Unprecedented mix of politics, showbiz expected

Hollywood figures are starting to arrive in Washington for nearly a week’s worth of events tied to Barack Obama’s inauguration where celebrities will promote causes, performers will reach new levels of visibility and even fashion designers are looking to make their mark.

All of this comes with a great deal of trepidation over the size of crowds, the expected cold weather and, as is the case with many lavish affairs, the feeling that no matter where you are, you may be missing out on something better.

Expected is an unprecedented mix of politics and showbiz in an event that could rival Bill Clinton’s inauguration in 1993 in terms of interest from the entertainment biz.

“I would just say, ‘More,’ ” said political consultant Andy Spahn, an early Obama supporter whose client list includes Steven Spielberg and Jeffrey Katzenberg.

Melissa Etheridge, who is performing at several events, and spent part of Wednesday shopping for a new suit for her son, said, “I recall in 1993, at Bill Clinton’s inaugural, there was about half as much celebration, yet you could truly feel like it’s people who have been on the outside for so long that it felt like, “Now I am making a difference here. Now I am making a change’.”

There will be some subtle differences from 1993. Inaugural weekend will see everything from an art gallery — Manifest Hope, inspired by Shepard Fairey’s iconic portrait, with works from artists around the country — to the sale of officially sanctioned T-shirts and handbags from designers like Zac Posen and Narcisco Rodriguez.

The biggest challenge, hands down, will be getting in and getting around. And there is probably no better way to attend than to have purchased one of the $50,000 packages, which allow VIP treatment and access to officially sanctioned venues. Among the entertainment figures who have paid the $50,000 — money that is being used to help finance the inauguration itself — are Spielberg, Katzenberg, Halle Berry, Stacey Snider, Robert Zemeckis and Jamie Foxx.

No one doubts that the singular focus will be on the new president, and there is concern that the celebrations not look too glitzy or over-the-top given the faltering economy.

“It is absolutely a matter of striking the right tone, and I think that most people who are involved are really aware of that,” said actor Hill Harper, a law school classmate of Obama’s who campaigned for him throughout the country. (In addition to receiving several honors at various events through the weekend, Harper will help anchor BET’s inaugural coverage on Tuesday.)

On Monday, for instance, which Obama has called a national day of service, Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher are expected at ServiceNation’s “breakfast dialogue” at D.C.’s Ballou Senior High School, where they will premiere a “Presidential Pledge” video of celebrities making service commitments.

But there will be a dizzying number of concurrent events, almost all boasting a lineup of stars in prime venues.

The official kickoff will be a Sunday ceremony at the Lincoln Memorial, where a who’s who of music greats and leading stars will stage a concert steeped in history and Obama’s campaign themes. HBO, which has the exclusive right to cover the event, announced on Wednesday that Bettye LaVette and Pete Seeger have been added to the billing of musical stars, and Jack Black, Steve Carell, Rosario Dawson, Tom Hanks and Laura Linney will be among those delivering historical readings. Later in the day, Marc Anthony is among the performers on the bill for the Latino Inaugural Gala at Union Station.

The next evening, on inaugural eve, the festivities will be led by a trio of bipartisan dinners sanctioned by Obama’s inaugural committee, with John McCain, Colin Powell and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden as the guests of honor.

Al Gore, meanwhile, is the honorary co-chair of the Green Inaugural Gala, with Etheridge, Michael Franti and Maroon 5 among the performers, and speeches expected from the former vice president and Van Jones. Organizer Aimee Christensen said that the event — the first of its kind — will be “a great opportunity to connect with each other.”

Gore enlisted Kevin Wall, the creator and producer of the Live Earth concerts, to produce this ceremony as well.

“I think these events are very empowering for the organizations that put them together,” said Wall, who promises a lineup of musical talent and some interstitial messaging from various stars. The venue is much different than the sprawling stadiums of Live Earth: the atrium of the National Portrait Gallery, which will be made available for setup only when the space closes in mid-afternoon.

Other events that night include Rock the Vote, which has Sheryl Crow and the Beastie Boys on the bill for a gala, and the Huffington Post is throwing a pre-inaugural party at the Newseum, with the environment as one of the themes but also a midnight countdown to Inauguration Day.

After the swearing-in on Tuesday, dozens of parties will compete with the 10 officially sanctioned inaugural balls, the events the new president and first lady are most likely to attend.

George Lucas is scheduled to accept an award at the Folger Shakespeare Library as part of the Bytes and Books Inaugural Ball, coordinated by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training. The Recording Industry Assn. of America is hosting its own ball, with Rihanna set to perform, in a benefit for the hunger relief organization Feeding America. And a coalition of gay rights groups, led by the Human Rights Campaign, is sponsoring the Equality Ball, with acts like Etheridge, Dave Koz, Rufus Wainwright, Thelma Houston, Cyndi Lauper and Catie Curtis on the bill.

There’s also the Inaugural Purple Ball, at the Fairmont Hotel, which boasts a guest list that includes Ashley Judd, Ed Harris, John Cusack and Davis Guggenheim, with Il Divo performing. The Creative Coalition gala that same night has a lineup that includes Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway, Spike Lee and Maggie Gyllenhaal, with Sting and Elvis Costello performing. The Impact Film Fund is hosting a “Pollywood Dinner” to salute “Artists Making an Impact,” with guests including Jessica Alba, Harper, Sarah Silverman and Jeffrey Wright.

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