This weekend I got a last minute invite to attend the Presidential Inaugural Ball in Washington DC. Needless to say I was excited, as this would be a great opportunity to experience an historical event while mingling with like-minded guests, news reporters, and stars alike.
The last minute invite of course meant running to catch a train on Sunday night, emergency same-day tuxedo rental, and generally not sleeping for 48 hours. But it’s the chance of a lifetime, so all of that takes a back seat.
Upon arrival at Union Station at 1 am Sunday night (technically Monday), I made a phone call to my date for the event and asked her to come pick me up. The problem of course was that half of DC was barricaded with armed guards in the National Mall area, which meant my ride had to park a mile and a half away, which in turn, meant I had to trek to meet her through a very surreal landscape of empty streets and army vehicles watching my every move.
After meeting up with my ride, we returned to her apartment in Falls Church, VA; a suburb just outside the city limits. After feigning sleep, I woke up early to try to get a tuxedo for the evening’s festivities. I was afraid there wouldn’t be any left as I was waiting to almost literally the last minute. Luckily I found a small shop in Virginia (Matt’s Tailoring, appropriately enough) and I was able to get a very basic, slightly ill-fitting, tux. But, as Murphy’s Law goes, my date’s car ended up getting a flat tire on the way back from the shop. So it goes… After some frantic calls to her father, she was able to get the tire patched just in time to head out for the night.
When we arrived, we were ushered into a series of lines outside of the Convention Center, where we were forced to wait for almost an hour in below freezing weather. As a male, I admit I had it easier as the lines were dotted with women wearing nothing but their evening dresses out of fear of wrinkling their attire, or simply because they didn’t have a coat that matched. After 45 minutes, I began to worry about hypothermia setting in for some of the more scantily clad attendees, but thankfully the security guards made the announcement they would be letting us in momentarily, as they were just waiting for the ‘go-ahead’ from security inside the building.
Once inside, we were thoroughly scanned through metal detectors, and waited in line yet again to check our coats for $5 a pop. When we finally arrived downstairs (5 halls opened to form one gigantic hall), there were tables of cocktails, snacks, the presidential stage, and a news media island to greet us. In my mind, I had thought it would be a much more intimate affair, with tables to sit at and waiters bringing you dinner. But, as usual, the reality is always much different. There were no tables and no “meals” beyond the Chex mix and Cheez its. Cocktails were also $10 each, which by New York standards is a decent price, but still a little disappointing. But who am I to complain with a free ticket anyway?
After some milling around, the event started right on time with Alicia Keys opening with a fresh take on her popular song, “Obama’s on fire!!!”. She only played one song, which was a little disappointing, but good nonetheless. After she exited the stage, Mexican band Mana performed a 5 song set, followed by Brad Paisley. Fun. performed next, which caused many older people in the audience to ask me, “Who are these guys?” Being a little younger than them, and seeing them perform on tv only a week ago, I was able to answer them. They did not understand the period after the name, which I regretted bringing up immediately, as I wasn’t sure myself what the point was. But that’s pop music for you.
After Fun. performed all of their top hits, they left the stage to ‘Hail to the Chief’, and immediately the crowd started to roar. The next thing I knew, Barack Obama and Michelle emerged from behind the curtain and waved to everyone in the room. Jennifer Hudson followed, and serenaded the two with Al Green’s “Let’s Stay Together”. The president and his wife danced, and the crowd ate it up with comments like “Aw, they’re so cute!” and “Woohoo!” echoing around me. After they finished their dance, they left the stage (they were on for about 5 minutes total) and a brief intermission ensued, which prompted me to have some more drinks and Cheez its.
When the concert resumed, Stevie Wonder took the stage, followed by John Legend, a couple of cast members from Glee, and then finally Vice President Joe Biden and his wife Jill took the stage and was serenaded by none other than Django himself, Jamie Foxx. Following the Vice-President came Chris Cornell of Soundgarden fame to close the show. As a teenager in the 90’s, I was most excited to see this performance, and was so close to the stage I could almost touch him. Which is what I wanted to do very much just to tell him that his vocals were way too low, as no one in the audience could hear him. But, alas, I don’t think Chris got the memo, as he exited the stage after a few songs, never raising the volume and never sharing his angst-y tenor with the President’s guests.
We left the event around 1 am, and headed back to my date’s apartment so I could get up early the next morning to try to find a train ride back to New York during the mass exodus from the nation’s capitol.
All in all, it was an awesome experience, and something to tell the grand kids about one day. I was able to scratch “see the President” off of my bucket list and see some great musical performances, of which I can now share with you readers of Lackuna.