With just a week to go, details of Donald Trump’s inauguration are finally starting to fall into place: The Presidential Inaugural Committee says that it has raised a record $90 million, it expects more than 30,000 people to attend the three official inaugural balls, and it has landed country star Toby Keith and ’90s rock band 3 Doors Down to headline the pre-inaugural concert on the Mall.
“I’m feeling excitement, but it’s a nervous excitement,” said chief executive Sara Armstrong in an interview at PIC headquarters in downtown Washington. “There are a lot of logistical items that we have to pull together during these last eight days.”
Armstrong, 44, ran this year’s GOP convention and spent a year living in Cleveland to pull it off. For the inauguration, she had 10 weeks. She was hired two days after the election; the convention gave her experience in running what she calls a “national special security event” — how to work with security, the city and other official entities.
The PIC has already cleared its biggest hurdle: raising enough money to pay for the three-day celebration. Armstrong said that donors have given more than $90 million, and “it’s still going up. We’ve had an outpouring of support, so we’ve been really pleased.”
Now the challenge is to execute the president-elect’s vision for the festivities. Despite media reports of a lack of interest from celebrities and fewer attendees for the ceremonies, Armstrong said that everything is coming together as hoped, and all the official events are full.
She said that Trump has been very involved in the planning and “wants to carry on his theme that resonated with Americans around the country: ‘Make America Great Again.’ We want it to be about America, about the people. There’s been a lot of focus on ‘Do we have a lot of A-listers?’ That wasn’t what our goal was. Our goal was to represent the diversity of the talents of America.”
The official events will begin with an afternoon wreath-laying ceremony on Thursday at Arlington National Cemetery, Trump’s first official appearance in Washington next week. Trump and Vice President-elect Mike Pence will attend the traditional ceremony with their wives.
A concert dubbed “Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration” will take place from 4 to 6 p.m. at the Lincoln Memorial. A preshow called “Voices of the People” will begin earlier that afternoon and feature various bands and other performers. On Friday, the PIC also announced that performers at the concert will include Keith, actor Jon Voight, country singer Lee Greenwood and Broadway singer Jennifer Holliday.
(After the announcement, Holliday’s publicist said that her appearance had not yet been confirmed; a PIC spokesman responded that she “is confirmed.”)
Trump and Pence will both appear onstage, and the two-hour show will conclude with a fireworks display. The concert is free; the PIC released tickets Friday for a space on the Mall.
That night, both Trump and Pence will attend a private candlelight “thank-you” dinner for underwriters. The dinner is designed by New York event planner David Monn, who has put together high-profile events that have included an Obama White House state dinner and the Metropolitan Museum of Art Costume Institute Gala.
The Trump family will spend inaugural eve at Blair House, then — per tradition — attend a church service at St. John’s Church on the morning of Jan. 20 and have coffee with the Obamas before heading to the swearing-in ceremony at the Capitol.
After the traditional congressional lunch, Armstrong said, the parade will begin at about 3 p.m. and is expected to conclude no later than 5 p.m., so that the new president can do some work before heading to the balls.
Armstrong said that it was Trump’s decision to scale back the number of parties. “I think you’ll see we’re doing fewer of these bigger events. ‘Less is more’ in our minds,” she said. “We want to make sure it’s not about the fancy events. It’s more about the people.”
The two main balls will take place at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center for 30,000 guests from around the country. Once they make it past security and coat check, Armstrong said, they will be treated to something “more unique,” although she would not disclose details of the decor or entertainers.
Armstrong attended her first inaugural ball in 2001 — and it didn’t live up to her expectations. “I remember my first ball and I said, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.’ I thought it was going to be different.”
So the committee’s aiming for “different” in the good sense of the term. “President-elect Trump is different,” she said, “and he wants it to be a special moment for everybody.”
Trump is expected to appear at the balls starting at about 8 p.m. He will make remarks at each ball, and he and his wife, Melania, will do a first dance. His schedule hasn’t been finalized, but he’s likely to conclude the evening at the Salute to Our Armed Services Ball — an invitation-only event for 2,500 military, first responders and other service personnel — at the National Building Museum.
Most of the ball tickets have gone to donors and other supporters, said Armstrong, but the PIC is coordinating with members of state parties around the country to make sure they have what they need. Next week, a “limited” number of individual ball tickets will go on sale online for $50 each on the PIC website.
The official events conclude Saturday morning with a prayer service at the National Cathedral, which will take place just as the Women’s March in Washington is scheduled to begin. Armstrong said that she wasn’t worried about protesters. “There was a lot of concern at the convention, and it really didn’t turn out to be much,” she said.
Her biggest worry? “It used to be the weather,” she said, but because the forecast calls for unusually balmy temperatures next week, now it’s “my final checklist.”