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Posted at 05:53 PM ET, 12/03/2012

Kennedy Center Honors after-party: Led Zeppelin charms the room, Letterman leaves early

Jimmy Page greets Jason Bonham at the 2012 Kennedy Center Honors Supper Dance. (Scott Suchman for the Kennedy Center)
You hear that noise coming from the Kennedy Center Sunday night? It was the final aftershock of the Baby Boom, whacking the staid arts temple on the Potomac like a hammer of the gods.

Led Zeppelin , it turns out, still has the ability to shock. As Dave Grohl and the Foo Fighters ripped into the sexually-charged “Black Dog” — guitars wailing, strobes flashing, honey dripping — we saw several elderly patrons shrink towards the exits. Clearly, no one had warned them: Hard rock had finally come to the Kennedy Center Honors. (*see also: Why Grohl played drums for Zep tribute)

And just in time! Because the men of LedZep proved to be the most accessible rock gods the event has seen in years. They may have left the older folks dazed and confused (“I met Mr. Zeppelin last night,” Aretha Franklin told reporters on the red carpet), but younger guests flocked to the three grizzled Englishmen at the post-show dinner in the center’s Grand Foyer.

Jimmy Page — looking like the Quaker Oats guy these days, with that snow-white hair and beatific glow — smiled warmly, seemingly genuinely touched as one fan after another (usually a 35-to-50 year-old dude) told him oh my god you changed my life. “I’m a jazz musician,” began one, urgently unloading all the things one needs to tell Jimmy Page (“when I listen to Miles or Coltrane. . . I saw Blind Faith in Japan. . . ”).

Producer George Stevens Jr. seemed somewhat embarrassed by the mob blocking the guitar hero from his meal. “Are you the escort for these people?” he hissed to a volunteer assisting Page’s posse. “Take them to their table!” Sorry, Mr. Stevens — Sen. Debbie Stabenow’s gotta get her photo with him first.

David Letterman. (Scott Suchman for the Kennedy Center)
Hey, can you blame the people for seizing the moment? Not like they were going to have that kind of lovefest with honoree David Letterman . The crotchety late-night icon did, at least, drop by the gala, but he was outta there before the salad course, leaving Jimmy Kimmel as the ranking A-lister of a half-empty table. (Did a teenage Kimmel really stay up until 1:30 a.m. watching Letterman, as he proclaimed in his tribute? Yes. “My parents didn’t know, so I just did it. We had no VCR.”) For guests who paid a minimum of $2,000, the dinner may have offered a little less spark than usual; somewhat fewer members of Congress or the Cabinet visibly mingling with the showbiz elite. Blame the lateness of the hour — many diners weren’t seated until after 11 p.m. — but at least it meant that Dustin Hoffman , Buddy Guy and Natalia Makarova seemed to eat mostly in peace.

But here was a moment, shared with us by NBC’s David Gregory: Kid Rock meeting President Obama at the White House pre-show reception. Joked POTUS to the rocker, who was one of Mitt Romney’s most vocal celebvocates, “I’m still here.” No hard feelings, apparently.

Fighting our way through the fanboys, we asked Robert Plant, Zeppelin’s howling lead singer, if he was surprised his music still had the power to rattle the gentry.

Hardly. “I played MerleFest in North Carolina last year with my true love Patty Griffin” — the fetching singer-songwriter on his arm Sunday night — “and we cleared half the crowd.” He sounded rather pleased.

More Kennedy Center Honors coverage:

Michelle Obama’s Kennedy Center Honors dress and guests in the presidential box

George Stevens misses Kennedy Center Honors State Department dinner to pick up Oscar

WATCH: David Letterman, Dustin Hoffman and more on the Kennedy Center Honors red carpet

John Paul Jones, left, and Robert Plant, center, of Led Zeppelin, meet Lenny Kravitz, right. (Scott Suchman for The Kennedy Center)

Dustin Hoffman, right, with Alec and Hilaria Baldwin. (Scott Suchman for The Kennedy Center)

Buddy Guy and Bonnie Raitt. (Scott Suchman for the Kennedy Center)

Carmen De Lavallade and Natalie Makarova. (Scott Suchman for the Kennedy Center)

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Joe Kennedy III, newest Kennedy in Congress, marries Lauren Anne Birchfield

Love, etc.: A baby for Sen. Ron Wyden and Nancy Bass Wyden

At Sackler Gallery’s 25th anniversary gala, happy ending to behind-the-scenes struggle

Cosmos Club torn by mystery over general manager’s departure

By  |  05:53 PM ET, 12/03/2012

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