Though Bruce Springsteen, U2, Garth Brooks, Beyoncé and dozens of other artists turned on the charm yesterday afternoon on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, there was no doubt who the man of the hour was.
President-elect Barack Obama was the only star in attendance who got his name chanted by the hundreds of thousands of fans who nearly filled the National Mall for the "We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration" concert. Of all the speakers, who included Denzel Washington and Tiger Woods, only he garnered huge ovations.
"I want to thank all the speakers and performers today for reminding us through song and through words just what it is that we love about America," Obama said. "Welcome to this celebration of American renewal."
For nearly two hours, the concert, televised on HBO, balanced recognition of the event's historic nature and celebrating it. Garth Brooks' set was the template, leading raucous sing-alongs of "American Pie" and "Shout!," then delivering his own vision of post-racial America, "We Shall Be Free."
Springsteen kicked off the event with his post- 9/11 anthem "The Rising," backed by an enormous choir and his acoustic guitar. He also began the finale with folk legend Pete Seeger, singing Woody Guthrie's "This Land Is Your Land." But they didn't end the song after the third verse, as less controversial singers do. They included the fourth verse, which disregards trespassing, and the fifth which ends with "Some are grumblin' and some are wonderin', if this land's still made for you and me."
U2's Bono also stirred up some controversy, changing the lyrics of "Pride (In the Name of Love)," the band's tribute to The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s "I Have a Dream" speech, by saying, "Not just an American dream, also an Irish dream, a European dream, African dream, Israeli dream and also a Palestinian dream."
The great soul singer Bettye LaVette did some rewriting of her own, as she and Jon Bon Jovi tackled Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come." In their version, the song ends with "I know ... change has come."