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Obama’s Second Inauguration Is Failing the Event Industry

President Obama at a state dinner at the White House in 2009.
President Obama at a state dinner at the White House in 2009.
Photo: Pete Souza

Type in “inauguration news” on whatever Internet device you use—iPod, Stupid Phone, Rain Cloud—and you will be shocked, shocked, to learn that a vigorous black market for inauguration tickets has flooded the market.

Shocked by the illegal and sacrilegious repurposing of our nation’s most glorious and solemn quadrennial event?

No, shocked that anyone at all is showing any interest in attending.

But click around on these scalping sites for a few moments, and it’s hard not to come to the same conclusion that I did: The only intelligent thing the White House and its inaugural committee has done right in planning this year’s confab is to leak a handful of tickets to really unsavory ticket brokers as a way to ratchet up fake interest in the upcoming news-and-snooze-fest.

For evidence, all the ticket brokers sites have the exact same inventory of tickets, including mysterious seats in section 12 (which I could describe as “mid-orchestra”), which are offered for $1,450 on one site and an outrageous $7,500 on another.

And maybe some fool will actually buy this inventory. There’s a sucker born every minute—look how many people live in Trump Tower.

Four years ago, Obama’s first inauguration was a challenge of massive proportions to the event industry. Bridges and tunnels leading to Washington were closed, hotel rooms were impossible to come by. Yet there there was a dizzying array of parties and events, more than a dozen of which I attended and wrote about here.

Caterers were positively bragging about having to drive their supplies in through Maryland overnight and have staff hand-truck them through closed neighborhoods in the frigid cold, because the Obama administration seemed like it might usher in a whole new era of excitement and ideas for the event business.

Talk about your 180s. This year’s inauguration is a probable failure on just about every level.

The inaugural concert last time was headlined by Queen Aretha. This time it’s Bed, Bath, and Beyoncé, sponsored by Pepsi. Oops, that’s the Super Bowl. Why do we have to have the crack dealer’s wife back again, after last time she sang “At Last,” not even bothering to call Etta James, whose anthem she had appropriated? “You know that woman he had singing for him, singing my song, she's going to get her ass whipped," James was quoted as saying, and a few months later she was dead, probably from a broken heart.

Let’s see who else is rounded up. Kelly Clarkson. Wasn’t she a Ron Paul supporter? Katy Perry, which means the concert will have the absolute latest in lip-synch technology.

For Obama’s first inaugural, there were a variety of glittery balls with colorful names. Literally. The Green Ball for Al Gore and his ilk. The Purple Ball for the R&B communities (which was cancelled without notice). And the parties leading up to the big day were huge behemoths. Remember Huffington Post’s event at the Newseum? Nerdily, but expensively, decorated with a giant laptop? (No iPads then, sigh.) Getting in was harder than the Vanity Fair Oscar party.

Monday’s Washington Times highlighted a Martin Luther King Jr. Day ceremony on the 17th (don’t they have to have that anyway?) and an Inaugural Fashion Show among only a handful of lead-up events.

Oooh, a fashion show, that might be cool. Isn’t Michelle Obama the new Jackie O?

Well maybe, but check out the names of some of the participating designers: Ean Williams (Corjor International), Olga Margison (Concept OM), Mariam Heydari (Heydari Design), Jahi’ Fitzgerald (EVOLI Fac’cion), Jovanna Reyes, Qristyl Frazier, Tatiana Kolina (sPACYcLOUd).

Actually, Michelle Obama is the new Jackie O in a very different way. Like Jackie O she is obsessed with fashion and taking care of her kids and has made very little effort to ingratiate herself in the Washington social scene.

Remember the promise of 2009? There was social secretary Desiree Rogers, who was going to do all these fabulous things, at least that’s what she told Vogue, before blowing off having name-checkers at her first big party and letting those two grifters the Salahis in. And they were going to have all these multicultural events with new young talent. Just like Jackie O when she had Isaac Stern.

Well they did have one good jazz party, and they had Johnny Depp dress up for Halloween once.

What should have been the absolute party epiphany for the Obama administration, when they hosted a dinner for British Prime Minister David Cameron and his Smythson-chic wife, Samantha, last March, came and went with nary a press mention. Don’t we have some sort of “special relationship” with the U.K.? I had to Google to remember that George Clooney and Anna Wintour showed up. There, I also learned that British folk group Mumford & Sons was the entertainment. Who the hell are they? I know Adele was busy birthing a baby, but where was Sting or Paul McCartney ... jeez, even Phil Collins would have been better. [Well, Mumford & Sons are up for six Grammys next month, including Album of the Year. —Ed.]

And remember “date night”? The Obamas were going to have regular jaunts into the city. Conde Nast Traveler did a roundup of the restaurants they’ve visited and counted five.

After hoofing it around Washington last time to balls, each held in one of our capital’s landmark buildings, this year Barry and Mickey are keeping it low-key. There are just two inaugural balls, both held at the same venue, the Washington Convention Center.

Will they ride a Secret Service golf cart from one event to the next? Or will they make some sort of royal barge float, like Queen Elizabeth did for her Diamond Jubilee Flotilla, remember, the one that looked like a Chinese restaurant?

As if all this wasn’t lackluster enough, the inauguration committee decided to lift its pesky private donor restriction from last time, so we can be confident that this year’s festivities will be underwritten (and under-disclosed) by a handful of pork barrel intimates with unsavory, despite the porcine nomenclature, intentions.

Yeah, I hate to use the “epic fail” meme—it is just so ordinary—but that is what, from an event industry point of view, the Obamas have really turned out to be. Ordinary.

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