- The Washington Times - Thursday, January 20, 2005

Texans love to do things big, and last night they threw the big “Black Tie & Boots Ball” in Washington to honor a favorite son, President Bush, on the eve of his second inauguration.

As the band played “Boogie Back to Texas,” guests poured into the Wardman Park Marriott Hotel, with party organizers saying 12,000 were expected.

The party, sponsored by the Texas State Society and a hot ticket despite not being one of the official inaugural balls, officially kicked off at 7 p.m., and by 8:20 p.m., the main ballroom was jammed to capacity.

Everything was big: from the buffet tables loaded with Tex-Mex fare, to the Mariachi band, to the 10-gallon hats worn by a majority of the men. One table sold fat Cohiba cigars, and the men chomped away happily.

Television crews snaked their way through the mob as Secret Service agents watched with mild interest. Security and huge lines slowed things down considerably, and women — blond, burnished and favoring strapless gowns — flipped open cellular phones to keep their girlfriends notified.

“We’re still in line. But we’re gettin’ thar,” one said.

Those in the crowd included such real Texans as Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison and singer Lyle Lovett, plus such Yankees as former New York Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

“I feel very simpatico with the people of Texas,” said Mr. Giuliani, who told reporters the partygoers had made him an honorary Texan, presenting him with boots and a cowboy hat.

The other non-Texans went along with the informal dress code which, despite the ball’s formal nature, expects the men to wear cowboy boots, a belt buckle, a bolo tie, a Stetson — anything to give the costume a Texas flavor.

Sen. George Allen, Virginia Republican, wore a pair of Justin boots.

“He has 17 pairs of boots,” his wife, Susan, said with a laugh.

Robert Earl Keen took the stage in the main ballroom at about 8:30 p.m. and Texas two-step was the dance du jour.

Besides Mr. Lovett and Mr. Keen, the Texas entertainment included the Western swing of Asleep at the Wheel, classical pianist Van Cliburn, gospel singer Yolanda Adams and country singer Gary P. Nunn.

At 9:30 p.m., Mr. Bush and his wife, first lady Laura Bush, took the stage with daughters Jenna and Barbara, and the crowd went wild. Mrs. Bush wore a rose silk taffeta Carolina Herrera ensemble with a Western touch — a full skirt and bodice resembling a button-down shirt. Jenna wore black and white, and Barbara seafoam green.

“It’s nice to be home,” the president told the throng. “Or as close to home as you can get in Washington.”

Then, to even louder cheers, Mr. Bush said, “The best decision I ever made was asking Laura to marry me.”

The snow played havoc with transportation, as women in silk high heels tried to navigate the pavement and nearby Metro stops were jammed with riders in formal wear.

Downstairs, a Texas Fair featured barbecue sauce and Texas pecan candy. Special bars were set up to accommodate the enormous crowd.

“The Star of Texas Dinner,” a private dinner for big donors, featured Texas rib-eye steak and chocolate cowboy boots filled with berries for dessert.

Red, white and blue was a wardrobe theme — seen in many men’s cummerbunds, in bow ties and in one blonde who wore a sequined red, white and blue gown.

Many of the partygoers, even the Texans, seemed stunned by the massive scale of the event. About two-thirds of the partygoers never got inside the main ballroom, relegated instead to the Lubbock Lounge and the Lone Star Sports Bar.

“We’re in. Now what do we do?” said 29-year-old Britt Sipe from Lubbock, sitting with his wife and a longneck beer. “There’s a lot of people here.”

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