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Getting cozy with musicians at Grammy Museum's evening events

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John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde, Mavis Staples and Asleep at the Wheel will participate this month.

August 12, 2010|By Katherine Tulich, Special to the Los Angeles Times
  • PROBING: “… In reality they’re questioning the direction the country is going,” John Mellencamp says of some of his songs.
PROBING: “… In reality… (Lisa Poole / Associated…)

The Grammy Museum in downtown Los Angeles has been around only since 2009, but its intimate 200-seat Clive Davis Theater has already become one of the music industry's hottest rooms. In past months, participants in programs at the theater have included Ringo Starr, Annie Lennox, Dwight Yoakam, Herbie Hancock, Brian Wilson, Smokey Robinson, Carly Simon, Dionne Warwick and Heart.

Every month, as part of the museum's public programs, legendary artists are invited to take the stage to talk about their history and latest projects, field questions from the audience and end the evening with an unplugged performance, often followed by a meet and greet and CD signing with audience members.

"These evenings are becoming so popular that we are even getting fans flying in from overseas," says the museum's Executive Director Robert Santelli. "It's a rare opportunity to get up close and personal with your favorite artist. It's like seeing them in a large living room. We try to do everything in our power to make the experience for the fan really memorable."

"We have two programs," he continues. " 'An Evening With …,' that is an oral history with an entire overview of their career, and then we have a program called 'The Drop' where artists introduce their new albums." Ace Frehley, Robert Randolph, Jakob Dylan, Matthew Sweet and Susanna Hoffs are some of the artists who have "dropped" their latest releases at the museum.

These evenings are also part of the museum's mission to document a living history, as all the conversations and performances are filmed and archived. "Can you imagine if we had the chance to do this with a Louis Armstrong or Robert Johnson?" Santelli asks. "This is really the inspiration to get their stories down and to get a deeper understanding of how they create."

Since launching last year, the events are continually drawing bigger names. In August, guests include John Mellencamp, Chrissie Hynde, Mavis Staples and Asleep at the Wheel, with many more to be announced, including an evening with Yoko Ono in October as part of a new exhibition on John Lennon that the museum will be co-curating with her.

Hynde will be "dropping" her anticipated new CD, "Fidelity!" on Aug. 23, a day before its release. The album is a collaboration with Welsh singer songwriter JP Jones and their new band together, the Fairground Boys, and Hynde says she is keen to tell their story.

"We are so excited by this project," Hynde says. "I don't generally like to talk about myself, but we are both in this together so it's fun. It's great to share it."

The iconic frontwoman of The Pretenders and the up-and-coming singer-songwriter met at a London party. Despite their 28-year age gap, they felt an instant chemistry and after communicating long distance for a time, Hynde invited Jones to visit Cuba with her. The trip became a frenetic songwriting expedition as the two explored the nature of their relationship.

With an opening track called "Perfect Lover," where Hynde sings, "I found my perfect lover, but he's only half my age," the acoustic guitar-driven rock and folk album is bound to invite much speculation.

"This album has a very specific story," says Hynde on the phone from her hometown of Akron, Ohio. "It's about two people who meet and write songs to each other on a certain theme. There is no question the album invites speculation, but it's our journey of us meeting and only knowing each other for a few months and then mapping out how we see our future together. In a different situation, our future would have been very different, and that's what our album is about."

The Grammy Museum night will also include a chance to hear some of the tracks from the new album performed acoustically by Jones and Hynde. "We love the chance to present the music in different ways," she says. "It's great to be able to sit in a small room and see the audience and communicate with them."

calendar@latimes.com

The Grammy Museum

Where: 800 W. Olympic Blvd., Suite A245, L.A.

When: Museum open Sun.-Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., Sat. 10 a.m. to 7:30 p.m. See website for program schedules.

Price: $20 to $40 for programs

Info: (213) 765-6800 or (800) 745-3000; http://www.grammymuseum.org

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