This is an older article about the Grammys written two years ago about George by Brad Burnham. It was originally published in Maui Magazine’s Rhythm & Views column. The title of the post is “The Grammys and George Kahumoku Jr.“ I chose to repost this article here because it is really good, but also quite difficult to find on the Maui magazine’s site. I too will get to go to the Grammys with George, soon, the same way Brad did years ago and am looking forward to it. Well here is Brad’s article:
“The National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences restructured the Grammy Awards earlier this month, merging existing categories across all genres including pop, rock, R&B and country. Most of the changes make sense. One change, however, did bring out the ire in some of Hawaii’s music fans; the award for Best Hawaiian Music Album was combined with Best Native American Music Album and Best Zydeco or Cajun Music Album. The new category will be called the Best Regional Roots Music Album.
The award for Best Hawaiian Album was only added by the academy in 2005. For the few years it existed, some of Hawaii’s most beloved performers traveled to the Mainland to participate in the annual Grammy Awards ceremony.
Rhythm & Views would like to take you behind-the-scenes at the Grammys during one of those trips with Maui’s slack-key master George Kahumoku Jr. and guest blogger Brad Burnham.
Burnham has spent 20 years in the media, attending several high-profile events with massive amounts of press, security and production including the NFL Super Bowl, complete with locker-room interviews, private parties for the NFL alumni and a private concert with Hootie and the Blowfish. He also attended Universal Studios‘ Jurassic Park Ride opening in Hollywood with Steven Spielberg and has appeared on the “Tonight Show with Jay Leno.”
He told R&V that he has seen some very high-profile events and he thinks the Grammys top them all. We’d like to welcome Burnham as he shares 24 hours at the Grammys with Uncle George.”
Glamorous Grammys (Hawaiian Style)
by Brad Burnham
“Ever wonder what actually happens when an artist wins a Grammy, accepts the award and then disappears off the stage? Well my friends, I experienced this whirl-wind with a handful of Hawaiians who picked up their fourth award in five years. And I must set the stage, no pun intended, by stating that I have been very fortunate to have observed some very extraordinary presentations and productions … and I think the Grammys take the cake, or in this case, the pineapple.
I will do my best to paint the canvas of this 24 hour extravaganza so you will have an enlightened perspective as to just how great and just how grand this show really is.
Uncle George Kahumoku Jr. is a legend on Maui. He is a multi-talented slack key guitarist and is the life and breath of a true Hawaiian. We became friends about three years ago after I first saw him perform at his weekly concert series (Masters of Hawaiian Slack Key Guitar). This show blew me away in its quaint simple setting and is a must-see for anyone visiting Maui.
Since then, we have stayed in contact and I was lucky enough to take my family to visit him and his wife on his farm in Wailuku. A couple weeks before the Grammys (2009), George, knowing that I would assist him with photography as well as written re-caps, called and invited me. I could not say yes and mahalo fast enough.
I flew from Phoenix to LA and taxied to his location in Manhattan Beach. We shot the Manhattan Beach breeze for about two hours, and it was very much like our visit on his farm — fun, friendly and relaxed, not at all full of the hype that you would think would accompany the few hours before an event of this magnitude.
Our host Paul Konwiser, wife and son dressed and we drove to the Staples Center. The police presence was massive; I would consider it to be on the level of a Presidential visit. Multiple check points, mirrors being rolled under the cars, tire spikes, packs of police (30 of them in groups being prepped for the day) all nearly sporting swat-like weaponry. A very impressive display by the LAPD to say the least. And keep in mind, that this was all being done to the people that were “supposed to be there” and had VIP tickets on the dash of their cars. Quite a deal and a little unnerving, as at one point, we wondered if we might even have trouble getting in.
Once in the parking garage, Paul and his wife graced George and their son with beautiful flower and ti-leaf leis. That’s it. We were ready to go in.
They all quickly entered the LA Convention Center, while I, having just flown in, needed to run to my nearby Westin Bonaventure to change and freshen up. A curious moment because when we split up, we could not help but wonder if we find each other again.
Not to worry. After a quick stop at my hotel and a taxi back down to the event, I was easily inside. Something that I was not aware of is that there is a pre-show telecast, where nearly all of the awards are given out in a smaller version of what is seen on television. George had told me to hurry as their category was to be called early on, #24 to be exact.
I got there and immediately saw the legendary Neil Young. So at that point, I quickly realized that I was in the right place. I made my way up to the camera tri-pod platform, which was dead center about 10 rows off the stage. After about 12 categories — I was a bit late — Best Hawaiian Album was being shown on the big screen.
