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Texas Sidestep
Wedding Party Hit The Town Friday For Stealth Bashes

By Amy Argetsinger and Monica Hesse
Washington Post Staff Writers
Monday, May 12, 2008

Last fall, a woman named Lindsey Lineweaver contacted John Grainger Esch to reserve his Silver Spur Theater, in Salado, Tex., for her wedding dinner on May 9. It was a typical booking for the space, which Esch helped convert from an 1800s granary and feed store. Not until about three hours before guests arrived did he detect anything unusual.

That's when Esch says he heard a police officer outside utter the name "Jenna." Pretty soon the bomb-sniffing dogs arrived.

While White House-watchers were busy remarking on the highly secretive Saturday night wedding on the closed confines of President Bush's Crawford, Tex., ranch, the real cloak-and-dagger came on Friday. That's when the Hager and Bush families stealthily mounted a large-scale rehearsal dinner and major after-party -- virtually out in the open -- in an unsuspecting village more than an hour's drive south.

But first, some quick answers to the biggest questions of the weekend:

· Yes, Jenna Bush is now Jenna Hager, taking the name of her new husband, Henry.

· Yes, the president cried at the ceremony.

· Yes, Karl Rove danced. A bit.

Back to Salado, a town of about 3,400 residents on the distant outskirts of Temple and Killeen. Dave Hermann, the owner of the Range Restaurant, suspected that something was up with the rehearsal dinner for 100 he was catering Friday night at an event space called the Old Salado Springs Celebration Center. The mother of the groom seemed to be using aliases -- her deposit checks kept arriving in different names.

On Thursday night, he was informed that the hosts were actually John and Margaret Hager of Richmond, the former lieutenant governor and his wife, and the in-laws-to-be of Jenna Bush. (The Lindsey Lineweaver who made reservations at the Silver Spur for the after-party is Laura Bush's personal aide.)

Out of the loop prior to the weekend -- and thus apparently not bound to any confidentiality -- both Hermann and Esch were kind enough yesterday to dish the kind of details that we may never hear about the wedding itself.

Within reason, that is. Hermann told us that Henry Hager gave a charming, funny toast that included stories about his early courtship of Jenna. Stories like . . . ? Hermann wouldn't say. John Hager and several bridesmaids also offered toasts; Laura Bush delivered a wedding prayer, but she and the president largely turned the spotlight over to the Hagers.

"They were consciously aware that this was a party hosted by the groom's family," Hermann said. "The president was just a guest of the party. I cannot stress to you how humble and gracious everyone at that event was."

The dress: Casual (jackets but no ties for men, summer dresses for women) to beat the 90-degree heat. The dinner: Parmesan-crusted stuffed artichokes, mini-crab cakes, a Texas dish known as "white wings" (chicken breast wrapped around cheese and jalapenos), lemon-crusted rainbow trout, pork tenderloin over corn pudding, grilled vegetables and a lemon birthday cake for Henry Hager's 30th that night.

After dinner, the entire party walked about a block down Royal Street accompanied by a high school marching band -- right out there in public, a bit of news that later chafed the White House press corps, since they are supposed to have representatives witness any public outing by POTUS. Hmpf. Anyway, the group walked to the Silver Spur, where a party that included every wedding guest was already underway.

The details: A Southwestern buffet, an open bar, guests drinking Shiner Bock and Dos Equis from clear plastic cups on which "Jenna and Henry" was written in gold. Jenna wore a sleeveless V-neck white top and black ruffled skirt; the young-skewing crowd looked extremely preppy. "A lot of Young Republicans," said Esch. A band played country-rock and bluegrass, and people danced until midnight -- not the president and Laura, who mostly mingled, but that's when Rove did "bust a move a little bit," Esch said. He described Jenna and Henry as the best dancers in the room. ("I don't know if that's saying much.")

Yesterday, the White House released 11 photos of the wedding that mostly illustrated things we already knew (Jenna's embroidered organza dress, her sister's "moonstone blue" gown, the limestone cross and altar her father had erected for the ceremony) but also tipped us off to a few things we didn't -- the bride's humidity-beating half-up/half-down hairdo; the tres leche wedding cake (a super-rich Tex-Mex favorite).

One final detail, from an interview that Pastor Kirbyjon Caldwell, who performed the 35-minute ceremony, gave to Houston's KHOU-TV: The father of the bride "was compassionate and emotional" during the exchange of vows. "He cried a couple of times."

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