Last Night at the Alamo
Imagine you're a music-industry insider at one of the many Grammy post-parties. You're in a hoity-toity Beverly Hills hotel ballroom, and P. Diddy has just handed you a flute of Cristal. You've just eaten some Wolfgang Puck creation while chatting to Big Boi of OutKast, and now you're dancing cheek to cheek with the hot-pants-clad first lady of the Black Eyed Peas, Fergie. Mark McGrath is wringing every last second from his 15 minutes interviewing stars for Extra; Star Jones is kissing asses and stroking egos for E!
Now imagine this: You're at West Oaks Mall, way out Highway 6 at Richmond, where Alamo Drafthouse Cinema has joined forces with 104 KRBE to throw a Grammy extravaganza.
You know the gig: radio station giveaways, big stars on the big screen, celebrity look-alikes for that "I'm really there" feel. In other words, the scene's a tad different from our hyperglamorous pretend state.
KRBE interns, outfitted in orange tees, flutter around the entrance of the theater like worker bees on meth. They're busy getting ready for the roughly 300 guests who have RSVP'd through the station's Web site. Outside, promoter John Finlay is directing people up a green carpet (Astroturf, to be exact) while his hired photographer snaps shots.
As you walk through the front door, two buxom Heineken girls in tight green half-shirts hand out pint glasses. The Dutch beer company is a co-sponsor of tonight's event, so the Greenies are on special. As we're shuttled through the swag gauntlet, we get ballots listing the nominees; we're supposed to pick the winners. The savviest prognosticator will win two tickets to next year's Grammys, along with -- drumroll, please -- a Grammy after-party...sponsored by Heineken, naturally. Trick is, your pick for Album of the Year must be correct in order to secure the coveted prize.
I take my seat, look through the best-album nominees, and make my selection. After we've been seated awhile, afternoon on-air personality Michele Fisher greets us. "Are you all ready for the Grammys?" she wants to know. The crowd members -- all 56 of us -- are semi-enthused. Meanwhile, the much-touted big screen is a vast sea of brilliant blue, marred only by the tiny words "No Satellite."
The Grammys set sail at 7 p.m. It's 7:18. Fisher tells us that the satellite should be linked up any minute. In the meantime, it's Grammy trivia for prizes! She peppers the crowd with questions. You might be surprised to learn that Britney Spears does not hold the record for most Grammy Awards won in a single night. Nor was she the youngest performer ever to win the highly lauded industry honor. Nice guess. It was Carlos Santana who took home 12 trophies a couple years back, not Britney. Eminem, not Britney, has won a Grammy and an Oscar. You thought it was Britney, huh.
Don't worry. You're not the only one who believes Mrs. Federline has won the Grammy every year since she graduated from Mousketeer University. A large portion of tonight's crowd would swear she has -- or at least guesses her name most of the time.
Who are these people? Maybe the real Grammy enthusiasts stayed at home. What we in the crowd do know is that it's fast approaching 8 p.m., and there's still no linkup. So here we sit, rotely answering "Britney Spears" to every question about Grammy history going back to its inception. The contest starts to run out of juice. Fisher, once proudly handing out CDs from this year's Grammy-nominated artists, is reduced to giving away KRBE calendars, stickers and koozies.
Close to half of the night's revelers have headed home; not even the lure of free tickets to the real deal next year can keep them in their seats. Neither can the Heineken, which the Alamo wisely decides to comp in order to appease possibly angry attendees. The strategy works. The mood almost seems jovial at times. After all, the folks here don't even remember who won Album of the Year last year, so how can they be all that concerned about this year's winner?
If I had to guess, I'd say that had they stayed home, most of the people here would be watching the Fox Sunday-night lineup or Desperate Housewives, and that they were attracted here by the lure of razzle-dazzle and door prizes. In fact, Fisher gets her biggest applause with the line "I hope everyone remembered to TiVo Desperate Housewives." (As it later turns out, Housewives murdered the Grammys in the ratings. And "murdered" is not too strong a word -- viewership was down a whopping 28 percent from last year.)
At 8:05 they finally get picture, to a smattering of applause. Lynyrd Skynyrd -- now down to a couple of roadies and a contest winner -- is performing a salute to Southern rock with help from Tim McGraw and Keith Urban. (Urban's a Southerner? Well, he is from the southern hemisphere...) This virtual who's who of shit is saved only by Gretchen Wilson and Dickie Betts. Steven Tyler, Bono, Norah Jones, Brian Wilson, Tim McGraw (in his third performance of the night, mind you), Billy Joe Armstrong of Green Day, Alicia Keys and Stevie Wonder sing the Beatles' "Across the Universe" with Velvet Revolver backing. It's dedicated to the victims of the tsunami. Unable to mainline my free pitcher of Heineken, I head to the loo.
I make it back just in time for the best-album announcement. Ray Charles!? Of course! He's dead, which means one thing in Award Show Kingdom: shoo-in. I decide to stick around to watch the drawing for the main prize, although I know I don't have a shot. Even though she wasn't on the ballot, I wrote in Britney Spears.