Inaugural Night: Elegant, Egalitarian, Exhausting

There was not a more elegant moment last night when President Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama danced to Jennifer Hudson’s serenade of “Let’s Stay Together.”

First it was at the Commander-in-Chiefs Ball, and then it was at the Inaugural Ball. The latter was a massive Super Ball, essentially combining eight of the elegant affairs into two, drawing tens of thousands to the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.

If you think it had the makings of an Andrew Jackson-era mob scene, you are wrong. Very few of the ball goers were dressed down: very many were dressed to the nines. It many have not been Jason Wu, who designed the First Lady’s inaugural gown, but to the many who flowed in through the security, it was obviously their best.

On TV, this Inaugural Ball, with star filled performances, lived up to the themes, classy and inclusive. But to actually be there was to look around, beyond a makeshift stage, and a two-football field sized hall, just slightly decorated, that was pretty dreary, what with exposed concrete and all the charm of an assembly line.

Outside, thousands waited to pass through a security perimeter, many women having made blocks-long walks down Sixth Street in their high heels before reaching a block long line. Then it was another line for coat check. And once finally in, yet another for drink tickets. There were no lines for the food: Cocktail pretzels and Cheez Its.

The saving grace may have been the brief appearance of the Obamas, or top notch entertainment from Alicia Keys, Smokey Robinson, Jamie Foxx and Brad Paisley. In one of her appearance, Keys talked about “this historic moment we are living in, where nothing can stop us, no one can get in our way.”

For many there, it may have felt a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. By the time they got out, their thoughts were surely on the “once.”

Elsewhere, much smaller and less logistically challenging events were spread out across town. Cyndi Lauper entertained at a Human Rights Campaign ball at the Mayflower Hotel, exclaiming to the crowd, “He said ‘gay.’ Bitch right.” It reflected an upbeat atmosphere in the ballroom, primarily because Obama mentioned gay rights for the first time in an inaugural address, as well as put the movement’s key moments like Stonewall in the context of Selma and the civil rights battles of the 50s and 60s. Richard Blanco, the inaugural poet, was surrounded as he repeated, again and again, the feeling of being on the Capitol Hill platform and reciting a work before some 700,000 to 800,000. (Official estimates have yet to come in.)

Across town, at the 9:30 Club on V Street, Ke$sha and DJ Jazzy Jeff performed at an event for Musicians on Call and the Recording Industry Assn. of America. It was past midnight. Inauguration Day was over, and they broke through the staid elements of earlier events. Guests were showered in gold glitter.