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Inaugural Balls: A Guide to Celebrity Sightings, Ticket Nabbing, Where to See and Be Seen the Evening of Jan. 20

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Roxanne Roberts
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, December 18, 2008; 1:00 PM

Which celebrity isn't going to be in Washington for Barack Obama's inaugural? An up-to-date peek at where the stars hang on the big weekend. Bonus: Unconfirmed rumors about the A-listers who might show up but haven't told us where or when.

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Roxanne Roberts, Washington Post staff writer and one-half of The Reliable Source, is on the trail and was online Thursday, Dec. 18, at 1 p.m. ET to brief on what to expect.

A transcript follows.

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Roxanne Roberts: Welcome all. Not sure I can add lots more than what's in today's story, but I'll try.

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Belfair, Wash.: When will the Inaugural Committee announce its balls?

Roxanne Roberts: These will be the official inaugural balls -- rumor has it that there will be 10 of them, and the delegations from various states will be lumped together. The Presidential Inaugural Committee told me it will probably make the announcement after the New Year: Where they are, and who will perform at them. But I wouldn't assume any really big stars will be at these balls. The entertainment tends to be good bands and a sprinkling of big names, but not superstars.

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Washington, D.C.: Roxanne: Any word on whether the President-elect's favorite band, Wilco, will perform at any function?

Roxanne Roberts: Haven't heard that -- but if they really are his favorite band (haven't heard that, either) then it's a good bet they get an invite.

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WILL CLOONEY BE HERE?: It's really the only thing that matters....

Roxanne Roberts: So true. Actually, he rented out my spare room.

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NOVA: I would like to hear from someone who has actually had fun at an inaugural ball. I have never been to one, but I have heard from friends who have that they often end up being rather bleak affairs. Everyone kind of waits around for the president-elect to show up but it is not always a very fun party. (Were they just lying to me so I wouldn't be jealous????)

Roxanne Roberts: Trust these people -- they're watching your back. As we get closer to the inaugural, I think I'm of giving a survival chat to the parties. This time around, they MIGHT be different -- but probably not. There will be, however, a lot of unofficial balls that sound like they're going to be really fun: Fabulous music, cool crowds -- but no drop-in by the Obamas.

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Washington, D.C., Done This Before: ROX, PLEASE! Quit glamorizing the inaugural balls! Inaugural balls are where people who have nothing of substance to do with the inauguration go to get loaded on cheap beer and posture in front of other people from flyover territory. Ick. Most of them have pretty severe b.o. ...

Roxanne Roberts: That's a little harsh, isn't it? But I can't be accused of glamorizing these parties. The best thing about the balls is the chance to be there and see history. As parties, they pretty much suck.

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You know what we need?: A "Host Your Own Inaugural Ball" kit, complete with cardboard cutouts of the Obamas and Bidens! Then we could all pretend to be at one of the real ones, but we wouldn't have to fight traffic and could hang out with people we actually like!

Roxanne Roberts: The most sensible idea of the chat thus far. Better booze, too.

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PA: Looking for tix to GW Ball. Is this a good ball? Do not know what to expect.

Roxanne Roberts: Don't know a thing about it except that it's happening. There's nothing so far to indicate it will be anything for than a lovely cocktail party, but it could surprise me.

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May be a stupid question...: but does the Washington Post have a ball? Or the Press Club? Can't imagine the politicos really would want to show up, but I'm thinking it would be nice to give the press folks a safe place to drink.

Roxanne Roberts: Not a chance -- we're all going to be working ALL weekend. I will be a shell of my former self by Jan. 21.

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San Francisco (but from DC): So when will the WP post the list of the good unofficial events? I am thinking there HAVE to be some good punk rock and Go-Go events at the clubs in town.

washingtonpost.com: Check out our Inauguration Central page for links to intel as it comes in.

Roxanne Roberts: We'll keep updating as info comes in, and I'm sure every club and bar in town will host some kind of party. There will be no shortage of places to go if you're brave enough to go out that night.

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1300 Pennsylvania: I had a chance to buy tickets for two inaugural balls, a state society one and an unofficial one in Silver Spring (The African Inaugural). I figured the former might have better guests, but my girlfriend and I both lived in Africa and love the music, so I went with that. (Guess what the GF is getting for Christmas?) It's too late now, and I am very much projecting my opinion, but did I make the right choice?

Roxanne Roberts: I think you did. The State Society parties can be fun but are usually more of a reunion for folks who live here and people in town for the inaugural. If you both lived in Africa and love the music, you should have a lot of fun and meet plenty of folks who share your passions.

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Is it typical practice for celebrities: to go to just one ball for the entire night? Or do they party-hop?

Roxanne Roberts: Most of the celebrities are locked into one party -- at least for the bulk of the night. They'll be hosting or performing at events, are the reason a lot of people buy tickets to those balls and are expected to be on hand. That doesn't mean they might not hit a cool party before or after, however.

