- The Washington Times - Monday, January 19, 2009

By nightfall, the swearing-in will be history and the parade will be played out. Barack Obama will officially be the 44th president of the United States, and a good number of the 2 million or so who have descended upon the nation’s capital can get down to the business of partying.

Actually, Tuesday night’s long lineup of balls and other fetes cap many days of partying. We’ve already had Bon Jovi and Bruce Springsteen at the Lincoln Memorial on Sunday, Al Gore’s Green Ball on Monday, the Jonas Brothers entertaining the ‘tween crowd at the Verizon Center, and lobbyists, law firms, tourists and top dogs drinking Ombamatinis all over town.

Tuesday night, though, is all about the Obamas, with the new first couple planning to make stops at the 10 official Inaugural balls.

First stop is the Neighborhood Ball at the Washington Convention Center. If you don’t have a ticket - the ball was intended to be low cost or free to District residents - you can catch the Obamas’ first dance live on TV or via webcast.

What Michelle Obama will wear remains a secret, as does what pop star Beyonce will sing when she serenades the Obamas for that first dance.

“Crazy in Love?” “Resentment?” “Hip Hop Star?” Probably none of the above.

The Presidential Inaugural Committee is trying to keep the first-dance song under wraps. “It is our hope that we can keep the song secret until the moment,” said committee spokeswoman Linda Douglass.

However, Beyonce let it slip Friday that she will sing Etta James’ “At Last” to the Obamas.

Several other balls are being held the convention center, which will make for smoother and quicker visits between parties.

The Obama Home States Inaugural Ball (for Illinois, Hawaii and invited guests) will be there, as well the Biden Home States ball for Delaware and Pennsylvania, the Mid-Atlantic Inaugural Ball, the Midwest Inaugural Ball and the Western Inaugural Ball.

The Obamas also are expected to appear at the Commander in Chief’s Ball, which honors military members at the National Building Museum; the Eastern Inaugural Ball at Union Station and the Southern Youth Inaugural Ball at the D.C. Armory.

The first couple also will stop by the Youth Ball at the Washington Hilton. This ball is for Obama supporters ages 18 to 35 and will be broadcast on MTV.

Beyonce is one of many stars slated to perform an the official balls. Also making an appearance at the Neighborhood Ball will be will.i.am, Mariah Carey, Alicia Keys and Shakira.

Jack Johnson will be at the Obama Home States Ball. The Grateful Dead will reunite for the Mid-Atlantic Ball. The Midwestern Ball will feature Sheryl Crow; Marc Anthony will be at the Western Ball; and James Taylor headlines the Southern Ball.

Don’t have a ticket to any of the official balls? Don’t count on getting one at this point, unless you want to pay big bucks. As of Friday, sellers on Craigslist.org were asking from about $500 (Southern Ball) to $700 (Youth Ball) to $800 (Neighborhood Ball).

Also on Craigslist were posters admonishing greedy sellers. The Neighborhood and Youth balls, in particular, were supposed to be lower-cost events for “the people.”

Longtime Washington social reporter Chuck Conconi said the official balls always carry a lot of hype, particularly this year with the youthful energy of the incoming administration.

However, in reality, the official balls, with thousands of people in attendance, are often similar to cattle calls, he cautioned.

“There is a lot of excitement surrounding this inaugural because this president is so young,” said Mr. Conconi, now a senior counselor for Qorvis Communications LLC. “But in reality, you see very few real Washington power brokers at the official balls. ”

Mr. Conconi recalls one of his first inaugurations, in 1989 when George H.W. Bush was sworn in.

“I was reporting for ‘Nightline,’” he said. “I remember standing on the floor at the Omni Shoreham. There are people wandering around on the floor. It is mobbed with people, and there is nowhere to sit down or get a drink. Everyone is dressed up, but it is mostly folks from Toledo or Sacramento or Phoenix. They are all in town going, ‘Wow,’ but really you have spent a miserable evening.”

This year’s list of inauguration festivities might be the longest Mr. Conconi has seen in nearly 30 years of Washington coverage.

While 10 “official” balls Tuesday is the most numerous since Bill Clinton’s 14 in 1997, it is really the rest of the dossier that takes up so much ink. If you are dying to to do some celebrity sighting, there will be many opportunities.

Lots of Hollywood names will be at the Creative Coalition’s Gala Inaugural Ball at the Shakespeare Theatre’s Harman Center for the Arts. Sting, Sam Moore and Elvis Costello will be the entertainment headliners.

Washingtonian editor-at-large Garrett M. Graff said the Creative Coalition party would be his No. 1 choice for celebrity watching.

“This will be the event for celeb spotting, although the press is going to be shocked when they’re held only on the red carpet,” he said.

If you did score an invitation to one of the official balls, being prepared will make the night a lot more fun. Ladies, skip the high heels as you are likely to wait in a long security line and those giant party spaces have very few places to sit down once you are inside.

Also, the official balls are notoriously skimpy on food. If you are expecting an elegant state dinner, think again. The line will be 50 deep just for the crudites platter, so plan on eating somewhere else beforehand,

Mr. Conconi advises going coatless, if at all possible. Near riots have been known to break out in the coat-check line, and more than a few men have gone accidentally gone home with someone else’s dark topcoat.

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