President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural festivities began in earnest on Thursday with a live concert at the Lincoln Memorial, where Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood and Jon Voight were on the bill. The event — officially called the Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration — was also streamed online.
“There’s never been a movement like this, and it’s something very special,” Trump said at the end of the event, which he watched from the steps of the memorial along with his wife Melania and the rest of his family.
Speaking to the crowd lined up toward the Washington Monument, Trump spoke of his unlikely campaign and victory, and pladged that he “will get it turned around.” He was referring to his appeal to disaffected working class supporters, and he told them, “You are not forgotten anymore.”
Although Trump suggested that a Lincoln Memorial concert had never been done for an inaugural before, it has: President Obama, George W. Bush and Bill Clinton each had celebrations at the steps of the monument, designed in a neo classical style by Henry Bacon as a temple to democracy. After a fireworks display that spelled “USA,” Trump and his family stood before the statue of Lincoln, and stared in silence for a few moments.
Voight opened the concert, telling the crowds gathered that “we have all been witness to a very grueling year and half for the president elect.” Voight said at the outset. He added that “we all wondered if God could reverse the barrage of negative lies” made about Trump during the campaign.
“He certainly didn’t need this job, and yes, God answered all of our prayers, because here it is. We will be part of history. All of us,” Voight told the crowd, who stretched down the National Mall along the reflecting pool toward the Washington Monument.
He referred to the monument behind him and said that Lincoln would be smiling at the moment, knowing “America will be saved by an honest and good man who will work for all the people.”
Then Sam Moore, best known for “Soul Man,” sang “America the Beautiful” with a choir backup and asked the crowd to join with him. DJ RaviDrums opened the concert, and later performed as a group called to Rocket Bots danced on stage. The Army Fife and Drum Corps appeared at several points as other artists did their setup on the makeshift stage.
About 20 minutes into the concert, Trump and his wife Melania walked down the steps of the Memorial as recorded music of the Rolling Stones’ “Heart of Stone.” They then took their seats with the rest of the Trump family.
Trump’s claim that no other inaugural concert had been held at the memorial was puzzling, as just a cursory Google search links to video of past events. Eight years ago, when Obama was first inaugurated, the lineup included Bruce Springsteen, Jon Bon Jovi, Pete Seeger, U2 and James Taylor, along with historical readings by Tom Hanks, Jamie Foxx, Ashley Judd and Denzel Washington, among others. The lineup was so long that artists only sang one song, rather than perform a group of their hits.
The crowds also were greater in 2009, as the throng of concert-goers reached the grounds surrounding the Washington Monument. Some estimates put the attendance at 400,000. There was no immediate estimate of the attendance at the Trump event, even though he claimed that “they never had so many people” at the memorial.
Much focus had been paid during Trump’s transition as to who he would line up for the ceremony, given the lopsided support that Hillary Clinton enjoyed among musicians and other artists. Sources say that a number of Trump associates and friends reached out, including Steve Wynn, to many in the industry to perform, but a number of entertainers balked. Showbiz figures such as Garth Brooks, Celine Dion and Elton John reportedly declined invites, and Jennifer Holliday, announced last week as one of the performers, dropped out of the event on Saturday. She cited negative reaction from some of her fans.
Also performing for Trump at the event were the Frontmen of Country — Tim Rushlow, Larry Stewart and Richie McDonald, all chart-topping country singers who did a medley of some of their hits. Rushlow, who has also is forging a career as a big band singer, will sing for the Trumps’ first dance at one of the inaugural balls on Friday.
They finished their set by singing part of “God Bless the USA,” Greenwood’s hit, before Greenwood joined them on stage to sing it with them.
Later, 3 Doors Down sang “The Broken,” “When I’m Gone,” “Kryptonite” and “Here Without You.” The Piano Guys, who became a hit on YouTube, also performed, singing “It’s Gonna Be Okay.”
Keith sang “American Soldier,” “Made in America” and “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue,” patriotic songs that spoke to the theme of the event — “Make America Great Again.” He held up a red plastic cup in salute as he sang his hit, “Beer for My Horses.”
“Thanks to Barack Obama for your service, and thanks to the 45th president of the United States. I salute you,” he said.