When Virginia throws a party, it swings to the tune of a different strummer.

Eight-year-old solo violinist Ivan Hodge kicked off tonight's Inaugural Gala here -- a party for 2,000 with the feel of a family reunion.

Hodge was just one of the home-grown talents picked to launch the events ushering in Gerald L. Baliles, L. Douglas Wilder and Mary Sue Terry as the state's governor, lieutenant governor and attorney general and to celebrate the Old Dominion's second consecutive Democratic administration.

"There's a family spirit here tonight," said Vivian L. Watts, a Fairfax County delegate Baliles has nominated as secretary of transportation and public safety, as she threaded her way through the tuxed and sequined crowd at Richmond's Carpenter Center for the Performing Arts.

At parties in the nation's capital, everyone seems to be from someplace else. But here in the heart of the Commonwealth, ties of politics and geography bind, linking legislators from cosmopolitan Fairfax with, say, two retired teachers from rural Emporia.

"We worked real hard during the campaign," said Dorthula Knocks, who drove from Emporia today with her sister Ernestine. "We registered voters, we knocked on doors, we sponsored a lunch for Doug [Wilder]."

Knocks anticipated a pretty good showing from her home town: two carloads out of a population of 5,000.

On stage at the Carpenter Center, it was an almost all-Old Dominion affair. The choir came from Mountain Mission School in Grundy, the jazz band hailed from Virginia Commonwealth University and the host, Henry Taylor, lives in Lincoln.

The sole exception was the headline act, the Lettermen, who performed such songs as "Misty," "Shangri-La" and "Can't Take My Eyes Off of You."

And after the songs were finished, National Guardsmen escorted all 2,000 listeners next door to the 6th Street Marketplace for 90 gallons of peppermint ice cream and 80 cases of champagne -- the latter from Virginia vines, of course.

Just how far afield from Washington was it? "I don't know; I haven't done a Georgetown pahhty," said Watts.

For the gala crowd, the entertainment, champagne and ice cream cost $25. But a few blocks away was a pricier slice of Virginia -- a $250-a-plate private party in honor of Wilder, with proceeds going to the Underdog PAC, intended to back lesser known candidates in state races around the country.

At the Wilder bash, the food was billed as "a travelogue through Virginia" -- smoked trout from Northern Virginia, oysters from Chincoteague, crabs from the Chesapeake.

Just down the street, hundreds of Democrats filled the Virginia Room at the John Marshall Hotel at the late-night New Dominion Dance.

"It's exceptionally upbeat," said Del. Dorothy McDiarmid (D-Fairfax).

But a few in town were less dazzled. Jody Boyd, 23, drummer for the Virginia Commonwealth University Jazz Orchestra I, stared into the darkness of the ornate Carpenter Center a few hours before curtain.

"So is this a big deal, a big gala, or what?" he said. "I'm not real excited I'm here. It's my Christmas break."

Sixteen-year-old baritone Terry E. Compton of the Mountain Mission Choir said Richmond wasn't really all that exciting. Compton, a member of the Young Republicans, said he'd enjoy the evening anyway. "I like to sing for anybody."

Ivan Hodge was very specific several months ago about whom he wanted to play for. In a letter to Baliles, he wrote, "I know that you are going to be the next governor of Virginia. I want to play my violin for you at your inauguration . . . I am a great violinist."

Before show time, Ivan stared into a dressing-room mirror rimmed with lights and straightened his bright red cummerbund. When he wrote the letter, Ivan said, "I thought it would get put in a pile of mail that wasn't important."

But instead it led to an invitation, and his rendition of Bach's Minuet 3 became the opening notes of a weekend of celebration.

As a small crowd gathered outside the Carpenter Center eyeing limousine doors as they opened for the guests of honor, a few stood apart. One of them, Republican Douglas B. Strobel, nephew of Alexandria Public Safety Director Charles T. Strobel, said he was heading out for an Italian dinner. How would other Republicans respond to the weekend's festivities? "I would think they would totally ignore it."