The energy was high at the Convention Center last night as the city feted President Obama’s second inauguration. At least a thousand guests gathered in their black-tie finest to hear great musical acts and to welcome the President and Vice President to another four years in Washington.
The focal point of the warehouse-like space was the stage in the middle, decked in patriotic flags and the presidential seal, which throughout the evening hosted legendary musicians such as Stevie Wonder singing classics including “Very Superstitious” and “Signed, Sealed, Delivered.” Alicia Keys belted a goosebump-inspiring rendition of “Girl on Fire,” changing the words to “Obama’s on Fire.”
Partygoers revved up when band du jour Fun played their hits “Some Nights” and “We are Young.” They served as a perfect opener for the President and First Lady to take the stage, dancing to Jennifer Hudson’s version of the Al Green classic “Let’s Stay Together.” Later in the evening Vice President Biden and his wife, Jill, danced to Jamie Foxx singing “I Can’t Stop Loving You” by Ray Charles.
The evening felt less like a ball and more like a music festival, as most partygoers refrained from dancing in favor of eagerly waiting for the next famous act to take the stage. Maybe it was the general youth of the crowd—but we suspect it was reverence for the once-in-a-lifetime evening.
The Aloha State welcomed attendees in classic Hawaiian style, offering them leis as they processed through a saber arch and onto the concourse surrounding the ballroom at the Renaissance Arlington Capital View Hotel for the Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball.
Society president Kohono Mossman described the tenor of the evening perfectly in his welcome address: “a celebration in true Hawaiian style—with good music and good food.”
The standout among the stations of sushi, dim sum, and butler-passed trays of hors d’oeuvres were the whole roasted suckling pigs, carved in front of guests at stations in the front of the ballroom.
After an enthusiastic kickoff to the festivities by the Kamehameha Schools Warrior Marching Band, the evening continued with musical acts that included the Aloha Boys and Amy Hanaiali’i Gilliom, a five-time Grammy nominee for Best Hawaiian Music Album.
Among the evening’s distinguished guests were US senators Mazie Hirono and Brian Schatz, Veterans Affairs Secretary Eric Shinseki, and Representative Tulsi Gabbard.
Last night, the Artists & Athletes Alliance hosted a party for ServiceNation at DC Coast. It drew a smattering of notables (including former Redskins defensive back Fred Smoot, actor Omar Benson Miller of 8 Mile and CSI: Miami fame, vice presidential sons Hunter and Beau Biden, and congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard) for speeches about the importance of military service paired with a raw bar, passed snacks, and drinks.
Delaware Attorney General Beau Biden opened the program as soon as he arrived by thanking brother Hunter for joining the Navy Reserves at age 41, as a public affairs officer. He went on to remind the group why he cares so much about American soldiers, particularly those returning from combat, saying: "The fallen angels return home through our home state of Delaware." He was followed by newly minted congresswoman Gabbard, a combat veteran from Hawaii who continues to serve in the Hawaii National Guard. After Gabbard's remarks, several attendees came up to thank her for her service, call her an inspiration, and ask to take her picture. The house was packed—so much so that it got hard to move around or take pictures that weren't close-ups of nearby people—but most partygoers didn't seem to mind.
New York, Maryland, and Delaware shared the stage Sunday night at the Fairmont Hotel, hosting an inaugural ball together for the first time. “We weren’t expecting the same crowds as four years ago,” explained Richard Schrader, director of the New York State Society. It wasn’t hard to see New York’s stake in the hotel’s downstairs rooms, where attendees could nibble on the state’s famous snacks and treats, such as Schrader’s favorite, Antoinette’s sponge chocolates. But a pair of glamorously dressed New Yorkers also got a taste of Maryland’s cream of crab soup. “Cream of what?” we overheard them asking as chefs ladled out samples.
Squeezing into the quaint and oh-so-Russian Mari Vanna, a cozy restaurant and lounge that opened last week on Connecticut Avenue near M Street, it was clear: We were going to have trouble remembering the names of the celebrities in attendance. "Oh, it's that guy! The guy who played Charlotte's husband in Sex and the City," we thought as we spied the bald head of Evan Handler, a.k.a. Harry Goldenblatt. "And there's the dude from Wings," (Tim Daly). "Oh, I love her. She has amazing style what is her name?" we whispered to our tablemate, motioning to Oscar-nominated actress Taraji P. Henson, decked out in a black cocktail dress, her hair swept up in a chic ponytail.
