- The Washington Times - Friday, December 31, 1999

President Clinton will light a fuse at the Lincoln Memorial just before midnight tonight, setting fireworks and America's celebration of the year 2000 in motion.

It is the climactic moment to "America's Millennium: A Celebration for the Nation." Children also will light fuses to spark beads of light dancing over the Reflecting Pool to the Washington Monument. The scaffolded, 555-foot obelisk will then light up in sections, timed with Mall revelers counting down the seconds to midnight.

Finally, the piece de resistance: The Ferris wheel next to the Lincoln Memorial, which has been lording over passing traffic on Henry Bacon Drive, will rise 175 feet into the air. Powered by three massive cranes, the fat hunks of metal will ignite a circle of beams. More than 500 stage lights will form a sun to blaze in the new year.

This caps a privately funded but very public $12 million pyrotechnic blast that will ring in 2000. Not surprisingly, Steven Spielberg, Quincy Jones and George Stevens Jr. all have a hand in the production.

The celebratory spectacle extends from the Lincoln Memorial to other sites around the city.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, and eight other clerics will lead services at the Washington National Cathedral. Thousands will gather at the U.S. Naval Observatory for the time-ball drop and time-cannon blast. (The observatory, however, is sticking with its insistence that the millennium officially begins on Jan. 1, 2001.)

"We expect two to three thousand people," says spokesman Geoff Chester, who added that all public tickets have been snapped up. "Anybody who didn't get a ticket can't get in."

The mega-bash "National Millennium 2000" at the Grand Hyatt features four party "levels" with performances by Marvelous 3, 2 Skinnee J's and Emmet Swimming.

"Washington will sell out today," said Jennifer Fonts of Lindy Promotions, which has also organized parties in Baltimore and Atlanta. "Baltimore's selling rapidly and Atlanta's skyrocketed. There's absolutely no way we are canceling any of our events."

This comes on the heels of cancellations of three major D.C. events. Thursday, a New Year's Eve gala at the MCI Center featuring Third Eye Blind was scrubbed. Earlier, fetes at Georgetown Park which had merged into the MCI party and the Ronald Reagan Building with a charity show starring the Who's Roger Daltrey also fizzled due to lackluster sales.

Daylight will still see the Smithsonian Institution holding more than three dozen programs spread out over three days. "America's Millennium on the Mall" touches on the U.S. experience in four tourist hot spots: "American Voices," Natural History; "Story Circle," American History; "Future Visions," Hirshhorn Museum; and "Launch 2000," Air and Space.

Terrorist fears including Seattle's cancellation of its festivities haven't shaken the film director, musician and producer behind the New Year's Eve "America's Millennium" gala on the Mall.

"I have a feeling that the space we're on, on Friday night is going to be the safest place in the United States," said Mr. Stevens in a press conference Tuesday at the base of the Lincoln Memorial.

"We have to feed into fear or love at one point," Mr. Jones added. "We refuse to feed into fear."

The District will have 3,500 police patrolling the city, buttressed by the FBI and 300 members of the National Guard. Although there will be no metal detectors on the Mall, bags and packages will be screened. Alcohol is not permitted at the event.

The public gala, which begins at 9 p.m., is hosted by movie star/ rapper Will Smith. Others appearing include actors Jack Nicholson, Sam Waterston, Robert Duvall and Diane Keaton, former Sen. John Glenn, presidential candidate and Sen. John McCain, ex-Boston Celtics center and Hall of Famer Bill Russell, ex-boxer Muhammad Ali, children's author/illustrator/ puppeteer David Wisniewski, gospel singer Bebe Winans, pop singers Bono, Tom Jones and Don McLean, opera singer Kathleen Battle, country singers Kenny Rogers, Kathy Mattea and Trisha Yearwood, "Ragtime" star Brian Stokes Mitchell, and the cast from Broadway's 25-member "Stomp."

At 11:30 p.m., Mr. Spielberg tops the show by presenting his 18-minute film, "Unfinished Journey," which will be shown on three screens near and around the Reflecting Pool. On Tuesday, Mr. Spielberg called it a "kind of musical and poetic celebration of why we are all here today, what were the shoulders we stood on to achieve this moment in time and in history."

The film includes poems by U.S. poet laureate Robert Pinsky, previous laureate Rita Dove and author-poet Maya Angelou. Mr. Clinton will read from Abraham Lincoln. John Williams conducts his own orchestration. Then Mr. Clinton addresses the expected crowd of 100,000 as well as a nationally televised audience.

The huge stage at the base of the Lincoln is ribboned with 250 miles of cable, which workers were still threading through trees Thursday morning. The president, first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton and thousands of his closest pals will sit on heated risers, buffered from the crowd.

"Are you looking forward to this great mess on the Mall?" asked actress Elizabeth Perry from her New York home. "What they're talking about on TV in Washington, New York and Seattle is scary stuff."

Her one-woman show, "Sunflower, the Life and Loves of Elizabeth Cady Stanton," plays at 4 p.m. Friday at the National Museum of Natural History. It's part of the three-day "America's Millennium on the Mall" program. Born in 1815, Stanton delivered the "Declaration of Sentiments" at the first Woman's Rights Convention at Seneca Falls, N.Y. It led to the eventual women's suffrage amendment to the Constitution 70 years later. Miss Perry's show was featured at the 150th anniversary. She also performed it for New York Gov. George E. Pataki's Economic Summit for Young Women.

"I wanted to show a woman with love in her heart for humanity." said Miss Perry. "There is a view of [some women as being as] outspoken as battleaxes. That's not my view or my experience. And I'm glad when men come to my play and bring their sons, because Elizabeth loved her husband and her sons."

Over at the State Theatre in Falls Church, rangy blues guitarist Tom Principato will be cutting loose when the clock strikes 12. The local guitar hero said he just bought a European gypsy guitar and is experimenting with world music.

"We want to be in top form," he says of the show he'll perform with band mates John Perry on bass and El Torro Gamble on drums starting at 11 p.m.. "We'll probably have a special rehearsal the day before the concert and do a special version of 'Auld Lang Syne.' "

Southern rockers Little Feat and local folkies Seldom Scene will headline Montgomery County's fifth-annual, nonalcoholic First Night celebration. For the first time, it will be held at the Montgomery County Fairgrounds in Gaithersburg instead of downtown Silver Spring. Fireworks will go off at 6 p.m. and again at midnight, and tickets are $5.

"Because it's alcohol-free, we get a lot of families in the afternoon," said spokeswoman Geri Olson. "Many of the children stay while others take their children home and then come back. It has always been a safe environment and we have security to keep it alcohol free."

According to an ABC News poll, 70 percent of Americans have said they'll be staying home. Perhaps folks will wait until the real millennium Jan. 1, 2001 for a real blowout.

Metro reversed itself Thursday and will start service at 5:30 a.m. today and run through 3 a.m. tomorrow.

This article is based in part on wire service reports.

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