It was 30 degrees and snowing. But hey it was Philly in February so what do you expect? February 10th to be exact. That was the date I left the cold, gray skies of my hometown headed toward the bright, 85-degree sunshine of LA.
I would be gone a total of 6 days, which may or may not be enough for my wife – she may have liked if I were gone longer but who can blame her, really?
The reason behind my journey? Well it began in September of 2015 when I wrote a piece on the GRAMMY brand for Forbes entitled Think This Is A Seasonal Brand? Think Again. The angle for that article was to pull back the curtain, if you will and show what a brand such as the GRAMMYs does when it’s not “GRAMMY time.”
They do some amazing things with some big name brands including Hyundai and Converse. Trust me, they do a lot and the piece is well worth the read. And no, not because I wrote it.
Subsequent to this piece, I offered up the idea to do a second article on the GRAMMY brand but this time from the perspective of the actual awards show and all that leads up to it and the brands involved.
One thing led to another and I was invited to not only attend the show but also a series of Pre GRAMMY events leading up to it.
Here are are my six days in LA AKA Me, the GRAMMY Awards & Stallone.
Day 1 – Wednesday, February 10
Checked into my hotel, the Residence Inn in Downtown LA around 1PM PST. First thing I noticed, other than the fact that my room came with its own kitchen including coffeemaker – and a REAL one and not the little dinky single cup crap – was my view.
Yes that is the Hollywood sign off in the distance. Trust me the picture doesn’t do the view justice.
Later that night I attended my first Pre GRAMMY event, An Evening with Lionel Richie interviewed by Kevin Spacey at the Wallis Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts in Beverly Hills.
Lionel was being feted later in the week (Saturday) as the Person of the Year by MusiCares, Recording Academy’s philanthropic arm which provides a safety net of critical assistance for music people in times of need.
Those in attendance were advised photos were strictly forbidden so instead of sharing one of my blurry, shot from a bad angle pictures, here’s one courtesy of Billboard.
Spacey was tremendous as the interviewer, breaking into both Johnny Carson and Christopher Walken impressions at various times. And Richie was very passionate as he reminisced about his days growing up in Tuskegee, Alabama; memories of his father and how leaving The Commodores was, in his words, “the hardest thing I ever did.”
Day 2 – Thursday, February 11
The next night took me to The Village, a legendary recording studio for an event honoring record producer, Rick Rubin – who has worked with everyone from Johnny Cash to Lady Gaga and is also a co-founder of Def Jam Records.
Here’s me on the red carpet:
The studio was quite impressive to say the least with lots of recording bays and rooms and the like with no shortage of food or drink stations for the attendees.
While in one of the rooms I noticed a woman standing, looking for a place to sit down. I stood up and offered my seat. Turned out to be Macy Gray. While I didn’t get a shot of her and I together, I did snap this shot of her sitting in the seat.
Ok probably not the best image of her but she was quite appreciative of my offer.
As to the rest of the event, it was just “ok” as there was simply way too many people to actually enjoy it to be perfectly honest.
I did get to see two young singers/entertainers perform during the night. A 19-year-old Canadian singer-songwriter named Colter Wall and a 30-year-old South London poet-rapper, Kate Tempest.
Their performances were quite different than one another, to put it mildly.
Here’s two videos from the event, one from Colter Wall followed by one by Kate Tempest. NOTE: These were not shot by me, but come courtesy of
Day 3 – Friday, February 12
This night brought me to a spot called NeueHouse in Hollywood. The event was titled Delta: Sites & Sounds with Leon Bridges. Hosted by Delta Airlines, the Official Airline Partner of the Grammy Awards, it featured a private performance by the Grammy-nominated Leon Bridges. And if you don’t know who he is, do yourself a favor and check him out. The guy is insanely talented.
Here’s a video of one of his songs entitled Smooth Sailin’.
This was, without question the best part of my entire trip. Not because of the event itself or Leon Bridges, with all due respect to him – but because I got to bring along my niece Elizabeth with me to the event.
She lives in LA and I don’t get to see her all that much so I was thrilled when I found out I could get a ticket for her to the event to by my guest.
While sitting on the couches that sat just feet from the stage – it was a very informal setting, I struck up a conversation with a woman next to me. She was with her husband, and they were in my same age demo, late 40s/early 50s.
During my conversation with her I introduced her to my niece and found myself explaining to her that she was in fact my niece and not my “niece.” Seeing that this was LA, I am quite certain that many men bring with them to many an event their “nieces” if you catch my drift.
Day 4 – Saturday, February 13
After having breakfast with my niece in the morning and picking up my tux, I attended the MusiCares Person of the Year event Honoring Lionel Richie at the L.A. Convention Center.
It began with a reception and silent auction offering an exclusive and unparalleled selection of luxury items, VIP experiences and one-of-a-kind celebrity memorabilia followed by a dinner then concert, the latter of which was hosted by Jimmy Kimmel, who paid homage to Richie’s funk roots, as you can see from the picture below – the event featured performances by Rihanna, Stevie Wonder, Florence Welch, Dave Grohl, Demi Lovato, John Legend, Ellie Goulding, the Band Perry, Lenny Kravitz, Luke Bryan, Usher and Chris Stapleton.
They were all great performances but perhaps the oddest pairing, if you will was Dave Grohl’s singing “You Are.” The rocker pulled it off and then some and the crowd went nuts.
Toward the end of the night as everyone was up and dancing I made my way closer to the action, a tactic I would apply the next night, too.
Here’s some pics and a video from the night.
Day 5 – Sunday, February 14
The ante officially got raised on this day – or night to be specific as this was the night of the infamous Clive Davis pre-GRAMMY party.
