There’s always something new to learn about life in Los Angeles, and this weekend, I had my first “awards season” experience. Although I have heard about the elaborate after-parties that follow the awards show, I did not know that the Grammy’s also came with a series of pre-Grammy events. On Friday, MusicCares honored Carole King as Person of the Year (wish I could have been at that party!), and on Saturday, a handful of venues hosted pre-Grammy concerts. I got the chance to attend a party put on by the American Music Association (AMA), which they had decided to dedicate to Phil Everly of the Everly Brothers, who passed away earlier this year. It was not Clive Davis’ big, glamorous, red-carpet bash, and I think the median age of the audience was probably above 45, but the laid-back and friend-filled atmosphere at the Troubadour was the perfect setting to honor Mr. Everly’s legacy.
The Troubadour is one of the most historic venues on Los Angeles’ Sunset Strip. After opening as a folk club in 1959, the Troubadour became a central space for several emerging musical styles in L.A. throughout the 1960s and 70s, including the folk rock of the Byrds, California Country Rock pioneered by Linda Ronstadt, Gram Parsons, and the Eagles, and the singer-songwriter movement with Carole King, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell, Jackson Browne, et al. Every night at the Troubadour, top-notch artists would perform to a crowd filled with other aspiring talent and L.A.’s musical elite, forming a close-knit community of musicians. This venue and the community that formed there is one of the central areas of my dissertation, so I have been to several concerts there to get a sense of the atmosphere and space. But on Saturday, I entered a dissertation time-warp, as I found myself at the Troubadour with some of the old gang that used to hang out there.
The lineup for Saturday’s concert was kept a secret by the AMA, but I had a sneaking suspicion that there might be big names there. I got to West Hollywood about twenty minutes after the doors were supposed to open, but the line to get into the Troubadour was still wrapped around the corner, and they were only letting in people on the guest list. (Note to future self: Get on the guest list.) As I waited in line around the corner, I noticed that I was the youngest person in line by a long shot. Apparently kids these days aren’t listening to the Everly Brothers. (Note to kids these days: Listen to the Everly Brothers.) Actually, though, I was excited to be around the older audience, thinking that this crowd would have a greater appreciation for pop music of the 1970s.
Bonnie Raitt and Joe Henry perform “You Can’t Fail Me Know”
When I finally got into the venue, the whole upstairs was blocked off for VIP guests. I asked one of the guardians by the stairs who was up there. He said, “At least four famous people! Well, I know I saw Bonnie Raitt and T Bone Burnett, but I saw two other people who looked like they could be famous.” Jackpot. I made it to a place where I could actually see some of the community that I’m studying in action.
Peter Asher performing a song from his days in the duo Peter and Gordon, McCartney’s “World Without Love”
Everyone on the lineup performed at least one Everly Brothers cover and then an original piece. Some of the performers were current acts on the Americana scene: the all-girl bluegrass band, Della Mae; Rhiannon Giddens and Hubby Jenkins of the Carolina Chocolate Drops; Jamestown Revival, a local folk group in LA about to hit the national scene; and the Milk Carton Kids, a duo with beautiful harmonies reminiscent of Don and Phil. Later in the night, singer-songwriters Joe Henry, Rodney Crowell, Bonnie Raitt and Ry Cooder each performed. Peter Asher also made an appearance and spoke very candidly about the Everly Brothers’ influence on the British Invasion. Raitt, Cooder, and Asher were each major players in the LA singer-songwriter scene during the 1970s. And I was right about the older audience appreciating the atmosphere. People were silent and listening intently. People weren’t holding their phones the whole time. The audience expressed overwhelming gratitude at the appropriate moments (ask Rhiannon Giddens about the uncontrollable applause after her performance of Odetta’s “Waterboy”). It was truly amazing to be there and experience the atmosphere first-hand.
For many musicologists, you could never imagine being in this situation. You’re never going to walk into the court of Mantua and find Monteverdi rehearsing for L’Orfeo. At the same time, many ethnomusicologists could never imagine not finding themselves immersed in the community they study. For me, Saturday night felt like both of these situations. I’m excited to follow-up with the connections that I made at the Troubadour this weekend.
[Unfortunately the Troubadour doesn’t allow cameras unless you have a press pass, so the photos are from my phone. Not the best quality, but I’m glad to have a few shots]