So the Grammys were this weekend…
A sizable percentage of you are probably groaning, closing this tab of your browser and saying something like, “Ugh, I can’t stand hearing about those self-congratulating millionaires and the mass-marketed, radio-friendly, auto-tuned crap they give each other awards for making.” Maybe a few of you even added air quotes when you said “making” to drive the point home. Would have been a nice touch.
As much as I enjoy and care about the Grammys, I can’t blame people for detecting, and reacting to, a degree of fakeness. Sunday’s broadcast certainly had its share of artifice, with a Maroon 5/Alicia Keys duet that perfectly embodied pop music’s insider culture and a Bob Marley tribute that hit so far off the mark it seemed genuinely bizarre. (Speaking of which, I made a note a little while ago to write a post about how Bruno Mars might not be human. He’s too good. His voice, stage presence and skin are all unreasonably perfect, and he has this general aura of unreality about him. I’m starting to think that birthers have been rooting around for the wrong Hawaii birth certificate…)
But here’s the thing. There are real people at the Grammys, too. Actual human beings who buy garlic and orange juice at the grocery store and make music that finds success on its own terms. I thought I’d use today’s post to tell you about one of those people, someone whose appearance on the TV screen during Sunday’s ceremony made me cheer out loud as reflexively as I would have if someone had told me that Chris Brown was stuck in an airport somewhere and wouldn’t be available for reaction shots. That someone is Bryn Davies.
The first time I encountered Davies, she was playing her upright bass alongside Justin Townes Earle at The Southern in Charlottesville, VA. This was back in March of 2010, and while I’m sure Davies wasn’t the first double bass player I saw perform, she was easily the most memorable. Earle’s ensemble consisted of just guitar, bass and fiddle, but Davies’ aggressive handiwork conjured an invisible fourth member, her right hand slapping the strings against the neck in many of the spots a drummer might have added emphasis. Davies’ style, which was made extra apparent by the intimacy of the venue’s setup, was a genuine revelation to me, changing the way I looked at her instrument.
Fast forward to Sunday night’s telecast, which saw her performing as part of the all-female band that’s been touring with Jack White in support of Blunderbuss, the Grammy-nominated album Davies helped record. Those few minutes watching Davies slap her way through “Love Interruption,” along with the minutes that followed when White switched over to his all-male band for “Freedom At 21,” represented a stark departure from the show’s painfully contrived performance pairings, and I couldn’t have been happier as I watched. Some of that happiness was derived from being a huge fan of White and Blunderbuss, but seeing Davies on such an enormous stage was incredibly satisfying.
There she was. That real, flesh-and-blood human being I’d seen do incredible things with the slightest amplification in a room so small it could probably fit inside the Staples Center some absurd number of times. And she’s just one example. The Lumineers, The Black Keys, Brittany Howard… they’re all people who have worked incredibly hard to built an audience the right way, and as their reward, they’re put in this high-pressure environment in which Taylor Swift is overreacting to everything, Chris Brown and Frank Ocean are feuding, and Katy Perry is wearing this. Can you imagine? It seems absolutely insane to me. But instead of writing the whole thing off, I say we watch and cheer for people like Bryn Davies. She’s earned it.
Watch a clip from that 2010 Justin Townes Earle show above and hear one of Davies’ contributions to Blunderbuss below.