Grammys 2014: Rehearsals are the usual whirlwind, then another show

Every Grammy Awards telecast is a production nightmare: three-plus hours of multiple live music performances, unpredictable stage antics and rambling acceptance speeches.

But this year's production, which airs Sunday night from the Staples Center in downtown Los Angeles, may be the most challenging Grammys ever — and it has nothing to do with Kanye or Miley.


Within 24 hours of the ceremony Sunday, the Grammy production team will embark on another major network TV special, this one recorded next-door at the L.A. Convention Center. "The Night That Changed America: A Grammy Salute to the Beatles" will celebrate the half-century anniversary of the Fab Four's watershed U.S. television debut on "The Ed Sullivan Show."

The show, which will feature performances by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr as well as Grammy nominees and performers Katy Perry, Dave Grohl, Pharrell Williams, Keith Urban and John Legend, will air on CBS Feb. 9 at 8 p.m. — exactly 50 years after the Ed Sullivan debut.

During rehearsals for both shows Thursday afternoon, executive producer Ken Ehrlich presided over an explosive duet between Compton rapper Kendrick Lamar and red-hot Las Vegas rock band Imagine Dragons on the Staple's stage while keeping tabs by phone on various Beatles-related run-throughs.

There were Alicia Keys and Legend working on "Let It Be" across town at Capitol Records, Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart (performing together as the Eurythmics for the first time in nine years) rehearsing "Fool on the Hill" in a Burbank studio, and Perry attempting to master "Yesterday" at a studio in Hollywood.

All this, and Ehrlich was still waiting on word from Green Day front man Billie Joe Armstrong and country singer Miranda Lambert. Both were due at Staples to rehearse a tribute to the late Phil Everly, both were late. At least he'd already gotten through Lorde's commanding run-through of "Royals."

"I have to say, as crazy as it all is, I think I'm having the greatest time I've ever had," said Ehrlich, 71, in a hallway backstage at Staples before zipping off in his golf cart to the next production challenge.

"I'm not sure if 'fun' is the right word," said co-executive producer Terry Lickona. "Insanity? Maybe, or 'biploar.' But the those metaphors are apt. This really is like a military operation this year, with a lot of troops in motion."

Although CBS would have created a Beatles anniversary show one way or another, CBS vice president of specials, music and live events, Jack Sussman, said he decided to follow the template the network has exploited successfully in recent years with its Academy of Country Music Awards show.

Each year when much of the country music community descends on Las Vegas for that ceremony, CBS invites participants to stay an extra day and shoot a separate special, such as its 2009 tribute to George Strait and last year's "Tim McGraw's Superstar Summer Night."

"It's a way to take advantage of this moment in time when all this talent converges in once place," Sussman said Thursday from his chair next to Ehrlich's at the production control center on the arena floor. "For the right production," he said, "we'll probably be doing more of this."

If the double workload were not enough, production for the Grammys is being compressed into a shorter time frame than usual. The show's air date was moved forward two weeks so it wouldn't intrude into coverage of the Winter Olympics.


One of the highlights of Thursday's Grammy rehearsals was the pairing of Carole King, honored Friday night for her music and philanthropic efforts, with album and solo pop performance nominee Sara Bareilles.

"Our souls blend," King said after an onlooker complimented her for the harmony of their voices on a medley of King's "Beautiful," from her 1971 album "Tapestry," and Bareilles' "Brave," from her album of the year-nominated "The Blessed Unrest."

"She's like my granddaughter," King, 71, said of her 34-year-old duet partner. "We instantly hit it off. We have a great connection, like I have with James Taylor."

Country and pop-punk also came together easily in the Armstrong-Lambert Everly Brothers tribute number, conceived less than three weeks before the show in response to the Jan. 3 death of Phil Everly.

The Everly moment holds special resonance for Ehrlich, who did a TV special in 1975 with the younger brother.

So after Armstrong and Lambert ran through their song twice at a fairly relaxed pace, Ehrlich jumped on stage and counseled them. Their third run at it punched up the song with a noticeably brighter tempo.

"I grew up listening to that song," Ehrlich said. "You don't sing it like this," he said replicating the slower rendition that Armstrong and Lambert had done. "There are ways to tell people that, and ways you don't."

Friday morning at Staples, as Robin Thicke went through the paces of his performance for the Grammy show, Ehrlich watched to make sure things were off to a good start before hopping onto a golf cart and zipping next door to the Convention Center to monitor the Beatles run-throughs.

A collaboration on "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" between Grohl, Joe Walsh and Gary Clark Jr. was unfolding (other performers on the Beatles special include Ed Sheeran — "He's a Brit," Ehrlich noted — Maroon 5, John Mayer and Jeff Lynne).

Ehrlich was all smiles watching Walsh and Clark power through fiery guitar solos.

Moments after they finished, he hustled outside to a golf cart that swung around to pick him up.

Hopping on, he was piloted across a concrete loading platform dock, past waiting delivery trucks and Convention Center service personnel, through a maze of hallways, and back into the Staples arena, where he slapped on his headset in time to see Thicke and Chicago dive into their cross-generational collaboration.

"Out of breath?" Lickona asked from his copilot's seat.

Ehrlich, who had no words, just huffed and nodded.


Twitter: @RandyLewis2