Star-Gazing Foreseen at the Inaugural Balls
Thursday, December 18, 2008; Page C01
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.
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."