Held at the Beverly Hills Hilton here’s how Entertainment Weekly described it:
“Grammy week in Los Angeles is a wild, strange piñata of parties, but there’s really only one soirée where you can see the likes of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and “Trap Queen” rapper Fetty Wap nibble on roast chicken at adjacent banquet tables while Courtney Love, Sylvester Stallone, Chris Rock, and Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson socialize in the aisles, Gwen Stefani perches giggling on Blake Shelton’s lap, and estranged bandmates Harry Styles and Zayn Malik pose separately for photos but do not (sorry, One Direction dreamers) take the stage.”
Now my take: Right off the bat I could tell this was a big deal. From the moment I arrived at the hotel there were scores of fans and security personnel alike in the parking lot – the scene was pretty wild to say the least.
The lobby was chaotic, too as more fans were gathered inside all waiting for a glimpse of their favorite stars. Not including me that is.
After going through a metal detector, I was handed my pass to get into the event.
Wasn’t anything fancy by any means – was on a piece of cardboard but it might as well been printed in gold when it comes to how valuable it was.
This event is truly THE pre GRAMMY event to be at and I for one was extremely excited to take it all in.
It started with a cocktail reception where if I looked this way I saw Richard Branson.
Would have loved to been able to chat him up but he was surrounded by a great number of people.
Look that way and I see Katie Couric, whom I did chat up along with her husband who graciously snapped this photo of Ms. Couric and yours truly.
They, her and her husband were incredibly nice and open and we chatted for about 10 minutes.
Soon after this pic was taken it was time to move to the large room which held the tables and stage for the dinner and performance. My table, as was the case the night before, was toward the back and I was perfectly fine with that. Yes, I was just happy to be there.
I would quickly learn that being seated near the back for this event had its perks for in order for anyone to get to their seats, regardless of where those seats were, they had to walk right past my table.
So I saw many a celeb pass by me on their way to the front area of the room including Caitlyn Jenner, Jon Voight, Suzanne Somers, Chris Rock, Jamie Foxx and Ringo Starr, to name but a few.
One celebrity, however, stopped not 5 feet from where I was seated. The moment I saw him I knew I would have to go up and introduce myself to him. Being from Philly I really had no choice in the matter.
Me: Hi, I’m Steve Olenski and I’m a Forbes contributor.
Him: Hey, I read your stuff all the time!
Yes, he really did say that and no, I don’t believe it for a second. He was merely being nice and nice he was the entire time I spoke with him.
However, when I mentioned I was from Philly did he really light up and put up his fist, literally for the shot you see above.
The rest of the night was all a blur after meeting Rocky, I mean how could it not be right?
Ok maybe not a blur as I was witness to some amazing performances climaxed by Earth, Wind & Fire who played their collective hearts and soul out as a tribute to their recently-deceased brother, the brilliant Maurice White.
Hearing them sing Fantasy and September as well as other songs was nothing short of extraordinary. I was so sad to hear of Maurice’s passing; their songs were a part of my soundtrack when I was younger. I played their greatest hits CD so many times I had to buy another copy.
And, using the tactic I learned from the night before I got to see them up close and personal as I moved down toward the stage and at one point found myself sitting at table right next to Stallone, Chris Rock and Michael Keaton.
During the night they showed a video tribute to Whitney Houston. I took this shot as I thought it looked interesting the way the candlelight shone through the glass juxtaposed against the screen.
And as I was leaving I ran into this guy in the parking lot. He was taking silly selfies with people including yours truly.
Day 6 – Monday, February 15
AKA G-Day as in GRAMMY Day. The festivities started at Noon PST at the Microsoft Theatre at L.A. Live with a reception followed by an awards ceremony where the awards NOT presented during the telecast later that night were handed out.
This event lasted until around 3PM. After going back to my hotel for about an hour I headed over to The Staples Center, the site of the 58th Annual GRAMMY Awards.
And here’s me in my tux for the evening.
The show itself.
After attending so many incredible events during GRAMMY Week this was the ultimate cherry-on-top ending. The experience of being at the show itself did not disappoint whatsoever.
After initially sitting in the seat location on my ticket, I was offered the chance to watch the show via a club box hosted by CIROC Vodka. I had interviewed their CMO for my Forbes GRAMMY piece which ran the day after the show – more on that a little later – and they invited me and I graciously accepted.
No, not for the vodka, I do not drink for those who don’t know me.
The performances were truly outstanding, yes even Adele’s – mic malfunction or not. The woman can flat out sing. The Lady GaGa tribute to David Bowie was mind-blowing to watch in person. I can only imagine how it looked on TV.
The most-talked about performance of the night amongst the crowd, was Kendrick Lamar. Anytime you can incorporate a bonfire into a live performance, I would say you have something there. And he did. And the crowd went bananas.
Here’s some pics from the show.
Following the show there was an after-party held at the LA Convention Center.
There were lots of food stations and drink stations as well as some circus performers – yes he said circus performers, entertaining the crowd as well as a stage for some musical performances.
This was not a celebrity After Party which was perfectly fine of course – just wanted to let you know who, or in this case, who was not in attendance.
See what I mean by circus performers?
I did not stay long at this party for A) it was getting late, B) I needed to get up early in the morning to get to the airport for my flight home and C) I needed to write and publish my article for Forbes.
I probably got maybe 3 hours of sleep Monday night/Tuesday morning but that was perfectly fine by me.
In closing I would be remiss if I did not mention two people by name: Evan Greene, the CMO Of the Recording Academy and Neda Azarfar, Vice President, Marketing Communications for the Recording Academy.
They were incredibly accommodating and helpful and generous with their time during the entire time I was in LA and I cannot thank them enough for everything they did for me.
They are, above everything else: Good people and that means more than anything to me.
Note: The Recording Academy provided me with and/or faciliitated for me access to each of the events I denoted above.