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MusiCares 2021 Person of the Year Gala Canceled, Replaced With Virtual 'Music on a Mission' Event

Haim
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Haim performs onstage during MusiCares Person of the Year honoring Fleetwood Mac at Radio City Music Hall on Jan. 26, 2018 in New York City.

General admission tickets are $25, which is just about what it costs to park at the Person of the Year gala.

MusiCares’ Person of the Year gala, a mainstay of Grammy Week since 1991, has been canceled for this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. In its place, the organization will hold a virtual event, Music on a Mission. Tickets go on sale Thursday (Feb. 18).

The new event will be accessible to the general public in a way the Person of the Year gala never was. General-admission tickets are $25, which is just about what it costs to park at the Person of the Year gala. Individual tickets to the most recent Person of the Year gala in January 2020 ranged from a "low" of $2,000 to a high of (gulp) $8,000.

Music on a Mission will take place in the Person of the Year gala’s usual time slot -- two days before the Grammy telecast. That puts this year’s event on Friday, March 12, two days before the 63rd annual Grammy Awards telecast.

The event will feature never-before-seen performances -- some live, some on tape -- by Haim, H.E.R., Jhené Aiko and John Legend. (Haim and Aiko are album of the year nominees at the 63rd annual Grammy Awards; H.E.R. is nominated for song of the year. Legend, a Grammy event perennial, is an 11-time Grammy winner.)

The event will also include video from the MusiCares vaults of performances at past Person of the Year galas by Stevie Nicks, Usher, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Petty and “one or two artists” who MusiCares won’t name yet. (Lady Gaga, whose photo appeared in an online ad for this event on Wednesday, is probably a good bet.)

The event will also feature a pre-show DJ set by DJ D-Nice and “special appearances” by Carole King, Jesse & Joy, Jonas Brothers, Ledisi, Lionel Richie, Macklemore, Mick Fleetwood, Paul McCartney, Ringo Starr and Shakira.

Laura Segura, MusicCares’ executive director, told Billboard that the decision to make this year’s event a virtual one was made in November. “That was our make-it-or-break it moment,” she says. “We knew we needed time to produce it one way or another.”

Segura says they never selected a Person of the Year honoree for this year, so there was never serious thought given to a traditional gala.

“For the last several months in conversation with our board we had been trying to think of what we could do since we can’t meet in person. We decided we wanted to honor the people of the year instead of the person of the year. That’s all of those music industry professionals that have been impacted so greatly the by pandemic. We wanted to raise money for them and celebrate how vital they are to the music-making process. … It wasn’t right to honor one person at this time. It was really about celebrating the people that have been hardest hit.”

Segura says MusiCares hopes to raise $2 million from the Music on a Mission event. That would represent a steep drop from the 2020 Person of the Year gala, which reported gross revenue for the dinner and auction combined of $6.9 million.

Still, $2 million is $2 million, and there is great need due to the pandemic. Segura says that “100% of the monies raised” will go to MusiCares’ COVID-19 Relief Fund.

Since the start of the pandemic, MusiCares has distributed more than $22 million to help more than 25,000 music people in need.

In addition to COVID-19 relief, MusiCares provides a support system of health and human services across a spectrum of needs. According to recent survey data collected by MusiCares, 62 percent of music people surveyed feel moderately high to very high levels of financial stress daily and 26 percent of respondents report moderate to severe levels of depression.

The big advantage to this year’s virtual show is opening up what has always been a fairly exclusive and well-heeled club to the average music fan.

“One of the benefits of having a virtual concert is that we can open it up to the public,” Segura says. “We are able to celebrate not just with the music industry but with our music fans as well.”

Average music fans haven’t been able to see much footage from past Person of the Year galas. The 2019 gala honoring Dolly Parton will air on Netflix in April, and a few others have appeared online or on TV, but this upcoming show will be a first glimpse behind the curtain for many music fans.

“We’ve turned a difficult situation into really a special one for the people who are going to get to view it,” Segura says.

The show will have a host and some surprise guests, but Segura is unwilling to provide details. “Because we’re trying to do a public ticket sale, we want to tease out some of our performances and some of our surprise features,” she says.

MusiCares has sponsorship deals with Spotify and Master & Dynamic. Spotify Fans First, an email group of Spotify artists’ top fans as determined by Spotify data, were granted access to special early-bird pricing of $20. As noted above, beginning Thursday, general-admission tickets are $25.

And ticket purchasers can opt for a bundle that includes a ticket as well as a pair of Master & Dynamic MW07 PLUS True Wireless Earphones. The bundle is offered for $200, plus a $7 shipping charge. An ad on the MusiCares site says the headphones are valued at $324.

Segura declined to reveal how much these companies paid for these sponsorship tie-ins.

Other sponsors include Amazon Music,  Universal Music Group, Vivid Seats, Warner Music Group, Facebook, Greenberg Traurig, LLP, ASCAP, Concord, Gibson Gives, Live Nation, Mastercard, People, SoundCloud, Triller and the Recording Academy.

David Crosby was the first Person of the Year honoree in 1991. The last five honorees have been Lionel Richie, Tom Petty, Fleetwood Mac (the first group or duo honoree), Parton (the first country honoree) and Aerosmith.

Segura heads MusiCares’ 19-member staff.

MusiCares’ 20-person board of directors is headed by Steve Boom, chair. Board members include Grammy-winning artists Lalah Hathaway and Ben Haggerty (Macklemore); Harvey Mason Jr., the Academy’s interim president/CEO; Rob Light, CAA partner and music division head; and actress/singer Rita Wilson.

While Segura is proud of MusiCares’ ability to pivot to a virtual event, and is happy that this year’s event will be affordable to a much broader audience, she hopes things are back to normal next year. “Certainly our hope is to be back in person to celebrate together in 2022,” she says.

Tickets for the event are available here.