Since the first event in 1986, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction ceremony has taken place in different cities (New York, Los Angeles, and Cleveland). It’s been televised or not televised, shown live or later, and in its entirety or edited. It has even occurred before there even was a physical building, the great glass pyramid on the shores of Lake Erie.
But, like so many other things in 2020, the pandemic has forced the Rock Hall to change course. And this year, after an in-person event was first postponed and then cancelled, a pre-taped virtual induction ceremony will
debut this Saturday, November 7, on HBO and HBO Max.
This year’s inductees are perhaps the Hall’s most diverse list ever, and include Depeche Mode, the Doobie Brothers, Whitney Houston, Nine Inch Nails, the Notorious B.I.G. and T. Rex. Also inducted with the Ahmet Ertegun Award are super manager/agent Irving Azoff, and manager/producer/writer Jon Landau.
It wasn’t exactly how Rock Hall President and CEO Greg Harris thought things would go, but they’ve adapted.
“When we first announced we were closing the Museum on March 15, we didn’t say anything about the May 2 live induction, because we assumed we’d only be closed for a week or two,” he says. “When we realized we’d be in for a longer haul and Festivals like SXSW cancelled, we knew we’d have to do something different. So we postponed the [in-person ceremony] to November 7. We all thought that was plenty of breathing room!”
Eventually, the Hall made the call in late July to scrap both an in-person ceremony and the annual concert, and shift to the all-TV event. “It just wasn’t possible safety-wise to do either,” he continues. “And we couldn’t expect our inductees and their guests to travel.”
The three men in charge of actually putting the two-hour show together and dispatching camera crews to the homes of inductees and speakers—along with weaving in all the archival footage—were Rock Hall of Fame Foundation President Joel Peresman, Foundation Chair John Sykes, and TV and event director Joel Gallen.
Peresman adds that things have gotten a bit more sophisticated over the past seven months of the pandemic, so viewers won’t be seeing a show with big name musicians holding up their iPhones and filming themselves.
“It’s of course not the way we normally do things, but this allowed us to tell the stories of the inductees in a little deeper manner. Normally, there’s an induction speech, a little clip package, then the inductee comes on stage. But this year, we’ve are able to put them in more of a historical perspective, and we were able to get three or four people to talk about the inductees,” Peresman says. “We had to find a way to tell this story in a dynamic and impactful way.”
Those who will speak about the inductees and their own feelings about the music will include Ringo Starr, Sean “Diddy” Combs, Bruce Springsteen, Dave Grohl, Don Henley, Jennifer Hudson, Alicia Keys, Gwen Stefani, Luke Combs, Brad Paisley, St. Vincent, Chris Martin, and more. Unfortunately, due to the program’s nature and limitations, there won’t be any actual live or taped musical performances.
As with any Rock Hall of Fame inductee list, there is controversy. Fans have deep, deep opinions and passions about who is in that shouldn’t be, who is not that should be, and just what some artists whose work would never be filed in the “rock” section of a record store are doing in there at all.
In recent years, the Hall has made both the work of the Nominating Committee (who choose the artists that go on the initial ballot) more transparent, as well as expand and diversify the body who actually vote from that ballot to choose the inductees.
“You know, it gets to the core. People care who’s inducted and who’s not inducted. So if their artist isn’t in, they find ways to question the process. And others are happy as heck and feel we need to be more inclusive. You can’t have it both ways,” Harris says. “An artist’s impact on music continues to evolve. But it means that people care, and they are passionate about it. Like when Def Leppard goes in, fans of Judas Priest complained because they came before. But Judas Priest has been on the ballot.”
“I appreciate there’s a passion that people have,” Peresman continues. “They’re pissed off when their artist isn’t inducted and thrilled when they are. Some [performers] say it doesn’t mean anything to them if they’re inducted or not, but then when they are, you see on their faces how much it means to them. “
Each year, the Hall itself has an exhibit dedicated to the incoming class, and Harris was most impressed this year with the Nine Inch Nails section. Guest curated by group founder and inductee Trent Reznor, it semi-recreates the band’s stage set at the Woodstock ’94 show that catapulted their popularity. And as a lifelong Bruce Springsteen fan, Harris was happy to see all the “pretty magical” archival material from Jon Landau, the Boss’s longtime manager, collaborator, and friend.
Peresman also sees the show as a chance for people to learn about an inductee they may know nothing about. “T. Rex wasn’t that big an act in America. People knew ‘Bang a Gong’ and maybe ‘Jeepster,’ but they didn’t know how influential this band was,” he says. “Or the Notorious B.I.G. and his life story and where his style came from. So it gives a chance for people to find out about artists they might not really be familiar with.”
And expect a lengthier “In Memoriam” segment to pay tribute to musicians and inductees who have passed in the previous year, including something that will be of special appeal to fans of Eddie Van Halen.
As for the reopened Hall of Fame and Museum itself, Harris says they are up to about 40 percent of their usual pre-pandemic attendee levels. And they’ve significantly beefed up online content at on their website, the Rock Hall EDU educational component, and a series of exclusive virtual events with Jon Landau, Nine Inch Nails, and C.J. Wallace, the son of the Notorious B.I.G.
“We’re ready to blow the roof off on November 7!” Harris sums up. “And people can watch it at home, and turn up the volume.”
For more information about the Rock Hall, the Class of 2020, and virtual events, visit RockHall.com
Keep the Houston Press Free... Since we started the Houston Press, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Houston, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Houston with no paywalls.