Grammy Weekend Standouts Include a Big-Name Host, a Can't-Miss Charity Concert, and a Place to Actually Chill Out

The Recording Academy's gala with Clive Davis, the MusiCares benefit concert honoring Neil Diamond, and the industry-favorite Friends and Family party offered enticements to help them stand out on the crowded Grammy weekend calendar.

By Alesandra Dubin February 9, 2009, 12:46 PM EST

Neil Diamond at MusiCares

Photo: Brian Baker

Grammy weekend: so many events, so many miles of gridlocked, rain-slicked freeways separating them. But some parties still had no problem drawing huge throngs of eager guests. The Recording Academy's pre-Grammy gala honoring Clive Davis, the MusiCares gala dinner honoring Neil Diamond, and the industry-favorite Friends and Family party offered some notably attractive lures—respectively, a big-name host, a benefit concert, and a bona fide environment in which to relax—that helped them stand out from the crowd. (Admittedly, it was an easier task in a year that record labels, already ailing, scaled back their individual party offerings in the tough economy.)

MusiCares' Person of the Year
Although Grammy events began in earnest nearly a week before last night's big show at Staples, the weekend semi-officially kicked off at the Los Angeles Convention Center with MusiCares' benefit, a tribute concert that honors one big-name musician annually and supports the music-industry charity. This year's Person of the Year gala began with a reception and silent auction presented by Julien's Auctions that was broadcast live worldwide on Auction Network with real-time interactive bidding technology. Performers included Adele, Coldplay, Foo Fighters, Josh Groban, Jennifer Hudson, and Tim McGraw, as well as Diamond. Also in the house were Recording Academy president and C.E.O. Neil Portnow and MusiCares Foundation board chair John Branca, who served as dinner chairmen.

“Because this is the largest fund-raising sit-down dinner that we know of in L.A.—we're 2,000 people, which makes us larger than any ballroom in town—we wanted to make sure that everyone can see the stage, so it was primarily video," said Tim Swift, C.E.O. of Bounce, which designed the 100-foot-wide stage and produced the live concert element. “We incorporated video walls in the set for extreme closeups of the performers. We wanted to create that intimate feeling, so [even] at the back of the room are still great seats.”

Swift added, “The economy affected us, but this is such an important charity to the music industry that everybody involved really made sacrifices to make sure that MusiCares is funded as much as it needs to be.”

Friends and Family
With a 10 p.m. Friday start time at Paramount Studios, organizers behind the annual Friends and Family party acknowledged that MusiCares came before it earlier the same evening—but strived to create a contrasting, less stuffy, more informal environment for the guests who showed up. Pete Rock, Talib Kweli, DJ AM, the Alchemist, Peanut Butter Wolf, and Marshall Barnes performed in a packed stage that felt more like a club, with swirling lighting patterns decking the walls and Red Bull and Belvedere at the bars. Mark Beavan and Andy Kipnes from A.A.M. hosted, along with 20 other industry players, including Lil Jon, Warner Brothers president Tom Whalley, Paramount Pictures president of music Randy Spendlove, Evolutionary Media Group C.E.O. Jennifer Gross, Sony Films president of music Lia Vollack, and EMI global A&R chief Nick Gatfield.

“This party started because years ago, there was never a place that all people could gather—a place where it didn't matter what company you were with, didn't matter if you were with a competitor. Just come together, under the radar, and just hang out,” said Gross. ”Over the past five years, it's gotten bigger and bigger as the record companies have gotten smaller and smaller, and are not doing the parties that they would have done. This party's never been about red carpet or media. It's more about great DJs, cool music, cool vibe. It was really supposed to be like a house party for everyone in town, and this year it's like that more than ever.”

As to any potential conflicts between the Friends and Family party and the benefit earlier in the evening, Gross said, “MusiCares [which honors lifetime musicians] is an old-school charity event that benefits an incredibly important organization in the music community. We have really great developing artists—the other musicians come to see that talent.”

And as to whether the economy factored into the party plans, Gross said, “We've never really had any money, so that's never really been a problem.”

The Recording Academy's Salute to Clive Davis
The following night, Clive Davis and the Recording Academy took to the Beverly Hilton for their fete, known as the Pre-Grammy Gala and Grammy Salute to Industry Icons. Davis, who with Sony BMG had for nearly three decades hosted a place-to-be party the night before the Grammys, partnered this year with the Recording Academy, which folded the party into its official slate (and has plans to continue it in that capacity going forward). As part of the evening's festivities, the academy presented Davis with the President's Merit award.

The Recording Academy produced the party, helmed by vice president of production and process management Branden Chapman, who said, “We've always really admired [Davis's] event. It's been one of the most tremendous and exciting parties during the Grammys, and [cohosting it in an official capacity] is a way to officially stake our claim over all of Grammy week.”

Davis—known for his tremendous industry influence—continued to manage the guest list, the party's new format notwithstanding. “One of the most beautiful things about the event is the star power that Davis not only presents on stage but also brings into the room as guests,” Chapman said. Performers included Kelly Clarkson, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Whitney Houston, Jennifer Hudson, Barry Manilow, and Rod Stewart. Attendees included Sheryl Crow, Miley Cyrus, Missy Elliott, Jamie Foxx, the Jonas Brothers, Quincy Jones, Paul McCartney, Prince, Smokey Robinson, Rihanna, Russell Simmons, Carrie Underwood, and Kanye West.

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