Phoebe and I both thought, if we’re going to the Inauguration, we’re going to do the Whole Deal – and that meant going to an Inaugural Ball too. There were 10 official Balls that the President and First Lady attended; getting tickets to one of those was outside of our control. There were others, many others, sponsored by various groups and supporting various causes, that were more accessible. After reading some of the horror stories about attending Inaugural Balls, I wanted to minimize the chance that we’d spend the evening standing around a crowded ballroom, feeling uncomfortable and out of place, with long lines at the bar, and dinner composed of finger food. Thanks to the Washington Post, I found a few that looked interesting, and Phoebe and I settled on the Purple Inaugural Ball.
The Purple Inaugural Ball was being thrown to celebrate the ideas of diversity and non-partisanship embraced by the new President. The advance information said that funds raised from the Ball would benefit the Erascism Foundation headed by Lou Gossett. The information also said that the organizers planned to honor our military forces by giving away two tickets to the ball and by recognition the night of the ball. The program included a three course dinner, champagne provided by Moet and Chandon, performances by two musical groups, and a Presidential toast to be offered by Harper Hill, the actor and classmate of President Obama from law school.
While some aspects of the event planning made me a little uncomfortable from the beginning, the Purple Ball seemed to be a pretty good bet if we weren’t going to get tickets to one of the official balls (which we weren’t!) The cost of the tickets was higher than most other balls, but the prospects of a sit down dinner and program of entertainment, along with the promise that some portion of the funds would go to a good cause, made it a reasonable choice.
The first signs of trouble in paradise came a few days before the Inauguration when I went to the webpage for the ball, and discovered that all references to the Erascism Foundation, and Lou Gossett’s support, had disappeared. It turns out that he withdrew his support for the ball when it was not possible to reconcile differences with the event planners over diversity among the planned program. I have to admit, when I looked again at the program, I realized he was right – there was not a single person of color on the program. I was disappointed that the goal of the ball – to support diversity – was not even being met in the event itself, and disappointed that Gossett had pulled out. The webpage indicated that the new benefactor of the ball would be the United Negro College Fund – which is a worthy cause in support of diversity, especially given the circumstances of President Obama’s inauguration. While Gossett had pulled out, I did not feel I could sacrifice the price of the tickets to make a point, and was disappointed that he had not worked more closely with the organizers to see that his goal of diversity and representation was met. In any case, it was now a few days before the Inauguration and my anxiety about the ball was going up.
On the day of the Inauguration, I was even more nervous. Getting back from DC took longer than I had planned, and we ended up having only a few minutes to get ready for the ball before we got in the car and headed back to the District. And as I posted elsewhere, we weren’t even sure we would be able to get our shoes on, much less be able to walk after our trek earlier in the day.
Happily, most of our worries were behind us once we got dressed and headed to the Fairmont Hotel. Traffic was nearly non-existent, we found the hotel easily, valet parking was a breeze, and there were no real lines waiting to get into the ball. From there, it was, well, a Ball!
There was a purple carpet in front of a wall with “The Purple Inaugural Ball” printed all over it where some of the stars and dignitaries in attendance were having their pictures taken and giving interviews. Phoebe and I thought briefly about getting our picture taken there, but decided against it. We should have! Phoebe was especially pretty – golden from head to toe! Her dress was a pretty golden yellow, with a band of embroidered ribbon across the waist. She had gold sparkles from her eye shadow, to her wrap, all the way to her very tall (!) strappy golden heels!
Our table was surrounded by fun people – Gene and Rob, Kim and Jay, Rollie and Sara, Jennifer and Gene, and the most fun couple in the entire room, Melody and John. Although our table was off to the back of the stage, our limited view was compensated by getting to see all the comings-and-goings of the performers and speakers right behind us. Deidre Hall gave a short presentation – very touching – and had asked Rob for a glass of water just before she went on. Rob’s friend Gene was joking after that, “Deidre Hall drank MY water!…”
We saw some of the stars who were there – Ashley Judd, Amy Brenneman, Deidre Hall – and would have liked to spot some of the others who were reported to be there or coming at least – Ed Harris, Dionne Warwick, Kate Walsh.
The meal was lovely, with a starter plate of small samples – cheese in pastry and artichoke heart; followed by the main course; and ending with a sampling of three desserts. The servers kept the champagne glasses full, and each of us got an engraved commemorative wine glass.
The entertainment proved to be remarkable. I had never heard of Il Divo before the Ball – that was part of what was making me nervous. They are a group of four young opera singers, or “popera singers” as someone called them – a blend of popular and opera. It turns out their most recent performance prior to the Purple Inaugural Ball was at the Nobel Peace Prize Concert in Oslo, Norway.
I don’t remember the first song that they sang, but after that, they sang “Hallelujah” and ended with “Amazing Grace”. Their rendition of Amazing Grace was amazing – complete with bagpipes. They chose to sing it one voice, one verse for the first three verses; with the bagpipes for the fourth verse; and then all together for the fifth verse. The power in their voices was stunning; it was hard to remember that it was just four men on stage, not an entire choir. I have since bought the tracks for these two songs, listening to them again brings chills. I added the links to the Amazon mp3 download pages – go ahead, treat yourself! Heck, get the whole mp3 album. You won’t be sorry! For me, it makes for a perfect souvenir of a lovely evening at a magical ball!