Stars, Crowds Kick Off Celebration

Posted January 18, 2009 at 3:16pm

Updated: 5:53 p.m.

It’s official: The party has begun.

Hundreds of thousands of people, braving freezing weather and crowded streets, headed to the National Mall on Sunday for the “We Are One” free inaugural concert.

With President-elect Barack Obama and Vice President-elect Joseph Biden in the front row, a steady stream of performers took to the makeshift stage on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in celebration of Tuesday’s inauguration.

Huge television screens, rows of portable toilets and temporary police towers covered the Mall as spectators gathered from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument for the celebration.

Not surprisingly, the biggest cheers of the day went to Obama, who told the joyful crowd that while the country faces enormous challenges, he is “as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure.”

“What gives me that hope is what I see when I look out across this Mall,” he said. “For in these monuments are chiseled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith — a faith that anything is possible in America.”

Much of the event reflected on moments in American history. Actors including Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks recited past speeches from presidents including Abraham Lincoln and Franklin D. Roosevelt. Not only presidents were honored, as actor Samuel L. Jackson spoke of Rosa Parks.

Musical performers included Bruce Springsteen, who kicked off the show with a rendition of “The Rising” accompanied by a choir, and Beyoncé, who closed the concert with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

Sunday’s concert wasn’t limited to American performers. Irish natives U2 took to the stage to perform “Pride” and “City of Blinding Lights.” Lead singer Bono got a bit political during the performance, telling the crowd that “this is not just an American dream, but also an Irish dream, a European dream … an Israeli dream and a Palestinian dream.”

Other highlights included Mary J. Blige singing “Lean on Me,” John Mellencamp performing “Pink Houses” and James Taylor with John Legend and others on “Shower the People.”

Actor Jamie Foxx drew laughter from the crowd when he recited Obama’s election-night speech while impersonating the incoming president.

“Chi-town stand up,” Foxx screamed.

About halfway through the show, Biden delivered a speech on the value of work.

“Work is more than a paycheck,” he said. “It’s about dignity, it’s about respect. It’s about whether you can look your child in the face and say, ‘Honey, it’s going to be all right.’”

Others appearing included Jack Black, Stevie Wonder, Usher, Shakira, Tiger Woods, Rosario Dawson, Marisa Tomei, Patti LaBelle, Jon Bon Jovi and, in a rare live performance, Garth Brooks singing “American Pie.”