"This sure is a hell of a lot more fun than last night," said Thomas V. Hunt, Philadelphia lawyer and Carter campaign worker. "This has really got the spirit of it. I received twice as many ticket requests for this event, as I did for the gala."
He was talking about last night's folk and square dance bash at the National Visitors Center, which drew upwards of 10,000 spectators, participants and passersby.
"I just can't imagine Richard Nixon ever getting anything like this together," Hunt said, "but it came real natural to the Carter people."
Mr. and Mrs. Bill Fursman from Dallas, members of the Halla Mounted Black Horse Patrol, which appeared in both the Nixon and Carter Inaugural parades, thought that Carter's walk down Pennsylvania Avenue "symbolized the beginning of true democracy in this country."
The great bulk of the crowd gravitated toward the Gallery, the site of the evening's dancing by invited groups representing Western square dancers, New England and Appalachian cloggers, native American Sioux round dancers and others. The Great Hall was given over to music groups, including folk, bluegrass, gospel and blue ensembles.
Nancy Hanks, chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts, recalled in opening remarks that she had learned to square dance as a little girl in the mountains of North Carolina. "Our biggest treat was to go to Helen's Barn in Highland, and she wouldn't have believed this," Hanks said, adding that she would very much like a partner. A man in the lime-green vest worn by some members of the Georgia delegation took her hand, glad to oblige.
The feeling of a new beginning stressed by Carter in his inaugural address seemed to be the prevailing spirit of the crowd. Introducing a black singing trio called "The Little Wonders," an emcee explained their gospel repertoire as coming from a time "when people didn't have much to feel good about - except in church, where you could dream and hope. That's what gospel music is all about, having faith and hope and happiness. And hopefully, with this new administration, that's what we're gonna have a lot more of."
The crowd in the Gallery seemed rather subdued in the early part of the evening, but warmed up gradually as enthusiasm for the performers took hold. There was too much of a crush to permit much dancing outside what took place on the central stage, but here and there sporadic sets and couples gave it a try.
"Sure it's close, but you can dance," said a man from Winder, Ga., who was wearing a square dance suit of charcoal lame and an "I Danced in Plains" badge. "That's part of the fun of it, the snuggling," he said.
The audience seemed to reach a pitch of vociferous approval with the appearance of the Grandfather Mountain Cloggers, a superby spirited and precise group of eight youngsters from Newland, N.C. Sponsored by their home state, they had earlier danced on a float in the inaugural parade, and according to members of the group, Carter rose to watch and applaud them as they passed.