How Elton John and Grammy producers kept the magic going long after the award show ended
“Let’s make sure there’s a keyboard in Elton’s dressing room,” Ken Ehrlich, the longtime executive producer of the Grammy Awards, ordered before ducking away to meet Elton John and Miley Cyrus.
Ehrlich was on his way to oversee a soft run-through of “Tiny Dancer,” which would ultimately be performed by the pair during the 60th Grammy Awards. But first, the producer needed to pop in on Cyrus, who was busy working through another John tune — 1974’s “The Bitch is Back” — by herself.
So goes the double duty Ehrlich pulled as preparations for Sunday’s Grammys were in full swing at Madison Square Garden last week.
Amid rehearsals for this year’s telecast, Ehrlich was also overseeing rehearsals for “Elton John: I’m Still Standing — A Grammy Salute,” which filmed on Tuesday at the Theater at Madison Square Garden two days after the awards show.
The all-star tribute, set to air on CBS later this year, continues the tradition of spinoff specials connected to the Grammys that celebrate some of music’s most prolific artists while making great use of the wealth of talent booked for the telecast.
“Sir Elton John is an international music legend who has captivated audiences across generations for more than five decades,” Recording Academy President Neil Portnow said in a statement when the special was first announced.
Presented by the Recording Academy, AEG Ehrlich Ventures and CBS, John’s tribute follows post-Grammy shows dedicated to Stevie Wonder, the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and the Bee Gees.
“I’m Still Standing” will boast performances from Cyrus, Kesha, Miranda Lambert, John Legend, Little Big Town, Chris Martin, Maren Morris, Keith Urban, Lady Gaga, Sza and Shawn Mendes.
John, who recently announced a three-year global farewell tour, will also perform on the special.
“Let’s go for a run,” Ehrlich said, as a production assistant packs up the producer’s thick binder of show notes.
Sam Smith had just completed his Grammy rehearsal -- he received a break before he was due back for his rehearsal of a John classic he’ll tackle for the special – and Ehrlich was hustling through the winding halls of Madison Square Garden looking for the quickest way to get to the practice space for the salute.
“Usually I’m in a go-kart whipping around. This is easier to get around – but I do miss the driving,” he said and laughed, noting the difference between concurrently staging the shows in the sprawling campus of L.A. Live versus New York, where both venues are housed in one towering building above Penn Station.
Ehrlich was heading three levels below the arena, where the concourse of the Theater — normally where one goes for food concessions — had been transformed into a rehearsal space. The low-slung Theater is out of commission at the moment as it’s being built out for the other show it will host before the John special: the Grammy Awards Premiere Ceremony, where the bulk of trophies were given out before the main show kicked off.
Inside the concourse, soon-to-be new artist winner Alessia Cara was burning through “I Guess That’s Why They Call It the Blues” alongside John’s band.
“She’s absolutely remarkable,” Ehrlich beamed.
After catching the tail end of Cara’s rehearsal, Ehrlich checked his notes to see what he’s due to catch back upstairs before he goes to confer with the singer and John’s musical director, Davey Johnstone.
“I think we’re there,” Johnstone shouted, turning to Cara for a nod of approval.
Satisfied with what he saw, Ehrlich exchanged high-fives with the band and scurried back upstairs to jump back into Grammy action.
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