Ball Plans Are on a Roll for Obama's Inauguration

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The good news: There are going to be about a million inaugural balls.

The bad news: They're sold out.

Kidding! Given the excitement, it just can seem as they will be.

There will be 10 official balls, according to sources at the tourism group Destination DC, which yesterday released a list of 45 unofficial parties and events. Inauguration fever -- especially the desperate desire to attend a glamorous inaugural soiree -- is running so high that anyone with a keg and a Barack Obama cardboard cutout is calling his gathering a "ball."

The hot ticket, of course, is one of the "official" balls hosted by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. The PIC has not announced how many it will host -- or even that there will be any of the traditional presidential celebrations.

"The details have not yet been firmed up," PIC spokeswoman Linda Douglass said. (Relax, everyone: Obama just ordered his first new tuxedo in 15 years.)

An "official" ball, at least for previous inaugurations, is a massive, standing-room-only party where the new president and first lady are guaranteed to appear. The balls used to be in hotel ballrooms all over Washington; now they're all placed at the convention center or other large venues for efficiency and security, and guests from various states are grouped together to fill the rooms.

Typically, tickets are offered to campaign workers, donors and volunteers, who will snap up the chance to dress to the nines, sip weak drinks and dance until the president appears, makes a very short speech, then sashays across the stage with the first lady. As parties, they're awful. As history, they're priceless.

Your chances of scoring a ticket if you didn't work on the campaign or don't have connections: almost nil.

That brings us to the booming cottage industry of unofficial balls: Everyone wants a piece of this inauguration, even if the Obamas don't drop in.

Those parties will range from elegant to sparse, with guest lists and prices to match. Washington's A-listers usually skip balls for quiet dinners with friends and leave the public celebrations to visitors and newcomers in town.

Still, this inauguration promises some of the best unofficial parties in history. Some will be rocking (Dionne Warwick's music bash at the Marriott Wardman Park with Chaka Khan, George Clinton and Yolanda Adams), some very exclusive (Oprah, our invitation must be lost in the mail) and some really geeky (Bytes and Books inaugural ball by the National Coalition for Technology in Education and Training).

Most, however, are more traditional. Throughout the inaugural weekend, state societies will host parties with cute names. The Creative Coalition and Human Rights Campaign each will have its own ball, as will MTV, Historically Black Colleges and Universities, International Conservation Caucus Foundation, and Babyboomer Professionals. And that is only the beginning, we promise.

Your chances of scoring a ticket to one of them: Depends on whom you know and how much you want to spend.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company