As friendly Russian waitresses sporting peasant dresses passed out plates of homemade nut bread, radishes and sea salt, we spent a good deal of time repeating the above scenario with John Leguizamo, Alfre Woodard, Richard Kind, Matt Bomer, Melissa Leo, Lynne Whitfield, and Wayne Knight (we'll give you a hand with that last one: He played Newman on Seinfeld). By the time we spied Paula Abdul (who is so tiny we practically had to bend down to say "hello"), we were relieved just to be able to put a name to a face. However, as anyone familiar with Creative Coalition will tell you, these are the soldiers of the cause, the venerable gang of character actors and sitcom veterans who campaign on behalf of arts advocacy, a group familiar with Washington and the ways of lobbying for funds.
Some lucky and fast-acting members of the general public will be able to attend one of the two invitation-only “official” inaugural balls. The Presidential Election Committee announced Friday that “a limited number of tickets for the Inaugural Ball” will be made available to the general public. Up to two tickets will be issued on a first come, first served basis to individuals who sign up at a special Web page. The public tickets cost $60 each.
The Inaugural Ball will be held Monday, January 21, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in downtown DC, the same location for the other official ball, the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball for members of the military.
Numerous organizations are sponsoring dozens of other unofficial and state balls throughout the city, beginning on Thursday, January 17. Most of these balls are open to all for the price of a ticket. Our list of inaugural balls is updated on a regular basis.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee has confirmed there will be only two “official” inaugural balls to mark the second inauguration of President Barack Obama and Vice President Joe Biden and both will be held under one roof—the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
This is a marked contrast to four years ago when there were ten official balls, but it is a planned strategy to create an inauguration that is mindful of the nation’s economic situation. The scaled back inauguration also puts less of a strain on the city, law enforcement, and overall security, which can get overwhelmed by a newly inaugurated president motorcading around town to multiple balls.
The two 2013 inaugural balls, the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball and The Inaugural Ball, will occur on Monday evening, January 21, after the President’s public swearing in at the Capitol and the inaugural parade along Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. The President is expected to take the formal oath of office at the White House on Sunday, January 20.
The Presidential Inauguration Committee said the Commander-in-Chief’s Ball will be for members of the U.S. military. Tickets will be free to invited guests, which will include active duty and reserve service men and women, Medal of Honor recipients, and wounded warriors and their spouses.
According to PIC spokesperson Addie Whisenant, “Americans from across the country will be invited to share in the celebration at The Inaugural Ball, a unified celebration for all Americans.” That ball will be large, using every hall in the Convention Center. The President and Vice President are expected to attend both balls. It's not out of the question that they might stop elsewhere—perhaps at the Hawaii Ball on January 20 for President Obama, and the Delaware Ball, also January 20, for Vice President Biden.
If you are not invited to one of the “official” balls, don’t despair. There are dozens of other “unofficial” and state balls, happening Thursday through Monday nights, and a range of other receptions and activities. For example, First Lady Michelle Obama and Jill Biden will host a children’s concert at the Convention Center on Saturday, January 19. Tickets for the concert will be distributed by the Joint Task Force National Capital Region and the Department of Defense, working with the PIC. No word yet, though, on who will be performing.
Probably the most exclusive ball will be the “staff” inaugural ball which, according to a source, will happen the day after all the others, will also be at the Convention Center, and is expected to feature some special entertainment.
By all early indications the 2013 inauguration will be a robust five days for Washington, with many balls, receptions, and other events and a prevailing attitude of glamorous celebration, but if there’s any over-the-top partying it will come from the unofficial realm of the occasion. Within the “official” ranks of inaugural planning there’s a keen awareness that given the flaccid economy and the stresses of the fiscal cliff, the order of the day will be scaling back from the size and hoopla of the first Obama inauguration. For example, there will be no concert on the Mall and fewer than the ten official inaugural balls of four years ago.
Officials within the presidential inauguration committee (PIC) stress that the 2013 inauguration will have the same “excitement” of the campaign, but the prevailing tone is clear: that keeping with precedent and in recognition of the nation’s ongoing economic recovery, the events and activities surrounding President Obama’s second inaugural will be smaller in scope than four years ago, according to a PIC official.
