Thursday's inauguration weekend welcome concert did its job, in that it accurately and compellingly set the tone for the new administration and the new America. It didn’t run properly, didn’t reflect your tastes or interests, and you wouldn’t want to purchase a ticket to it—let alone desire to be present to witness the disaster.
Yet here we are. 3 Doors Down is here, too.
“Make America Great Again! Welcome Celebration Concert” was the much-ballyhooed event that struggled to book major acts to perform.
Toby Keith, Lee Greenwood, the Piano Guys, and the aforementioned 3 Doors Down headlined. By comparison, President Obama’s We Are One concert featured Mary J. Blige, James Taylor, Josh Groban, Sheryl Crow, will.i.am, John Legend, Jennifer Nettles, Garth Brooks, Stevie Wonder, Usher, Shakira, U2, and Bruce Springsteen.
Trump, on the other hand, a man who boasted his entire campaign about his ability to close deals, failed to book a Springsteen cover band for his festivities.
The poor CBSN host on the livestream I was watching was saddled with teasing, “Toby Keith is in the house!” while we waited for the concert to begin… 15 minutes late.
As he read the rest of the list of performers, each name was delivered more like a question—like a substitute teacher taking roll call trying to nail the names of foreign students. In other words, he had never heard of any these people. “Lee...Greenwood?” “DJ...Ravidrums? I hope I didn’t mess his name up.” Then old faithful: “And again, Toby Keith!”
Because of all that embarrassment, it’s as sheepish as any big opening—the grand opening to Trump’s entire administration, at that—could be. And with that, the Army Band, admittedly sounding great as ever, struck up its welcome as the president-elect’s family entered the stage in front of the Lincoln Memorial.
From beginning to end, the somber cloud hovering over the incoming administration, this impossible to book concert, and, really, America, stifled the music. Hardly the pomp and circumstance you’d expect from such an occasion. Certainly, it was hardly the spectacle that a man who fancies himself the Greatest Showman on Earth would be proud to produce.
But the show must go on. And it did.
Without further ado, “Please welcome the rhythmic beats of Ravidrums.” Mr. Ravidrums, mohawked and working it, then played a new-age Dick Van Dyke-in-Mary-Poppins-style drum set to the electro-bastardized tune of “God Bless America” while the names of all 50 states flashed on screens in the background.
Jon Voight’s up next, starting the night off by berating us for being mean to Trump who’s “only desire was to make America great again.” How fitting, to kick things off with asinine whining and a cry for attention—this time, spoken through a formerly A-list surrogate.
Sam Moore followed to sing “America, the Beautiful.” Google tells me that Sam Moore is one half of Sam & Dave, the R&B duo behind the song “Soul Man.” He sounded really great, as you would expect when you find out that he’s the iconic voice behind “Soul Man.” Behind him was a gospel choir, each with the countenance of a hostage attempting to blink “Help” in Morse code. Nonetheless, beautiful rendition!
A fife band dressed in colonial garb then came to perform a medley of songs from the 18th and 19th centuries, ostensibly to put us in the mood of the time period we’re about to revert back to.
Everyone then waited idly for Trump to arrive. For a long time. A really long time. CNN’s chryon: “Standing by for Trump to arrive at the concert.” The Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” played in the meantime. That seems like an odd choice.
He arrived, Melania by his side, stopping to salute the statue of Lincoln.
The Frontmen of Country then performed a medley of hits, including “Walking On Memphis,” a song by not one of the frontmen of country on stage. A ditty entitled “God Blessed Texas” got a rousing response from the crowd, as did “God Bless the U.S.A.,” the track that paved the way for the appearance—here he is—”Lee...Greenwood?”
(The sap in me who enjoys being emotionally manipulated loves that song. It was nice.)
3 Doors Down themselves, the moment we’ve all been waiting for, then opened up their set with a song called “The Broken,” featuring lyrics like: “this is a call to the broken / to all the ones who’ve been thrown away,” and are they trolling us? I still sang along to “Kryptonite.”
Perhaps one of the more interesting performances was by The Piano Guys. In keeping with the theme of the afternoon, they are, one could say, phonies—or, rather, known for making a name for themselves off the works of others.
The Piano Guys became famous through YouTube for their instrumental covers of other pop songs. A popular one of theirs is the cover of “Fight Song,” the omnipresent earworm that haunted all of Hillary Clinton's campaign rallies. In very Trumpian fashion, their albums are named: Hits Volume 1, The Piano Guys, and The Piano Guys 2. You cannot make this up.
Were they interesting on stage? They opened with a song that was basically just repeating over and over, “It’s going to be OK,” so many times that it not only became meaningless but instead possibly incited paranoia.
In a statement before the concert in response to the backlash any performer rumored to be involved in the event received, the group said they weren’t endorsing Trump but instead wished to spread “love, joy and hope” and hoped “understanding” and “goodwill” would prevail over political divisiveness.
That’s in tune—heh—with what those who are upset by performers booked for the inauguration have said. This is not a campaign rally for Trump, but a celebration of patriotism and unity.
But as the discourse surrounding the concert focused on the performers who refused to play because of how passionately they disagree with Trump’s politics and the result of the election, and the news that planners were struggling to book acts made more and more headlines, the decision to actually perform has undeniably become a political act.
The rampant language from other performers about why they view refusal to perform as a stand against the incoming administration, as that language grew louder and louder, inextricably made agreeing to perform a decision in the face of that platform.
Broadway star Jennifer Holliday, for example, withdrew from the lineup after The Daily Beast published a piece detailing how her initial booking upset gay fans, who viewed the new administration’s position on LGBT issues as dangerous—and against values Holliday herself had stood for.
She had considered herself a “bipartisan songbird” who has performed for previous presidents of both political parties, but realized that her participation would be considered “a political act against my own personal beliefs and be mistaken for support of Donald Trump and Mike Pence.”
Andrea Bocelli and Elton John also pulled out of festivities after reports had been made that they were performing. Even the New York City Rockettes, who for decades represented silent, smiling solidarity, as The New York Times’s Patrick Healy noted, found themselves in “a position both painful and empowering as they take sides over the inauguration, a split illustrating the cultural divide that President-elect has cleaved through the country.”
After releasing her own personal statement about why she took the gig despite being dismayed by the future prospects of the country, Grammy-winning R&B singer Chrisette Michele will also perform at an inauguration event this weekend. Even though Questlove offered to pay her not to.
That’s in the future, though, after America is supposedly great again. This is now. America’s still only OK.
Now “one of the most popular artists in history” Toby Keith followed The Piano Guys, and it looked like he was embarrassed by that ridiculous introduction. He performed his Toby Keith-y songs and he did that very Toby Keith-y thing well, saying stuff like “we’ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way” while cheers-ing a red solo cup in the air—which is certainly a message.
If that’s your bag, you presumably really loved it. But let’s not pretend that this was akin to Mary J. Blige leaving her soul on stage at Obama’s concert, or Bruce Springsteen putting on a gee-golly, America-uniting show when he growled out “The Rising” in 2008.
Why do I keep comparing the two concerts? Because we’re in Trumpland now, a world ruled by superlatives. SNL is the worst! Meryl Streep is the most overrated! All Cabinet nominees have the highest IQs!
And, in that spirit, the welcome concert was the lamest—certainly the worst concert the poor statue of Abraham Lincoln was ever forced to attend.