Monday, January 19, 2009

Sing For Obama!

Sunday, January 18, 2009. Washington, D.C.

From morning's light, the city was calm and organized. The entire District seemed focused on only one thing: a huge concert in honor of the new President-Elect, Barack Obama. A mass-migration was underway. Thousands of volunteers directed the masses toward the audience holding areas surrounding the Reflecting Pool. As we walked from Foggy Bottom Metro station, volunteer greeters and guides aided us every step of the way. We reached our destination with grace and little stress.

In front of us was the concert stage assembled at the foot of The Lincoln Memorial. The crowd extended as far as the eye could see, far beyond The Washington Monument pointing towards the sky. Seas of people came to celebrate packed in like sardines shoulder to shoulder. Not a soul was sitting. The crowd was tight and anxious.

Hours of waiting passed quickly. Large Jumbotron screens intermittently showed pre-taped presentations by some of the performers. People sang along to prerecorded music. Even Elmo made an appearance or two. The atmosphere was probably very similar to what you would expect attending a fair during the Renaissance. Some people brought signs. Some brought blankets. Many had hats, buttons, shirts, and pictures of Obama. Some happily sang just because they were there.

The cable TV network, Home Box Office, was airing the concert live, so the show started quite promptly at 2:30 pm. It began with a prayer. The crowd across the Pool from us began chanting that they could not hear. The public address system was not turned on and they did not want to miss a second. Cheers followed when the sound was restored. The calm of the audience was memorable. Not one nasty incident stopped the show.

People were so delighted to attend. Time and time again I saw groups of people come together to hug and take group pictures of each other using The Lincoln Memorial as a background. There was no shortage of smiles. Happiness and glee abounded. Each cheer was filled with joy. One and all were celebrating the freedom, hope and pride enjoyed by all Americans.

An endless list of celebrities came to perform. Most memorable were Bruce Springsteen singing, early in the concert, in front of a massive chorus wearing bright red robes. Stevie Wonder was wonderful. Bono was elegant fronting Ireland's legendary U2. His words, between songs, were thoughtful and humble. Beyonce' ended the concert with a heartfelt rendition of "My Country 'Tis of Thee." Each new celebrity introduction just added to the amazement of the list of stars assembled to honor Obama and his achievements.

By far, the performer who nailed the show was Garth Brooks. I have never been a big fan of his, but now I really understand why he is heralded as a superstar of live entertainment. He knew how to motivate an audience and brought the crowd to a loud crescendo. In the center of his three-song medley was the Isley Brothers' standard "Shout!" and we did! Looking back at the crowds, it was amazing to see a million people dancing in waves along to a great song. When Garth sang "a little bit lower now" everyone in the crowd really bowed down low! It was an amazing sight. Seeing everyone jump, hands up, and yell "SHOUT!" brought the celebration to a peak. What a time it was!

The grand finale was remarkable still. Centered amongst all the performers was the great-grandfather of American folk music Pete Seeger. His song, "This Land is Your Land," served as a strong finale for the afternoon. All attending truly felt "We Are One."

How memorable this moment was for me. Early in my childhood, I remembered Pete Seeger being portrayed as a disowned mutt - a victim of the McCarthy red scare era. Mr. Seeger was blacklisted and disrespected by the government and the press. Pete never let go of his beliefs and never dropped his convictions. He had so much in common with the civil rights leaders of the past. Popular or not, he always sang out for what America stands for and could be. Today, the color of his skin was not important. Pete Seeger was blind to skin color decades before. Today, he has rightfully regained all his respect and renown for his talents, his convictions and his unending grasp of liberty and justice. Barack Obama is aware of his history and achievement and allowed him an overdue day in the sun. Pete Seeger will always be my hero.

This is only the beginning. The inaugural of the 44th president will occur Tuesday at noon. We begin a new era of hope and joy. Now we have inspiration. Now we have a reason for collaboration. A new day is finally here. Steady on!