Covering the Inauguration as an entertainment event reinforces the reality that, in many respects, that's what it is. The last three days in D.C. saw a carefully orchestrated assemblage of famous persons arrive in town to add to, and share in, the luster of a glamorous new administration, and hopefully, be seen on TV doing it. Everybody wants to be a planet in the solar system revolving around the superstar President whose election moved Justin Timberlake on Monday to tell Oprah, on video (apparently even he couldn't get his hands on the toughest ticket in town) that "the day after the election I woke up with a little swagger in my step. We all of a sudden have swagger. America, we are cool again." (If you say so, Justin, but didn't George Bush have swagger, too? Isn't that what started the war in Iraq?)
The coolest thing about being in D.C. this week was watching the way Obama united the city. The population here is 56% black and 38% white, and black faces aren't typically seen on the National Mall on Inauguration Day in the numbers they were on Tuesday. For a few days, though, a shared respect and admiration for Obama and his historically profound accomplishments, and a crossed-fingers hope that he's right guy to lead us out of this mess put pretty much everybody in a positive state of mind. Hey, if the middle aged African American cab driver who rescued me from the cold on Monday afternoon came away from Sunday's We Are One concert thinking that both Josh Groban and Garth Brooks were "real good," maybe we can all just get along, right? For a few days in D.C. at the dawn of a new administration, anyway, it was pretty to think so.
All the entertainers in town, of course, were there in part to reinforce that message of unity. The Presidential iPod, Obama has revealed, includes Yo-Yo Ma, Sheryl Crow and Jay-Z - all of whom performed this week - and the glittering Inaugural Balls on Tuesday were various and sundry enough to accommodate all manner of black tie and evening gown constituencies, from jam band fans with The Dead to emo enthusiasts with Fall Out Boy. (It would have been nice to see a little more country, however, if the Obamaites are really serious about reaching across the aisle. Except for Brooks, who's a name brand without much of an ongoing career, and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, there wasn't a whole lot of twang to go around. (The great men of the Waco Brothers did play on Tuesday night, along with Andrew Bird and Ted Leo, in a Chicago themed "Big Shoulders" celebration at the Black Cat, but that was an unofficial event.)
And where was I on Tuesday night, while all this fabulousness going on? On the other side of the velvet rope at the Feeding America ball sponsored by the Recording Industry Association of America. (That's the D.C. based lobbying organization that tries to keep music sales from swirling down the shower drain.) Speaking of swagger, "Swagger Like Us" rapper T.I. was there, looking splendid in a white tux, as were Feeding America lead spokespeople Courteney Cox and David Arquette, as well as David's big sister Rosanna.
On my way out the door, I almost literally bumped into Rihanna, for the second time in my star studded life. (Last time was backstage at a Power 99 show at the Wachovia Center. Rihanna, we've really got to stop meeting like this.) Like a paparazzi in training, I clicked away at them all on my point and shoot Nikon, as if I was Malia Obama. (Speaking of, I met a homeless guy last night who had appointed himself chairman of Sasha Obama's campaign in 2036.)
Up in the corner, that's Shakira, the UNICEF ambassador of Columbian and Lebanese descent who ethnically is as a much of "a mutt" as Obama is, and represents a good PR link for the new President to his Latino and global constituencies. Earlier in the evening at the Neighborhood Ball, she joined the all-star cast doing Stevie Wonder's "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," and, improbably, also kept the optimistic theme going with Van Morrison's "Bright Side Of The Road." In person, she's tiny, though not quite so small as she appears between two hulking photogs.