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Washington, D.C.: Have you heard anything about where most of the celebs will be during the actual swearing in and parade? I don't picture many of them sitting outside in the cold on metal bleachers but suspect they will want to 'be seen' watching history during the day on Tuesday.

Roxanne Roberts: I'm just guessing here -- some will get tickets for the actual swearing-in (brrrrr) from their congressman, etc. The bulk -- since they are likely to be up late that night -- will watch on TV, like sensible old me.

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Boise, Idaho: What is with these websites that have you click on a link to get tickets to the official balls only to say "out of tickets at this time -- check back later"? I'm guessing I could check from now till February and there still won't be any because there are none to be found, right?

Roxanne Roberts: I'm a little confused: The official balls haven't been announced, so I can't imagine tickets are available. Are you talking about all the other balls?

And here's a trick to all these balls: Even if they're sold out, there are always some tickets floating around if you feel like paying for them. The danger is fraud -- how do you know the ticket isn't bogus? I wouldn't pay for anything unless you know the person selling the ticket.

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What a great chat idea!: But is this why you missed yesterday's Source chat? And why not many of our ball questions could be answered by Amy?

Roxanne Roberts: I'd like to say I missed yesterday's chat because I was meeting with some top-secret source -- but the truth is I thought it was Tuesday until about 12:30, when I was stuck in traffic and nowhere near a computer. Talk about embarrassed. Doh!

And I'm the designated inaugural diva, since I've been covering them for 20 years.

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Boston: What celebrity are you hoping to meet at the parties? Who would you rush to avoid?

Roxanne Roberts: It's kind of sad -- celebrities are always a little wary of reporters because they think we're trying to make them look stupid -- which we're not, because they manage to do that just fine without us. So I'd like to flirt with George Clooney, which is about the most unoriginal way of approaching the poor man.

I'd avoid anyone from a marginal reality show who cops attitude.

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Arlington, Va.: I went to the D.C. Inaugural ball for the second Clinton inaugural and I do have to say that it was pretty fun. But, most of that was because it was fun to be there with friends and say "Look at us! We're at the inaugural ball! Woohoo!" There were some political notables there, too, as I recall, so we were able to do a little people spotting. AND, to top it off, the entertainment was MEATLOAF! All those great entertainers in town, and we got Meatloaf... lol. I'd tell people to go if they get a chance if they haven't attended one before -- then you can always say that you've been to one (and have the pictures to prove it).

Roxanne Roberts: Good approach.

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Former TC resident: Will there be a Minnesota ball with formal parkas and snowboots as required attire and lutefisk and hot dish hors d'oeuvres?

Roxanne Roberts: Yes -- I think you should dress just like that so the other guests have someone to make fun of. Bring a casserole while you're at it.

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You've been covering inaugurations for 20 years?: What, did you start at age 5 or something?

Roxanne Roberts: Exactly. Kids Post stringer.

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Boston: Will there be any type of red carpet for any of the balls? I'm not particularly interested in the actual celebrities, but would be curious to see what they are wearing. Or will we have to wait until post-party to see pictures?

Also what have you heard about the dress code for the big inaugural balls that might be deemed official in a few weeks? I've heard some people say they want to be less formal (women in cocktail dresses) and also heard people said that is going to be a no-no. Gowns or bust! Your view?

Roxanne Roberts: I expect each one of the balls will have a red carpet. I mean, why go to all the trouble to getting a celebrity if you're not going to publicize the heck out of it? Don't know how much will be broadcast live, however.

As for dress code: Honestly, anything dressy works. But here's why you may want to go long -- flat shoes. I wore awesome heels to the first inaugural ball I ever attended, and wanted to kill myself by the end of the night because there's never enough seating. You need comfortable shoes. Just trust me on this, ladies.

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What about the other side?: I'm referring to working one of the events. I have a co-worker whose husband is in management of a big hotel, and she worked the bar at the last two events. She had a great time getting drinks for people, including lots of elected officials and a few celebs. How does one get one of those jobs, since yours is already taken?

Roxanne Roberts: If you're serious about this, I'd contact catering companies to see if they are hiring any part-time staff for the inaugural. You might get a to be a waiter.

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formerly D.C.: To the person wondering about the "fun" in inaugural balls -- do indeed trust your friends. While living in D.C., I went to one for Carter and worked (an SI museum staffer at the time) two for Reagan. Not fun in either capacity: overcrowded, cheap booze and it's not plentiful, no food. Usually good entertainment if you can hear it, and the Pres and first lady and VP and second lady are so surrounded when they make their brief appearances that you'll never see them, even when/if they dance. But having said that, I'm glad to have experienced them and VERY glad when they were over.

Roxanne Roberts: Listen to the voice of experience, kids.