Public donations are needed to fund a lot of the official festivities that are separate from the swearing in at the Capitol. To that end, last week the PIC announced it would accept corporate contributions—after initially saying it would not—and the amounts targeted are, at the highest level, $250,000 from individuals and $1 million from institutions. In return the donors will receive a package of tickets for a variety of events, including seats at the parade. Tickets for the swearing-in ceremony are harder to come by and are issued through members of Congress and the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies.
Do you want to attend an inaugural ball? There will be plenty of opportunities during the second inauguration of President Barack Obama. State societies and other organizations have begun to make public information about their planned balls. There will be something for everyone, in just about every price range. Most are black-tie, but not all. There are 17 state society balls, 18 so-called “unofficial” balls, and at a later date, the presidential inauguration committee (PIC) will announce the “official” balls, which four years ago numbered ten. (The Washingtonian is also hosting its first ever inaugural ball, at the National Air and Space Museum on January 20; more details are available online.) It’s safe to assume President Obama and the First Lady will attend some of the balls, though exactly which ones will likely not be made public until closer to the events.*
This inauguration weekend will be different than most because inauguration day, January 20, falls on a Sunday. While President Obama will take the oath of office that day at the White House, he will be sworn in again publicly at the Capitol on Monday, January 21, followed by the traditional parade. Balls and galas will happen Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday nights of that weekend, and we’ve even found one, the Sister Cities International Inaugural Gala, happening on Thursday, January 17.
Below we have links to the balls that have set up pages for information and tickets.
State Society Balls
Arkansas Inaugural Gala
Sunday, January 20, 8 PM to 1 AM
National Press Club
Tickets: from $125 general admission; $200 VIP
Dress: Black tie
Delaware Inaugural Ball
Sunday, January 20, 7 PM
The Fairmont Hotel, 2401 M St., NW
Dress: Black tie
Florida Inaugural Ball
Saturday, January 19, reception at 6 PM, dinner at 7, ball from 9 to 12:30
Andrew Mellon Auditorium, 1301 Constitution Ave., NW
Dress: Black tie
Garden State Inaugural Gala
Sunday, January 20, 7:30 to 11:30 PM
Washington Court Hotel, 525 New Jersey Ave., NW
Tickets: start at $225
Dress: Black tie optional
Georgia Inaugural Gala
Sunday, January 20, 7 PM to midnight
National Museum of Women in the Arts, 1250 New York Ave., NW
Tickets: $150 members; $200 nonmembers
Dress: Black tie
Hawaii State Society Inaugural Ball
Sunday, January 20, 6 PM to 1 AM
Renaissance Arlington Capitol View Hotel, 2800 S. Potomac Ave.
Dress: Black tie or ethnic formal
Illinois State Society Inaugural Gala
Saturday, January 19, 8:30 PM to 1:30 AM
Renaissance Hotel, 999 Ninth St., NW
Dress: Black tie
January 20 was a memorable night for the 3,500 campaign volunteers and supporters who made it inside the Hilton Washington’s ballroom for the official Youth Inaugural Ball. They were mere feet away from the newly inaugurated President of the United States, who personally thanked the roomful of twentysomethings for believing in his campaign and delivering him to the White House.
>> See our original coverage of the ball here
But not everyone had the same experience.
Kimberly Misher arrived at the Hilton at 7:30, just 30 minutes after the doors opened. The ball didn’t even begin until 9 and the line was already around the block, but Misher had hope—it was moving fast. A few days earlier, she had bought a ball ticket off Craigslist for $400—more than five times the original $75. It was expensive, but she wanted to be a part of history. After navigating through a maze of tents, passing the security check, and checking her coat, she was finally in. Or so she thought.
“A police officer called it a holding area,” says Misher. “That’s how I learned that we were just in the antechamber. The main ballroom was across the hall.” There was one door leading to the main ballroom, and people were lined up 100 people across and 100 people deep, she says. “There was a lot of pushing, and it was hot.”
When the door finally opened, she ran smack into another line—at the entrance to the ballroom. Earlier in the day, Misher had been denied access to the inaugural parade. She had a ticket but was told to go to the wrong gate and wound up at the end of an insurmountable line. But again, she had hope.