Come hell and high water if you stay . . . so will I!!!!
It was about 8 p.m. when Wayne Newton's message went up in lights on a big screen above the main stage just down the slope from the Washington Monument. The Las Vegas singer, headliner for last night's Fourth of July entertainment on the Mall, had been scheduled to go on at 7:15 p.m.
But it had poured instead, sending people scurrying to find shelter--under trees, blankets, plastic bags, umbrellas.
And according to National Park Service spokesman Sandra Alley, "Everyone stayed."
Everyone meant the estimated 310,000 people who had shown up for the events in the national park areas, including East and West Potomac parks and the Capitol grounds, where Mstislav Rostropovich and the National Symphony Orchestra performed. As of 9 p.m. there had been 32 arrests, and police guessed that about a dozen of them were narcotics related.
There was plenty of wine and lots of sparklers on the Capitol grounds, despite the fact that both were prohibited. But nobody seemed too worried about that: The weather was the main concern. At 7:15 the announcement was made: the Weather Service predicted the oncoming storm would last 40 to 45 minutes, and if the prediction was correct, the concert would go on as planned. "If you hang in," the announcer told the 85,000 people who came to the steps of the Capitol, "so will we." The crowd cheered, and three minutes later, when the rain started, they cheered again.
"All of a sudden I saw this guy with no shirt . . . on walking around through the crowds," said Howard Clark, a government engineer from Alexandria. "I didn't know who he was, but I shook his hand and he walked right past me. Then the crowd recognized him and a cheer went up."
The man was NSO conductor Rostropovich, who had joined nearly 100 dripping dancers in an impromptu conga line and danced the bunny hop across the lawn. Earlier, when the dancers reached the shell, Rostropovich had been so delighted with the sight that he ripped off his shirt, rolled up his pants and bounded into the muddy throng.
For the next 20 minutes people sang, danced and dripped in what one girl called the largest wet T-shirt contest of all time. The large congressional intern contingent sang college fight songs, and then the entire audience joined in several choruses of "America the Beautiful." Just after the fifth chorus, the rain stopped, the sun broke through, and a rainbow appeared over the Capitol.
Earlier in the day, a still-dry crowd burst into "Awwwws" and applause when a couple crossed the lawn carrying a sign reading "Just married." Debbie and Allen Weber of Bridgewater, Va., were married Sunday and are spending their honeymoon in the District. They were both carrying roses, and while they seemed a little daunted before the packed lawn, Debbie Weber couldn't stop smiling.
"We're so excited," she said. "We've never seen the fireworks here before, and we want to see the Smithsonian and the zoo. We're staying until we run out of money." She and her new husband wandered off in search of a few feet of clear space.
Later, when everyone mistook the lightning for premature fireworks and the thunder beat the cannons to their job during Tchaikovsky's "1812" Overture, one police officer commiserated with a disgruntled member of the audience. "Something sure went wrong today," the officer agreed. "I think it was Wayne Newton."
Newton finally did take the stage at the Mall, about an hour later than scheduled.
But first, his voice boomed out over the speakers. "I just want to say there are two things I never lost faith in during the storm ," Newton said. "The man upstairs and you. I love you and I'll see you in a moment."
Next came some introductory music: the theme from "Rocky." And finally, after another introductory song, came Newton dressed in a gold-trimmed tuxedo. His orchestra also wore black ties and black gowns (without the gold). His three female backup singers wore long black dresses and swayed together to the music.
Newton jumped on stage, opening his act with something patriotic: Neil Diamond's "Comin' to America." Then he sang "This Land Is Your Land."
"I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart . . . " Newton said. "The one or two of you who may be booing might as well go home, 'cause we're going to give you a great show."
He then introduced "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" with a reference to the Iranian hostage crisis of 1980. "May there never be another American held hostage," Newton said. "And if you feel like singing along with us, do it."
Just about then it started sprinkling. Again. Wayne Newton kept on singing. The crowd warmed up a little with "Elvira." But it was Newton's country and western that got people hopping and dancing to the music, only to be slowed down by another Neil Diamond tune, "September Morn," and then "rocked" by "Johnny B. Goode." He ended the hour-long show with "America the Beautiful."
Daril Godinez, 23, of Andrews Air Force base, stood under a tree with a friend. "We just came for the fireworks," he said. "But this is better than I expected."
For some folks in the crowd, it wouldn't have mattered what Wayne Newton had done.
Earlier in the afternoon, before the rain and before the Wayne, more than 100,000 celebrants, some dressed only in bikinis and cut-offs, packed the Mall, picnicking, tossing Frisbees and waiting.
Lewis Chestnut brought his wife Jennie all the way from Valdosta, Ga. "I came to see Wayne Newton. No other reason," Jennie Chestnut said. "At least this saves me from going to Las Vegas," Lewis Chestnut said. Last week he had taken his wife to Atlanta to see Newton, and the week before they'd been in Tallahassee for a Newton concert. Jennie Chestnut figured this was about the 20th time she's seen Wayne Newton perform.
Further back from the stage, a group of people sat near a big sheet sprayed with paint. The banner hung on a fenced-in trash area and read: WE ARE THE WRONG ELEMENT. They were referring to Interior Secretary James G. Watt's ban on rock music on the Mall because of his concern that it would attract "the wrong element"--drinking, drug-taking youths. The people near the banner were drinking beer.
"It was my idea," Mark Cardullo of Rockville said of the sign. "We think that James Watt doesn't represent the majority."
"We don't think Wayne Newton represents the right element," Carol Haworth of Arlington said.
Over to the right of the stage were some more "wrong elements." Their sign read: FIG-A-NEWTON. Tom Durbin of McLean claimed the sign was his doing. "It's because I'm a cook, and to fig something is to bury it in the ground in a jar." Durbin had come with a friend named Joe Dalby, who wore sunglasses and a hat with a Genesis button stuck in it. He knew exactly why he had braved the heat and rain to get to the Mall. "Because it's the best damn party on the East Coast."
Next blanket over were some "right elements" ignoring their noisy neighbors. "They don't know any better over there," said Carol Forster. She was from Huntington Beach, Calif. Did she wish the Beach Boys were performing? "Absolutely not. I'd rather see Wayne Newton."
Near the rows of portable toilets a woman walked with two children who wore Wayne Newton painter's caps, Wayne Newton T-shirts and Wayne Newton buttons. "The whole set cost five bucks," said Louie Fragala, a teacher from Miramar, Fla. "We couldn't believe no one wanted to see Wayne! These fools! Don't they know better? Look, you pay $1,000 to see him in Las Vegas. And here it's free! I think Watt oughta be here. It makes you feel proud. We haven't run into one person who's been nasty or rude . . . I just wish Wayne Newton could get an apology written in the sky."
Back up the hill near the base of the Washington Monument two men sat listening to a radio. They couldn't see the stage. "There's so much going on. I'm not worried about seeing Wayne Newton," said Herb Ford of Macksville, Va. "I came to have a good time. I don't see any wrong element."