem (who leads this year’s field with 10 nominations), Arcade Fire, Lady Gaga, Miranda Lambert, Muse and Raphael Saadiq (who will partner with Jagger on the Burke sequence). The team of Yolanda Adams, Christina Aguilera, Jennifer Hudson, Martina McBride and Florence Welch, meanwhile, will salute the career of Aretha Franklin, who underwent serious surgery last year, reportedly related to a cancer diagnosis.
Ehrlich’s plan for Dylan — which, he noted, is “all subject to a certain person’s approval” — is for Dylan to perform during a three-act suite with the Avett Brothers and Mumford & Sons. The former hail from North Carolina and the latter is a British band, and Ehrlich sees a bright line connecting their music to the pioneering push by Dylan to connect folk and rock. Mumford & Sons will perform their soaring, banjo-laced song “The Cave,” which will give way to the Avett Brothers and their pulsing folk anthem “Head Full of Doubt, Road Full of Promise.” Then comes Dylan, but Ehrlich declined to reveal what song he might sing and hinted that it had not entirely been decided.
“I don’t think either of these bands would be on a stage if it wasn’t for the music of Bob Dylan,” Ehrlich said. “I think for the harmonies alone it should be something special. You don’t know what you’ve got, what the blend is, until you see it, but I think it could be fantastic.”
It was 46 years ago that Dylan “went electric” and ushered in a new era in rock. While his Grammy history is limited, it has been memorable — it was during Dylan’s 1998 performance of “Love Sick” that a performance artist ripped off his shirt (revealing the words “Soy Bomb” written on his torso) and did a strange spastic dance while the singer continued with his number.
While many of the scheduled Grammy performances this year seem to be looking back, all five nominees for best new artist will perform on the show — which is uncommon — and Portnow says the goal is to present “the very best of today” and make connections to the past through performances and pairings.
It’s interesting to note that this installment of the show abandons the viewer-voting segments that had been added in recent years as a nod to the success of “American Idol” and the popularity of “starmaking” contests. Portnow seemed pleased to see the change, and the extra time it would permit for “keeping the focus on the world-class musicians.”
-- Geoff Boucher
Photo: Getty Images