At Union Station -- whoops, the National Visitor's Center -- there hadn't been so much bunting since they packed Del Unser's bag and whisked him and his teammates to Minnesota.And from somewhere subterranean came the muffled growl of a big band -- live Muzak to calm the tensions of patient would-be holders of expensive tickets to official inaugural concert performances and balls.
Hotel restaurants and wineries set up courtesy booths to entice the palate, but the entertainers remained unseen in The Pit; some visitors leaned over the parapet, like Romans watching the gladiators tune up.
The Smithsonian complex provided a less patrician sampling of ethnic and cultural tastes in dozens of scattered mini-concerts. At the Museum of American History, the Foucault pendulum was still but the Hot Mustard Jazz Band was swinging in mild abandon, with a joyous texture that could be summed up as "Wheeeee! The people!"
At the Hirshhorn the Toho Koto Society plucked determinedly at those ancient Japanese instruments, their haunting native melodies in counterpoint to the museum guards' refrain: "I'm sorry, you'll have to go around to the other side." Visitors provided a quick response/chorus of "I'm on my way out."
At the Air and Space Museum, several hundred fans surrounded zesty dancers egged on by old-timey Appalachian tunes from Earnest East and the Pine Ridge Boys; veteran caller Ralph Case, who taught Margaret Truman how to square dance in the late '40s, did the same for scores of merrymakers in these early '80s. What his bipartisan constituency lacked in experience it made up for with exuberance. A while later, Dewey Balfa and his boys evoked the Cajun delights of Louisiana, a variation on the high, lonesome sound with a French accent. The rhythmic insistance of the Acadian two-step brought fresh dancers to the floor.Oui, the people!
The grass-roots cultural delights that drew unprecedented crowds to the Smithsonian network of museums were arranged and paid for by the Jimmy Carter Inaugural Trust Fund. Not counting the occasional parking violation, no tickets were necessary for any of the Smithsonian events.
The people came, curious at the occasional odd combination, like Norvus Miller and Alvin Nessbith, who rocked the Museum of Natural History with trombone and harmonica readings of "Amazing Grace" and "When the Saints Go Marching In." Some sounds were familiar: the United States Army Chorus celebrating themselves with Sigmund Romberg's "Stout Hearted Men"; the cool passion of bassist Keter Betts as he filled the Museum of American Art with walking lines under familiar jazz melodies; string band sounds stretching the imagination from Kentucky to Mexico and prodding anxious feet into new and wondrous shuffles and stuttered steps.
At Constitution Hall, Fred Waring said goodbye to Washington after 65 years of easing hallowed contemporary sounds into olden goldies. Most of his Young Pennsylvanians could have passed for grandchildren of his first band, but the audience helped Waring remember pals named Crosby, Kaiser and Vallee; the material was, as Waring reminded them, "always done in dignity and good taste."
The vibrant cultural cornucopia of the weekend (and continuing at the Smithsonian today) speaks well for the outgoing administration. It was a remembrance of things passed, through time, directly to the people.