The President-elect and his family smiled, nodded to the beats, and sang along for many of the music acts that performed at the Lincoln Memorial, but it figures that the one person who could get them on their feet and dancing would be Stevie Wonder (and Usher and… Shakira???) doing “Higher Ground.” For someone of Obama’s generation, while growing up, Wonder’s music was probably among the most inspirational as well as aspirational and soulful.
Given the fact that the array of acts–from Bruce Springsteen to Beyonce–had to perform in chilly outdoor weather on the steps of a memorial rather than a conventional music venue, accompanied by various combinations of orchestra, rock band, and choir, the concert as aired by HBO was probably as smoothly executed as could be expected.
In keeping with the small-“d” democratic selection of musical styles, it’s likely that we each have our opinions about who were the best and who were the head-scratchers. HBO’s decision to pan up to Honest Abe’s for his stony approval during Springsteen’s acoustic-plus-choir version of “The Rising” seemed a bit much, but that wasn’t Bruce’s fault: he battled through the song like a trouper. In a similar tussle for supremacy, Bettye LaVette had no trouble convincing us that she was a better stand-in for Sam Cooke on “A Change Is Gonna Come” than her partner Jon Bon Jovi. (And how ‘bout that Jamie Foxx lead-in–it takes… something… to stand there and impersonate Obama while he watches and try and deliver a serious scripted message.)
For me, the chief why-is-this-happening? moment was… Shakira??? Maybe for you that moment was James Taylor, showering the people with his wheezy boomer lullabies. Perhaps you thought Garth Brooks’ three songs were more than a bit over the top; I had my usual Brooks experience–that is, I started out cringing at his egomaniacal histrionics, and ended up thinking he’s a heckuva showman.
The two closing performances were stirring choices. Having Springsteen sing along with Pete Seeger on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land” was the ultimate in subtly old-left populism, while Beyonce’s admirably straightforward “America The Beautiful” was, simply, beautiful.
What did you think? Whose performance revved you up? Did you enjoy the way the concert was staged and presented?