WASHINGTON -- It was a day that combined high-minded political rhetoric with the verybest of pop culture.
Tens of thousands of citizens, a throng more thana mile long on the National Mall, braved frigid weather and longsecurity lines to attend a historic concert celebrating the country'sfirst black president -- held at the feet of the monument honoring thecountry's great emancipator, Abraham Lincoln.
As black-clad sharpshooters patrolled the parapet of the LincolnMemorial, President-elect Barack Obama and his family had what lookedlike a rocking good time. They sat with Vice President-elect Joe Bidenand his wife, royalty style, in a glass-walled booth on one side of thestage.
During the two-hour concert, broadcast on HBO, they clapped,danced a little and sang along as they were feted by entertainmentroyalty -- actors and musicians including Denzel Washington, Tom Hanks,Jamie Foxx, Bruce Springsteen, Bono, Beyonce, Mary J. Blige, StevieWonder, Usher, Will.i.am, John Legend, Sheryl Crow, Shakira, JamesTaylor, Garth Brooks and Pete Seeger.
Golf great Tiger Woods spoke of growing up in a military family. Heintroduced the Naval Academy's glee club, which performed with sopranoRenee Fleming.
Obama and Biden each spoke briefly, delivering words reminiscentof their stump speeches -- both speaking to the anxiety that has thecountry in its grip, both promising a better tomorrow.
"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations havebeen asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face rightnow," Obama said.
"But despite all of this -- despite the enormity of the task that liesahead -- I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United Statesof America will endure, that the dream of our founders will live on inour time."
The choice of Bishop V. Gene Robinson, an openly gay Episcopalian,to give the invocation seemed to be a deliberate counterpoint toObama's selection of conservative evangelical Rick Warren -- anopponent of same-sex marriage and pastor of Saddleback Church in OrangeCounty who is to give the prayer at Obama's swearing-in Tuesday.Robinson urged the crowd to remember that Obama "is a human being, nota messiah" and asked God to "keep him safe . . . that he might find joyin this impossible calling."
Bono, the lead singer of U2, injected the only seeminglyunrehearsed political note to the day. Just after Obama's wife,Michelle, blew him a kiss, Bono said Obama's election represented "notjust an American dream -- also an Irish dream, a European dream,African dream, Israeli dream and also a Palestinian dream."
Though organizers had promised that songs would reflect the day'sslogan "We Are One," and not be a series of greatest hits, U2 performedone of its most recognizable songs: "Pride (In the Name of Love)," apaean to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Martin Luther King III stood on nearly the same spot where his fatherdelivered the famous "I have a dream" speech in 1963 that informs muchof the emotion evoked by the election of the first black president.
The son of the slain civil rights leader introduced a clip of John F.Kennedy's inaugural speech -- with its noted line, "Ask not what yourcountry can do for you . . . " -- and said that today's holiday, MartinLuther King Jr. Day, should be a day of service to others. (The Obamasand Bidens will be celebrating the holiday by performingyet-unannounced acts of public service.)
Actors emerged onstage in some oddball pairings: Jack Black andRosario Dawson talked about the environmental activism of Lincoln, whohelped create Yosemite, and Teddy Roosevelt, who doubled the number ofnational parks.
Steve Carell and Foxx evoked Thomas Jefferson and Thurgood Marshall.Foxx did an impersonation of Obama that quoted from his speech atChicago's Grant Park the night he won the presidential election. Healso gave a shout-out to the new president's adopted hometown:"Chi-town stand up!" said Foxx. "312!"
As Chicagoans in the vast crowd cheered in recognition of their area code, the Obamas stood up and waved.
Queen Latifah spoke about "the ongoing journey of America to beAmerica." She noted that in 1939 the great black contralto MarianAnderson had been denied the opportunity to perform at ConstitutionHall by the Daughters of the American Revolution, prompting then-FirstLady Eleanor Roosevelt to arrange for Anderson to sing on the steps ofthe Lincoln Memorial.
Actor Samuel L. Jackson quoted Rosa Parks; Hanks quoted Lincoln.
"I got one question," said comedian George Lopez, who was paired onstage with actor Kal Penn. "Anyone here from outta town?"
As the crowd roared, Lopez said, "Well, you're all home now."
In a day with many high points, the crowd -- reverentially quiet duringthe spoken word segments -- went especially wild for Garth Brooks'rendition of "American Pie." When he hit the first lines of the chorus-- "So, bye, bye, Miss American Pie" -- many of the dignitaries sittingin front of the stage leaped to their feet to sing and clap. The groupincluded Sen. John F. Kerry (D-Mass.), Atty. Gen.-designate EricHolder, U.N. Ambassador-designate Susan Rice and former Secretary ofState Madeleine Albright.
Then, Brooks segued into "Shout," and the crowd got even louder.
Toward the end of the afternoon, Springsteen, who had opened theshow singing "The Rising" with a choir behind him, returned to thestage with Pete Seeger to engage the crowd in a sing-along of WoodieGuthrie's iconic folk song "This Land Is Your Land."
After Beyonce sang "America the Beautiful," the day's performersfiled back onto the stage, and the Obamas and Bidens proceeded to shakehands, as if they were working some kind of dream rope line.
"It makes you believe in dreams," Danielle Wielding, a 25-year-oldChicago native who lives in Baltimore, said of the event. Wielding hadarrived at the mall at 9 a.m. and was moved to tears, she said.
"I have dreams," Wielding said, "and all of this -- the setting, themusic, the Obamas -- make me believe those dreams are possible."Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times