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Star-Gazing Foreseen at the Inaugural Balls

By Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008

Forget the millions on Metro, and the bus caravans inching in from beyond the Beltway. Barack Obama's inauguration is destined to create the greatest red-carpet gridlock in the history of the Federal City.

Oprah at the Kennedy Center. Yo-Yo Ma at the swearing-in. Sting at the Harman Center.

Consider all the stars circling The One: Aretha Franklin, Spike Lee, Melissa Etheridge, Lou Gossett Jr., Ashley Judd, Dick Gregory, LL Cool J and T.I., for starters. And the rumor mill is loudly buzzing that Bruce Springsteen (and his new album), Kanye West and Will.I.Am just might drop by.

That doesn't count all those waiting for his people to call their people: A bunch of really big names aren't announcing their plans because they're hoping the Obamas want them at an official inaugural event. "If they need me to volunteer, they need me to sing, I'm there, and I'm ready," Beyoncé shamelessly hinted to reporters the day after the election.

Oh, please! You couldn't keep her away if you tried. This extravaganza is like the prom: A-listers are holding out for their dream date, but will go with their backup rather than miss the party of the year.

"Everyone's going to be here. There's not a star in the country that's not going to be here," said Marc Barnes, owner of Love nightclub off New York Avenue NE. Barnes has booked T.I. and Young Jeezy to show at the club, plus some "major people" he plans to announce next week. But he's having a hard time getting final commitments. "When you're competing with the president of the United States [for talent], there's no competition," he said.

All this star power is a bonanza for entertainment reporters, autograph seekers and paparazzi who usually ignore D.C. as too "political" (a.k.a. boring, unattractive, stuffy). The trick will be figuring out who's where -- and how you can cadge a ticket or crash a party to see them. (Note to you arrivistes: See our future dispatches to learn how you, too, can cozy up to a boring, unattractive, stuffy insider.)

The Presidential Inaugural Committee hasn't released the names of any celebrities attending official events, and probably won't until after the New Year. Yesterday, the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies said Aretha Franklin, Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma will perform at the swearing-in ceremony. No chance for tickets there (unless you're "political"), but no worries -- you can see them on television. (Franklin also is giving a free concert at the Kennedy Center on Martin Luther King Day, and those tickets will be available that afternoon at the venue.)

Also on television: performers at MTV's live "Be the Change Inaugural Ball" on Jan. 20 at the Ronald Reagan Building. The cable music network will have "several leading artists, celebrities and government officials" but hasn't nailed down names. (See Prom, above.) BET is also planning a live midnight performance by a very big star for its Jan. 20 ball at the Mandarin Oriental hotel, but hasn't released the very big name yet. BET has nabbed Mary J. Blige, Magic Johnson, Tyler Perry, Judith Jamison, Gabrielle Union and B. Smith for its second BET Honors on Jan. 17 at the Warner Theatre.

Most of the celebrity names already announced are attending the unofficial inauguration -- all those benefits and balls carving a slice of the Obama pie.

First out of the gate: The Creative Coalition, which lobbies for government support of the arts, announced its Jan. 20 ball at the Harman Center before the election -- both to get a jump on fundraising and to preserve its rep as a bipartisan organization. Sting, Sam Moore and Elvis Costello will perform; Susan Sarandon, Anne Hathaway (with the new not-a-con-man boyfriend, we hope), Spike Lee, Alfre Woodard, Dana Delany and Maggie Gyllenhaal are among the dozens of celebrity hosts.

"The great thing is that Sting's management called us," said Executive Director Robin Bronk. "It's not just a party -- it's a party with a purpose. People want to be part of it."

The ball is the group's major fundraiser ("It's what allows us to keep our doors open"), but given the economic meltdown, the prices -- starting at $10,000 for two tickets -- seemed unrealistic. But it sold out all 800 tickets three weeks ago, and Bronk said she's even kicking around the idea of a concert the night before the ball.

A close second out of the gate: Oprah, who's absolutely, positively going to be here. Tickets for her Jan. 19 taping at the Kennedy Center were snapped up in a couple of hours, and her yet-to-be-announced party will instantly become the primo must-attend event in Washington.

Dozens of other parties are scrambling for attention and talent. The first Hip-Hop Inaugural Ball on Jan. 19 at the Harman Center boasts Russell Simmons, LL Cool J, Young Jeezy and T.I. plus a "surprise" performer, with tickets starting at $500. On the same night but (we're just guessing here) quite different in tone, Lou Gossett Jr., Ashley Judd, Kate Walsh and Patricia Arquette will host the Purple Ball (purple velvet, crystals and champagne) at the Fairmont Hotel to end racism and honor troops.

Other paparazzi-worthy stakeouts Jan. 20 include the Human Rights Campaign Equality Ball at the Mayflower Hotel with Melissa Etheridge, Cyndi Lauper and "equalitinis"; the sold-out Peace Ball at the National Postal Museum with Harry Belafonte, Alice Walker, Eve Ensler and Dick Gregory; the Urban Ball (Big Boi, Monica, Cedric the Entertainer) and the Legends Ball (Dionne Warwick, Chaka Khan, George Clinton, the Temptations), both at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel.

They'll have stiff competition if Kanye West performs that night at the Impact Film Fund's party at Fur nightclub -- but then, all these rumors have a funny way of disappearing into thin air, so don't get too excited until it's official. Even then, don't get too excited: Celebrities themselves have a funny way of disappearing into thin air, but that's going to be harder to do in a city where everybody will be reduced to hoofing it.

Oh, and you "major people"? There's only going to be one long black limo that stops traffic, and in it rides the only really, really, really big name.

You'll be able to hear that motorcade a mile away. Stand in the right place at the right time, and you can tell your grandchildren you saw him.

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