Barack Obama kicked off his inauguration festivities Sunday in a Lincoln Memorial celebration fused with history and full of legendary musicians and show business luminaries.
The event, before a staggering crowd that endured a winter chill and spread all the way to the Washington Monument, was the highlight of a weekend defined by anxious excitement and maddening logistics.
The intense security here has closed major roads, forced a series of checkpoints and made just about everyone prepare for long lines.
But what has created havoc for many of the Hollywood figures who have come to the capital this weekend is the desire to cram as many events, cocktail parties and balls into a single day, all in the name of witnessing history. Some media figures have taken to keeping closely held lists of all of the events, with a premium placed on the more intimate affairs.
“You have to plan ahead strategically,” said producer Joe Pichirallo, an early supporter of Joseph Biden who is here with his family.
But it has been hard to keep even the smallest of celebrations a secret. New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd was to hold a cocktail party at her home, and the invite quickly made the rounds on the social circuit.
On Saturday, media, political and entertainment types — including California attorney general Jerry Brown and singer Michael Stipe –packed into writer Christopher Hitchens’ party for Slate. Many guests could be heard plotting their agendas for the rest of the weekend. One author was looking forward to a small dinner on Sunday night that included Cher.
At Cafe Milano, a Georgetown eatery that is Washington’s version of Spago, politicos and showbiz figures packed into a venue all but hosting non-stop revelry until the inauguration is over. New York Gov. David Paterson posed for pictures with Star Jones and Sharon Stone. “It is a toughie,” said Heather Thomas Brittenham, who brought her youngest daughter with her. “The weather is not nice, and there will be the big crowds, but I think that a lot of people who would not normally put themselves through this want to be here and want to be a part of it.”
That sense of a turning point helped producers of the Lincoln Memorial event secure major talent quickly. Led by Bruce Springsteen singing “The Rising,” and capped by Springsteen and folk legend Pete Seeger crooning “This Land Is Your Land,” and Beyonce with “America the Beautiful,” the ceremony was pulled together in just a matter of weeks. HBO’s Richard Plepler, sitting in the audience along with Michael Lombardo, said about 95% of those asked agreed to come.
“I’m feeling good,” said Don Mischer, who directed and produced the Lincoln Memorial event, to which HBO had obtained exclusive rights from the Presidential Inaugural Committee. He and executive producer George Stevens had just 15 days to prepare.
“It just feels good, generally, to pull it off.”
After the show finished, Obama thanked him and said, “I’m going to go home tonight and watch it at 11.”
That isn’t to say the show was without its harried moments. Bono did not want to sing “Pride (In the Name of Love)” without the rest of U2, which sent Obama’s inauguration team scrambling to secure hard-to-find hotel rooms to house them.
The ceremony itself was a sometimes stately, sometimes jamming — two hours marked not just by the presence of figures like Stevie Wonder and Tom Hanks, narrating Aaron Copland’s “Lincoln Portrait,” but also by a few moments of levity.
“Chi town, stand up,” said Jamie Foxx from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, as he quoted Obama and even mimicked his voice, on the night of his victory speech in Grant Park. The president-elect, watching from a booth enclosed in bullet-proof glass along with Biden and their family, laughed as the actor roused the masses.
Ironically enough, it was Garth Brooks — who performed at President Bush’s inaugural — who drew some of the biggest cheers as he sang “American Pie” and “Shout,” with the masses of people on the mall dancing in their spots.
Among those watching were George Lucas, bundled in a down coat and comfortable tennis shoes, and Time Warner chairman Jeffrey Bewkes.
Bewkes, in a hat and gloves, looked to the masses and quipped, “And they will all be HBO subscribers.”
Seriously, though, he professed himself impressed.