Presidency has its advantages.
Case in point: George W. Bush assembled some of pop music's finest including Ricky Martin, 98 Degrees, Jessica Simpson and Destiny's Child in Washington, D.C., over the weekend to help mark his move into the White House. Country stars Lyle Lovett, Clint Black, Marcia Ball, Reckless Kelly, Asleep at the Wheel, Tanya Tucker, Mark Chesnutt, Lee Greenwood and appropriately Southern-fried rockers ZZ Top also contributed to the soundtrack for the nation's 54th inaugural.
Martin became the focus of the national press corps' attention on Thursday, offering a version of his World Cup anthem "Cup of Life" during a rally at the Lincoln Memorial. The Bush campaign used the song to cap off the then-governor's campaign appearances during the final months of the election, and Martin drew Bush out to the memorial steps for a little jig that will undoubtedly be played and replayed on "The Daily Show." But the pop-star wattage reached its peak at Friday's Inaugural Concert Celebrating America's Youth, at D.C.'s MCI Center, with the emphasis on the word "youth." Guest MCs ranging from "Jerry Maguire" cute kid Jonathan Lipnicki and "Real World: San Francisco" housemate Rachel Campos to Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush were greeted by a crowd that might have been more at home at the Nickelodeon Kid's Choice Awards. Each MC gave a quick speech, usually about citizenship or the greatness of the American dream, between brief musical sets, usually of two to five songs. Of course, that made for some tough segues ("Thank you, Destiny's Child! And now, Secretary of Housing and Urban Development-designee Mel Martinez!"). And while the ceremony itself felt a little like a hybrid between a pep rally and a high school dance, the pop royalty who took the stage definitely played it up for the fans.
The stage at the MCI Center, which was a simple frame of lights and an enormous screen running psychedelic animation, was unpretentious and complemented the quick carousel of performers well. 98 Degrees, who performed at the special request of one of the new first daughters, played the quickest set of the evening, burning through speedy renditions of "The Hardest Thing" and "My Everything" before scampering offstage. Meanwhile, Destiny's Child emerged as three well-choreographed balls of energy, blowing through "Independent Women, Part 1" and "Jumpin', Jumpin' ". Despite an ambitious schedule that would see the trio jet off for Los Angeles for an early-morning engagement the next day, Destiny's Child worked the crowd into a decent lather. Destiny's frontwoman Beyoncé Knowles abandoned her usual repertoire of stage banter and anthemic pep routines, instead offering the more event-appropriate "I wanna hear you say Bush!" Jessica Simpson capped off the evening's longest set by performing a version of "I Think I'm in Love With You," in which she substituted the word "boy" with "George," yielding a somewhat contrived result ("George, I think I'm in love with you! I'll be doing silly things when I get next to you").
When Bush took the stage around 5:30 p.m. to thank the "pretty good darn set of entertainers," he used the opportunity to encourage the audience to "be good citizens," a theme he echoed with much greater flourish during his inaugural address the following day. After Friday's Concert Celebrating America's Youth, the inaugural festivities became a circuit of state balls, where most of the musicians were such marquee Texas talent as Loretta Lynn and ZZ Top. Despite rumors of a protest concert filled with headliners from Nader's Green Party road show, there was nothing in the streets but an occasional drum circle.