The inauguration of our Nation’s 44th president, Barack Obama, was met with a spectacle of music the likes of which had never been seen. Artists from across the musical spectrum of genres flocked to the Nation’s capital to perform and take part in this truly historical event. Never before has a president stimulated artists on this level of magnitude. The experience for those artists and promoters involved rewarded them with a great sense of pride, as well as some major monetary boosts.
Barack Obama’s Presidential Inauguration helped make a big splash for the many artists involved in the festivities. Viewership for the inauguration on U.S. television was about 37.8 million people, second only to Ronald Reagan’s 41.8 million viewers in 1981. The inauguration itself, along with HBO’s special concert event called “We Are One,” helped to boost sales for digital tracks of songs performed by the artists at these events. The roster of performers at the “We Are One” concert included U2, Sheryl Crow, Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder, will.i.am, Jay-Z, Beyoncé, Kanye West, James Taylor, Pete Seeger, and many more. The HBO special, which took place on the Sunday prior to the inauguration, had 4.1 million viewers on TV and another 700,000 viewers online.
Artists and songs that saw boosts in sales of digital tracks include Springsteen’s “The Rising” (up 87% from the previous week), Woodie Guthrie’s version of “This Land is Your Land” performed by Springsteen and Seeger (up 287%), Garth Brooks’ “We Shall Be Free” (up 114%), U2’s “City of Blinding Lights” (up 116%) and “(Pride) In The Name of Love” (up 75%), John Mellencamp’s “Pink Houses” (up 28%), James Taylor’s “Shower the People” (up 63%), and more. These numbers come from the week ending Sunday, the night the HBO special aired, so there were only several hours for viewers to make these purchases. Reports of these numbers are based on information that was published only several hours after the “We Are One” concert. In the following weeks, more data will be released, which will include numbers for songs like “At Last,” performed by Beyoncé for Barack and Michelle Obama’s first dance at the Neighborhood Ball on Inauguration Day.
Performers at many of the inaugural balls were not given as much airtime as those that were a part of the “We Are One” concert special on HBO. Other than a small portion of Kanye West’s performance of “Heartless” at the “Be the Change” Youth Ball on CNN, most artists performing at the balls were not seen on television. Performers at the Neighborhood Ball in the Washington Convention Center had better luck. Broadcasted on ABC, it came second in the rankings that night with 12.5 million viewers. Artists including Mary J. Blige, Mariah Carey, Jay-Z, Shakira, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Faith Hill and Sting, were passed over by the 22.4 million people that chose to watch the amateurs of “Idol.”
A large music event wouldn’t be complete without a little drama, would it? Etta James stirred up some controversy with comments in regards to Beyoncé singing “At Last” at the Inaugural Ball. The legendary singer was quoted saying that she didn’t appreciate Beyoncé taking her song and singing it during the event. She also made several remarks about the President himself. This comes after James had originally praised the performance, and is especially strange after Beyoncé recently portrayed James in the film “Cadillac Records.” Etta James recently said that the comments were a joke and did not mean them literally.
C3 Presents was very proud to be the concert promoter for the inauguration of President Barack Obama this past January 20th. The promoter produced all of the events during Inauguration Day. The same producer of events like Austin City Limits and Lollapalooza originally worked with Obama during his campaign, producing some of his outdoor rallies in Texas for the state’s primary. C3 also produced the November 4th election day rally at Grant Park in Chicago.
For inauguration day, C3 worked on the inauguration, the parade, the “We Are One” concert for HBO, as well as the many inaugural balls. They handled behind-the-scenes production services and support around the National Mall for the entire inauguration, parade, and swearing-in ceremony. They included the Kids Inaugural (with Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, and Demi Lovato), the Live Earth Green Inaugural Ball (with Melissa Etheridge, John Legend, and Maroon 5), the Huffington Post Pre-Inaugural Ball (with Herbie Hancock, Josh Groban, and Sting), the Feeding America and RIAA Inauguration Charity Ball (with Rihanna), and MoveOn.org’s Manifest Hope Inaugural Party (with De La Soul, Moby, and Santogold). After the concert at the Lincoln Memorial, C3 principals (Charlie Jones, Charlie Attal, and Charlie Walker) met the Obama family and presented them with a guitar signed by all of the artists.
Along with C3 Presents, the Stevens Co. and Don Mischer Productions, the producer of this year’s Super Bowl halftime show with Bruce Springsteen also helped to produce the HBO concert special, “We Are One”. Other promoters present in Washington included Kevin Wall, CEO of Live Earth, and I.M.P. Productions, who booked and promoted events at venues such as the 9:30 Club.
I.M.P. hosted two Rock The Vote Events: January 19th’s Inaugural Celebration with the Beastie Boys and Sheryl Crow, and the January 20th Inauguration Party with Michael Franti & Spearhead, Talib Kweli, and more. According to I.M.P. president, Seth Hurwitz, the events were put together very quickly after the November 4th victory and many bands scrambled with trouble promoting and selling tickets during the rush.
A wide variety of venues and locations were used during the inauguration for all of the different concerts and events that took place. Venues that were used included the Warner Theatre, Verizon Center, the Kennedy Center, and 9:30 Club as well as more untraditional sites like the Lincoln Memorial, museums, hotels, and art galleries.
Obama’s inauguration involved the music community more than any other had before. It was a reminder of the power of music and the ways it can break down barriers and symbolize change. Plus, seeing Colin Powell sing Bob Marley alongside Wyclef Jean is not something you see everyday. This inauguration saw people of different generations, races, and backgrounds unite together and it was a great thing that music could be at the forefront of this historical event.
By Jack Goodall