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Washington, D.C.: Are the official balls different than those that are already released or are they simply a selection of already organized ones? And how difficult do you think it will be to get tickets?

Roxanne Roberts: The "official" balls are the parties organized and hosted by the Presidential Inaugural Committee. It invites campaign donors, staffers and volunteers to buy tickets to attend one of the balls where the president and first lady will definitely show up on inaugural night. Everything else is an unofficial party -- some are already sold out (but you can probably find some tickets if you're serious) or still have some tickets for sale.

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Please help me prep for the party: What are your favorite topics of talk at these events? Least favorite? Best ice-breaker line?

Roxanne Roberts: "Come here often?"

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Boise: This is what I'm talkin' about:

Presidential Inaugural Balls - Now On Sale greatseats.com

Roxanne Roberts: This is a ticket broker, and most of the balls listed are unofficial events. I'm not sure what they mean by "official" balls so I'd steer clear until the PIC makes a formal announcement.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey Roxanne! What is the deal with the big bash at the Newseum? Who's hosting? Any rumors about the guest list??

Roxanne Roberts: If I'm understanding what's happening there, it's not really a bash -- just a bigger, more expensive version of the normal Newsmuseum visit. If there's an actual party that night, I'm not aware of it.

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Washington, D.C.: Any word on the ball that Oprah was rumored to be throwing?

Roxanne Roberts: Not yet, but that's the one EVERYONE is waiting to hear about.

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Nosy Reader in Peekskill: Rox: What will you be wearing (and I want names as well as color)? Who squires you to these affairs or do you arrive solo?

Roxanne Roberts: Depends how many I'll be working that night. I've learned to dress warm -- checking coats is usually a nightmare -- wear flats, and not wear anything really expensive because it's too crowded to be seen and will probably get a drink spilled on it.

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Washington, D.C.: To cover these balls, do you get a Segway or something? I feel like cabs are going to be hard to come by. I plan on Metro-ing to and from the ball I'm going to. Because nothing says class like a ball gown on the Metro!

Roxanne Roberts: I'll probably be on the Metro, too. Cabs are going to be tough to find.

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A Peoples' Ball???: Pay rent, or go to the ball... pay rent, or go to the ball? $450 indeed.

Roxanne Roberts: Pay rent, and invite your pals over for a party of your own. I promise you'll have more fun, and you can watch a lot of the balls live of TV that night.

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Tinseltown: Do we have any advance word as to which party Andy Dick will be thrown out of?

Roxanne Roberts: Another celebrity to avoid.

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Fireworks?: Okay, this isn't a celeb/ball question, but here goes... remember the big concert and fireworks they had before Clinton's inauguration in 1993? Is there anything like that going on? It was a great event for people who couldn't make it to the actual event, if you know what I mean. Thanks!

Roxanne Roberts: I heard Obama nixed fireworks on election night at the Grant Park rally because he thought it sent the wrong message. I'm thinking the inaugural commitee might have some kind of big, free event for the public -- no fireworks, but something fun. Keep your fingers crossed.

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Washington, D.C.: Hey, Roxanne -- Just a note -- I'm a GW student and I went to our ball last time around. It really reminded me a lot of a prom setting. There were three or four rooms that each had a different type of music being played, so it really had a little something for everyone. And food course. We may not have big stars there, but at least we have a fun time.

Roxanne Roberts: That's sounds cool. Thanks for writing.

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Washington, D.C.: Hi Roxanne. My wife and I have tickets to the Illinois State Society Ball (not the dinner, just the gala-party-thing afterward). Having never been to one of these things, we are wondering a few things: will we be shoved shoulder-to-shoulder with everyone else? If Obama shows up, do we stand a chance of being in the same room? And do I HAVE to wear a tux?

Roxanne Roberts: This is not one of the official balls, even though it's not out the of the question that the Obamas might drop by. If they do, everyone will cram into whatever room he's in. Go with the flow.

And think of this as fancy cocktail party. No, you don't HAVE to wear a tux, unless your wife makes a huge deal out ot it. A dark suit and tie should be fine.

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Washington, D.C.: Apparently I've always been too tipsy to notice. Remind me: official balls happen on the 19th or the 20th? Thanks, Rox!

Roxanne Roberts: The 20th. He has to actually become president, remember? That always happens -- at least in modern history -- on noon Jan. 20. The balls are the victory lap.

Kids, I've got a column to write, so many thanks for all the questions. We'll pass on plenty of other info as it comes in. In the meanwhile, have a great holiday and work your pals for a spare ticket to something cool, if you're so inclined. Cheers.

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Editor's Note: washingtonpost.com moderators retain editorial control over Discussions and choose the most relevant questions for guests and hosts; guests and hosts can decline to answer questions. washingtonpost.com is not responsible for any content posted by third parties.


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