- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 19, 2005

Thousands of people braved what one reveler called “painfully cold” temperatures and snowy, gridlocked streets yesterday to celebrate President Bush’s re-election at a concert on the Ellipse amid tight security.

“No night is too cold to celebrate freedom,” said President Bush, who spoke briefly before a fireworks display, and foreshadowed the theme of his inaugural address.

“We have a calling from beyond the stars to stand for freedom, and America will always be faithful to that cause,” the president said.

For many, however, the 14-degree wind chill on the eve of the president’s inauguration was hard to bear.

“It is just too cold for my niece,” said Novella Cope, of Sacramento, Calif., who took the 10-year-old girl back out through Secret Service checkpoints to their hotel before the two-hour “Celebration of Freedom” had begun.

“We were excited to be here, but she’s just miserable,” Mrs. Cope said.

Security procedures also inconvenienced many.

Secret Service uniformed officers threatened to arrest a 16-year-old student for trying to bring a backpack into the event, even though a ban on large bags was enforced inconsistently, said Weston Clark, of Salt Lake City, an adult chaperone with the student’s group.

The student was forced by officers to throw away his backpack and carry his belongings into the event in his arms.

The Secret Service listed large bags or backpacks as prohibited items on its Web site, but tickets distributed to the event said only that bags were subject to being searched.

“This has really been nothing but a joke since we got here,” Mr. Clark said. “We try our best to bring students to the nation’s capital and show them what an open city is like, and they’re threatening our students with arrest.”

The event was hosted by Ryan Seacrest, host of the popular TV show “American Idol,” and featured a lineup of entertainers and public persons most familiar to country music and NASCAR fans.

Singers included country artist Kenny Chesney, opera tenor Andrea Bocelli and gospel performer Yolanda Adams, accompanied by the Eastern High School Choir of the District. The ceremony highlighted the country’s space program and the service of the U.S. military.

“We have grown in our appreciation for our freedom, and we have grown in our appreciation for the men and women who defend it,” Mr. Bush said.

About 65,000 tickets were distributed for the event by the Presidential Inaugural Committee, but attendance appeared to be several thousand tickets short of that number, with many in the crowd leaving early because of the cold and snow.

First lady Laura Bush and the president’s parents sat with him in a viewing stand to the left of the stage behind bulletproof glass. Vice President Dick Cheney, his wife, Lynne V. Cheney, and political adviser Karl Rove also sat in the box.

The president and Mrs. Bush were scheduled to attend four dinners later last night at downtown locations.

The entire downtown area was closed to vehicular traffic by midafternoon. No street parking was allowed for blocks around the White House all day. The streets were lined instead with security vehicles, many of them unmarked.

Police blocked off streets with Ride-On buses, and parking garages were shut down by the Secret Service by 7 p.m. Many businesses in the area also closed early, though a coffee shop across 17th Street from the White House was doing brisk business after dark.

Those who attended the concert on the Ellipse had to walk several blocks to the security checkpoints along Constitution Avenue, either from Metro stations or parking spots north of the White House.

Once on the Ellipse, revelers were forced to enter one of three fenced-in walkways, about 3 feet across, that fed into the concert area at one point, where huge bottlenecks occurred.

Snipers were positioned on the roof of the Commerce Building and Secret Service officers stood on top of a rental truck in the middle of the crowd with binoculars. Uniformed police stood in groups and sat in cruisers and on horseback across the area. Reporters were followed through the crowd by government “escorts.”

Some thought the measures were appropriate.

“I don’t think you can take a chance and have too much” security, said Brett Goldslager, 22, a student at George Washington University. “I feel more secure here than I would sitting at home in New Jersey.”

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