Oh my gosh…this is it! I get goose bumps just writing this. What a moment! And within what seemed like seconds, the nominees were announced…and bam…the winner is? “MASTERS OF HAWAIIAN SLACK KEY GUITAR VOL.2,” Jeff Peterson, George Kahumoku Jr, Wayne Wong, Paul Konwiser and Daniel Ho! OMG…my friends just won the Grammy! I could barely breathe and was not sure what to do, except to start shooting pix with my iPhone.
As the newly crowned champs left the stage, I figured, just like on TV, that they would exit stage right, set their trophy on a pedestal, return to their seats and watch the rest of the categories. Boy was I wrong. What happened next was like transcending into a glitzy glam-packed fairytale.
We all — the winners, their wives and myself — assembled on the stage-right side of the room and were told to wait there by an escort. I had no idea what was going on, but George and the crew did, as they have walked down this beach before.
Another escort appeared and made a quick count of the members in our party. We had an escort at the front of the group and also one at the back, so nobody could join our group. We headed out of the LA Convention Center en route to who knows where, down an escalator and into one of the metal detectors. (By the end of the event, I must have gone through, been wanded etc. at least five or six times.) It seemed a bit over-kill, but extremely safe.
As we went through to go into the Staples Center, we had to show our tickets for the main event. Some how George had dropped his along the way. I did not have any trouble believing it with all the excitement; but it did not appear that we were going to get to continue on. I think George’s boyish smile got him out of that jam, because the senior supervisor let us go through quite quickly.
More escalators, turns, more hallways; I could not even come close to retracing my steps and now it appeared we were about to enter a media circuit. Over the course of the next 60-90 minutes, we made about seven or eight stops at various locations. All the while, George, Paul and Daniel seemed to be on the phone doing interviews of their own, I assumed with Hawaiian press.
Upstairs in the Staples Center, we were whisked past the suites. Many were marked (as dressing rooms) with the names of the performers for the main event. As we walked by these rooms titled Jay-Z, Slash etc., again it was quite clear that we were in the epicenter of the Grammys.
It seemed like nearly every 100 yards or so, there was a stopping point. The winners (Jeff, George, Wayne, Paul and Daniel) would go up a couple of stairs on to a platform with a podium and mic and field questions from the press. The first one seem to be local (LA) press. As we continued, it seemed as though yet another stop was international press. There were three to four other stops in different locations, with video cameras and different settings and backdrops.
George and the guys stopped briefly at each one for a quick Q-n-A, and then off to the next. As we walked from stop to stop, it seemed that everyone along the way was offering congratulations. At first, I did not know what to say; I was simply an invited guest. But it happened so often that at one point, I just started saying “thank you.” Yet another iconic moment, everything was executed so well, all of the nominees and winners, friends and family, staff, etc., all could not have been more full of friendliness.
The interviews started to wind down a bit, so I started to think that this has got to be about it. Wrong again. Now it was time for pictures. The picture area was very cool. Our group was immediately stopped and asked to stand around a computer screen where a small lens snapped their photo and immediately put them on Facebook. I thought that was an interesting, unique touch. Sort of a “star-tracker” for those at home to watch as the winners were being announced.
The photo area was terrific, but full of rules, as in: “Don’t touch the Grammys!” Uncle George (aka Uncle Grammy or Grammy Kahumoku) was having fun with the trophies and was attempting to pass them around a bit to Jeff’s wife and myself. Several times he and the group were told that “only the winners” could touch the prize. I did not know this was such a taboo thing to do, but we quickly realized that the Grammys themselves carry a pride, history and heritage, and with that comes a very distinct set of dos and don’ts.
When George realized that I could not hold one, he graciously pulled me on to the camera set and asked the shooter to capture a picture of he and I, with him holding the Grammy. That my friends is a moment I will never forget. I can barely describe how beautiful that moment was; here I am, just a guy, just a friend of George, not a Grammy winner. For crying out loud, yesterday I was in Scottsdale, AZ, selling Audis and now today, I am in the heart of the Grammy celebration with a winner and his trophy, on the camera set, getting possibly the most memorable keepsake I could ever possibly hope to get.
All that said, I had to chuckle while realizing that it was George’s Hawaiian-ness coming out. The spirit of Aloha, to give what you have to another, to share your life with another, to live in the present and to fully share the moment. I had to step away from the group, as the authenticity of those chain of events watered my eyes.
Becoming speechless at this last stop put me in the “OK, I’m good. I can go home now” mode, feeling as though nothing better could happen. Little did I know, the best part — the infamous walk down the red carpet — was next.”