Inauguration Blogger: Feathers, fur and a borrowed trumpet

To give us a front row seat at several key Inaugural events on this historic occasion, we invited Lisa Roumell, the former deputy director of the New Museum, to blog for us from DC. Here's...


To give us a front row seat at several key Inaugural events on this historic occasion, we invited Lisa Roumell, the former deputy director of the New Museum, to blog for us from DC. Here’s her report from the past 48 hours:

Sunday night’s ball for “The Root,” (the online magazine owned by the Washington Post Co.) thrown by Donald Graham, Henry Louis “Skip” Gates Jr. et al, was indeed the hot ticket it was rumored to be. Held at the National Museum of American History, it drew what seemed to be at least 1500 people, among them Diane Von Furstenberg, Oprah, Spike Lee, Tina Brown, new Attorney General Eric Holder and Larry King. A veritable fashion feast, it made the Studio Museum of Harlem’s annual Gala look tame! Lots of feathers and fur.

Monday night, en route to the Kennedy Center for the “Let Freedom Swing” concert, the drive up the Potomac was surreal in its serenity and calm. No traffic, no people out–just the Washington Monument and Lincoln Memorial illuminated against the clear night sky, as if nothing earthshaking was afoot for the following day. The locals say that Washington won’t be this quiet at night again until the night of the Super Bowl.

Conceived by former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’ Connor and Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director of Jazz at Lincoln Center (where my husband is a trustee), the concert brought the house down. It included a conversation between Marsalis and O’Connor about how jazz embodies the spirit of the Constitution as well as the ideals of Martin Luther King Jr. in that it brings together musicians from all backgrounds who have to listen carefully to each other to get the music right. O’Connor was feisty, brilliant and charismatic, while Wynton was his usual passionate, cool cat self. Angela Bassett and Courtney Vance introduced many of the performers. Among them were singer Cassandra Wilson, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, and the Foxboro High School Jazz Ensemble, which won Jazz at Lincoln Center’s national competition for best high school jazz band. Senators came and went as did several of the visiting billionaires, including Leonard Lauder and Eli Broad. At one point during the concert, Wynton broke his trumpet and had to borrow one from–the rumor is–a member of the Foxboro band.

Tuesday morning: I’m standing in line waiting to take my seat at the swearing-in ceremony. The crowd is furious as many have been waiting for hours with reserved standing and seating tickets, despite being told that the gates opened at 9am. Everyone is worried that the supposedly most accessible inauguration in history will leave ticket holders in line on the wrong side of the gates with no way to even watch it. There are no screens and the entrances are inadequately staffed. The crowd is amazingly well behaved but concerned that this has not been planned thoroughly enough and could become a debacle.

Miraculously, the security staff arrived, the gates opened and the throngs spilled in. It was very poorly organized and not clear as to exactly where your ticketed area was. But everyone was so happy just to get in. From where I’m sitting, I can see the steps of the Capitol and the podium, and can hear everything through what is probably the most powerful loud speaker system ever. The invocation had the crowd choked up. Aretha needed no speaker system as her voice and joy rang out.

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