Think Finding An Inaugural Room Is Hard? Try for a Band.

Construction continued this week on the inaugural stand. The inauguration could draw millions to Washington.
Construction continued this week on the inaugural stand. The inauguration could draw millions to Washington. (By Alex Wong -- Getty Images)
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By Nikita Stewart and Michael E. Ruane
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, November 27, 2008

Marching bands are tuning instruments and cheerleaders are readying pompoms in anticipation of getting selected to stroll on Pennsylvania Avenue in President-elect Barack Obama's inaugural parade.

Just one hiccup.

If hopes are realized and they get the nod, they've got an even bigger challenge: finding a place to stay within marching -- or driving -- distance to the city.

Band directors, trying to make contingency arrangements, are facing the same struggle as other would-be visitors, with demand high to get near what could be the biggest inaugural celebration in the country's history. It's one thing to find a hotel room for your family or a couch to crash on. It's another to find a block of rooms for a group that may number 200 or more. Plus the drums, tubas and the like.

"The furthest we've ever put a group is Rockville," said Justin Shuler, owner of Group Travel Network, which arranges trips for marching bands and student groups. "Now we're looking at southern Virginia and Pennsylvania. . . . It's impossible to find rooms. It has never been this difficult."

Hotels, he said, are so busy that they don't have to be flexible about a marching band's traveling plans.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee, the group in charge of pulling together the parade and other festivities, is working with city officials to identify alternative accommodations, such as high school gyms and churches that might be suitable for overnight stays.

"Part of our commitment to holding the most open and accessible inaugural activities in history is working closely with officials in the District and surrounding jurisdictions to find creative solutions to the challenge of housing as many of the parade participants who need it," said Josh Earnest, the inaugural committee's director of communications.

Such assistance would be welcomed by parade hopefuls. The District's hotels are just about booked up, along with an additional 70,000 or so hotel rooms in what is known as greater Washington. Houses and condos are getting scooped up on Craigslist.

For the past few weeks, the Lowndes High School marching band, from Valdosta, Ga., has been trying to reserve lodging in hotels around Washington just in case.

The closest they could get? Williamsburg, a 150-mile, 2 1/2 -hour trek to Pennsylvania Avenue on a good day.

"We'll probably leave Williamsburg at 3 or 4 a.m. We're just anticipating the traffic to be horrendous that day," said Charles E. Todd, the school's director of bands.

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