Monday, January 19, 2009
As my last post shows so clearly and definitively, I attended the Inauguration Kick-Off Concert aka ‘We Are One’ yesterday. I had been waffling all week but I finally talked my wife into coming along. Knowing that I had no intention of standing for six hours in the cold to get a front row view, I made a strategic just-in-time schedule.
We left the house about 11:30 and drove to the New Carrolton Metro station. The station itself was chaos since nobody seemed to know how to use the ticket kiosks. We grabbed my wife a SmartTrip card and boarded a completely empty car. It stayed nearly empty all the way until L’Enfant Plaza when it completely filled with transfers. We got off at the Smithsonian station Mall exit and joined the general herd of people heading west. Along the way we passed all sorts of vendors sell every imaginable type of souvenir. It’s good to see the entrepreneurial spirit alive and well.
We crested the hill that the Washington Monument is on (which was well guarded by a highly armed SUV) to see the Promised Land only to not quite make it. Right beside the World War II Memorial was a security screening tent but the line for it wrapped up towards Constitution. Right there was also the end of the line for another screening tent along the south side of Reflecting Pond area. That line moved briskly, but it stopped cold after about five minutes. By now it was about 1:30. Someone wandered by saying they had stopped letting people in.
We abandoned the line and went with Plan B. We headed back to the hill of the Washington Monument. What had been a stream of pedestrians fifteen minutes earlier was now a crowd waiting for the concert to start. We picked our way through the throng until we reached a place where both the Lincoln Memorial and a huge Jumbotron were visible. From there we hunkered down and waited.
Just before 2 o’clock they started showing pre-recorded warm-up clips of Obama on his train ride and performers preparing for the show. Just a little before the official 2:30 start time, the Right Reverend V. Gene Robinson came out and gave a wonderfully nuanced invocation. I can’t do it justice, but the full text is here.
Then the guests of honors arrived to fanfare (of the common man) and sat on the side of the stage. Bruce opened with a gospel-choir backed performance of “The Rising.” You really couldn’t see anything on the stage from where we were except for a band of red where the choir stood, but the video screen was fine for watching the show and the sound was booming.
You can get the whole thing on HBO.com so I won’t recap it all here, but let it suffice to say that the atmosphere was electric. The show was well-paced and highly diverse. There was gospel and rock and soul and classical and even country performers. After what happened to the Dixie Chicks, you have to give credit to Garth Brooks for showing up which is why he might have gotten the longest set.
In fairness, Jennifer Nettles is lead singer of the country band Sugarland, so that made for two representatives of both kinds of music. Also one of Garth’s songs was “Shout” which was done originally and better than The Beatles by The Isley Brothers. One of my audience neighbors was mentioning that to someone and I confirmed the trivia. One of these guys had come from California but cheered whenever Chicago was mentioned.
Also, Bettye LaVette was a big hit with the African-American women of a certain age dressed in their finest Sunday furs surrounding us. And Denzel Washington drew sighs of appreciation from the distaff half of the audience. His appeal is truly pan-racial.
There was a lot of understated symbolism in the show. A lot of the songs were about America even if I don’t think of “Little Pink Houses” and “American Pie” as patriotic flag-waving numbers. The most subtle point was that after a poignant clip piece on Marian Anderson who had sung at the Lincoln Memorial after being blackballed by the DAR at Constitution Hall, Josh Groban and Heather Headley (Tony Award winner for the titular role in Aida) sang “"My Country 'Tis of Thee", the same song Marian Anderson sang. The nattily dressed men backing them up were members of the Gay Mens Chorus of Washington.
U2 was the only group to play as a full band even though the pit orchestra included a full rock set-up. And Obama brought down the house. He very nearly upstaged Beyonce who did the closing version of “America The Beautiful”.
The show ended at 4:30 sharp and the vast exodus began. Rather than rush the crowded Metro station, we strolled down to the Smithsonian Castle to take our first bathroom break in six hours. Not that we couldn’t have stopped along the way. The entire Mall is literally walled in with portajohns for the big day. And dozens of video and sound towers have appeared like fifty foot tall mushrooms.
From there we leisurely strolled the length of the Mall and caught the Capitol building all festooned with flags in the twilight. Just past Capitol Hill we waited about a half hour for a table at congressional aide hangout Tortilla Coast. While waiting we overheard some people with a horror story about having a hard time getting out of the Metro station because of so many people getting in. By the time dinner was done it was 7:30 and the Orange line was empty again as we headed home.
Once home, we replayed the HBO broadcast to see if we missed anything. The images looked sharper on the hi-def HBO broadcast than the monster jumbotron, but HBO’s sound surprisingly had more drop-outs than we had heard live. Sure we could have stayed at home and watched it but it’s the difference between being at Woodstock and renting the movie. When history is being made, you just have to be there.
BlatantFlickrPlugging™: As usual, lots more pictures can be found here.