But before co-hosts LL Cool J — who, I discovered, goes by "Todd" — and Taylor Swift took the stage at Bridgestone, and long before the evening's various stars and nominees were escorted backstage to talk to press, we of the media were corralled into what was likely one of the finer press rooms Scene staff has ever been permitted to. We proceeded to watch the full ceremony on a large flat-screen television — so basically, the experience for me was just like watching from home, except with no commercials (yay!) and also without that mostly full bottle of wine I had waiting for me in the kitchen (boo!).
Anyway, you can of course see all of the nominations at this link. But here are a handful of Nashville-centric highlights: Dan Auerbach is tied for most nominations at six, if you count all of his Keys nominations coupled with his Producer of the Year nod, which everyone does; Nashvillians the Keys and Jack White (and, if you like, Kelly Clarkson, since she has a house here now) are up for Album of the Year; Nashville-frequenting semi-locals Alabama Shakes are up for Best New Artist and Best Rock Performance for "Hold On"; folks like Carrie Underwood, Dierks Bentley, Taylor Swift and Ronnie Dunn of course landed some noms.
Now, the dirty details:
LL and Tay Tay kicked things off by clowning around about Cool J potentially going country. Swift beat-boxed as LL recited some lyrics from "Mean." It was ... very Hollywood, and unfortunately, made for a lot of post-show question fodder for the press — "What did you think of Taylor's beat-boxing?!" was asked of nearly every artist in the building. "It was great."
So the two continued the whole "mutual admiration society" thing for a bit, and then they ran some footage of Johnny Cash at the aforementioned 1973 Grammy Awards ceremony at Tennessee Theatre. The Grammys are of course all about the circle-jerk thing, and it's definitely a safe call to go with J.C. when it comes to paying homage. Hollywood has made it abundantly clear that they know and respect Cash — yes, we all do, everyone does. Hear, hear. The Band Perry and Dierks Bentley played a relatively milquetoast rendition of "Jackson." It actually reminded me a bit of Clare Bowen's version of "Ring of Fire" from last week's Nashville. (I spotted Bowen later on at Mercy Lounge, by the way.) Hunter Hayes came out to sing nominees for Best Pop Vocal Album, which included Kelly Clarkson, Florence + the Machine, fun. (in their first of six nominations), Maroon 5 and P!nk. I heard someone call Hayes the "Justin Bieber of country music."
Then Maroon 5 (there were six of them, and they were wearing black) did a medley of their apparent hits from the year. "One More Night," that godforsaken "Jagger" number and another called "Daylight." That's some MOR stuff right there, no doubt. But hey, guitar bro's tone is mad tinny! The cameras cut to a lot of audience members who clearly don't know words but do their best to sing along anyhow. People love this band.
Sheryl Crow and Chris Young came out to intro Best Record of the Year nominees, with Young doing an a capella rendition of Crow's "All I Wanna Do," which won the award in 1995. Young's singing gave me the bad sort of goosebumps — I believe occasional contributor Matt Sullivan coined the phrase "douchebumps" to describe the feeling. Nominees included The Black Keys for "Lonely Boy," plus all the singles you'd expect from Kelly Clarkson, fun., Gotye and Swift, plus Frank Ocean's pretty great "Thinkin Bout You." Apparently it's a bit of an upset that Bieber, Carly Rae Jepson and Lana Del Rey didn't make the cut.
Then about 90 seconds of The Who's performance of "Won't Get Fooled Again" from Sunday at Bridgestone was piped in for one reason or another — fellow Creamster and Rolling Stone reporter Adam Gold postulates that perhaps they'll be honored with a lifetime achievement award in February. So I got to see that twice, which is OK. Although I would have liked to hear an awkwardly dubbed-in reference to the nominations from Daltrey: "I'll tip my hat to [fun.'s nomination]," for instance.
Luke Bryan sang some monstrosity from his album Tailgates and Tanlines. Gold calls him the Dane Cook of country, but I think I actually prefer Dane Cook's voice. There was confetti and smoke. Little Big Town announced the nominations for best new artist, and they sang "Yesterday," which just made me frown. Then I heard fun.'s "We Are Young" for the 10,000th time this year, hurrah. Janelle Monae is great though. I'd like to see her doing her thing on national television without these histrionic Dorkensteins, hardworking as they may be.
LL intro'd Ne-Yo, whose voice is spectacular. His performance degenerated into some kind of industro-house breakdown with a lot of cluttered, synchronized dancing. Difficult to keep up with, but certainly entertaining. Then the old-timey, Nashville-frequenting Lumineers — looking like they just payed for their shots of rye down at The 5 Spot with a fistful of ol' silver dollars — shared the nominees for Best Country Solo Performance: Dierks, Eric Church, Ronnie Dunn, Hunter Hayes, Blake Shelton and the lone female, Carrie Underwood.
The broadcast concluded with the nominees for Album of Year and yet another performance from Maroon 5.
The first artists paraded back into the press area were The Lumineers. Bless their hearts, the Looms are clearly a bit green when it comes to doing press. They mentioned that they feel like underdogs, that their label (Dualtone) has been good to them, and that they're honored and freaked out and all that. Member Neyla Pekarek said she had to deactivate her Facebook account this year because of all the attention her band's been getting.
Then the Shakes' Brittany Howard and Steve Johnson came out. Howard was well spoken, grateful and proud, emphasizing the importance of staying humble — "I'm just happy that my Nanna's happy," she told us. There was some use of the phrase "keep it wet," and when asked about their ties to Nashville, Howard responded that she knows the industry can be tiresome around these parts, but there's an unending supply of undiscovered talent. I meant to ask her about Thunderbitch, but it slipped my mind.
Rhett Walker — a self-described "dude from South Carolina that wrote a couple songs" — came out next. He's a Christian artist who received a nomination for his first single ever. But he's also got a six-week-old baby (who was also in attendance, bless its tiny little heart), so he high-tailed it pretty quickly.
Dierks Bentley rolled through next, showcasing his experience with this sort of thing. He was sharp, funny, likable, well-spoken, charming — honestly, I kind of love him as a dude. It's too bad I don't care for his music. Anyway, he was proud and defensive of Nashville, noting that last night's ceremony was really more of an honor for the Grammys than it was for Nashville. Nice.
Then fun. came out, looking like the Three Hipster Stooges. They noted that it "feels like alternative music is back," as evidenced by Spotify and iTunes and generally everything but commercial radio. They also mentioned that they felt honored to be in same category as Jack White.
Grammy reps Neil Portnow and Jimmy Jam then answered some questions. Portnow called the night a "great experience," and he noted that a "depth of artistry" unites the Best New Artist nominees. A young lady asked Jimmy Jam why there's no hip-hop category, which was a bit confusing, since there are "Rap" and "R&B" categories. Jam said that Taylor Swift is "nothing but grace and class."
I skipped out during Ne-Yo's Q&A portion in order to hoof it down to Mercy Lounge for Lee Fields and the Expressions and the completion of the Most Nashville Night Ever. Grammys, we'll see you back here next year, perhaps? I'm betting on it.