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What made 'Celebrating America' soar

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President Joe Biden and first lady Jill Biden were seen on the Blue Room balcony above the White House South Lawn watching the fireworks that closed out the Inauguration Day events.

Posted: Jan 22, 2021 3:41 AM
Updated: Jan 22, 2021 3:41 AM

Other inaugural celebrations have festooned chilly Washington, DC, nights in white ties, gilded gowns, and crowded dance floors. Not this one.

Forget the imperial pomp, gaudy bunting, multi-kilowatt star power summoned, say, 60 years ago on this same night when John F. Kennedy, the first Roman Catholic President and the youngest man ever elected, was feted by a pageant of stars gathered together by his friend Frank Sinatra and brother-in-law Peter Lawford. The performers that night were Ethel Merman, Harry Belafonte, Ella Fitzgerald, Nat King Cole, Gene Kelly ... you get the idea.

That was 1961. And how in 2021, in the middle of a pandemic, do we celebrate the inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr., the second Roman Catholic President and the oldest ever elected? Can't party with Covid-19.

So, would you settle for something like ... I don't know ... a digital pep rally?

If you've watched Joe Biden run for office or deliver a stemwinder sometime during his 36-year run in the US Senate, you know how good a cheerleader he is for the large-d-and-small-d democratic faith.

Maybe it was providential, then, that Joe Biden's Very Big Day was capped Wednesday night by the first and maybe (one fervently hopes) last socially distant inaugural celebration, mostly live and nationally televised, mostly, from the Lincoln Memorial.

Even if you didn't know who was on the guest list for "Celebrating America" in advance, it only took a couple of guitar strokes sheathed in darkness to let you know that The Boss was going to set the table for this one.

And Bruce Springsteen, with grizzled assurance and a veteran's panache, opened the proceedings all by himself, in a pea jacket and a weathered axe, with "Land of Hopes and Dreams." His lyrics carried forth the hard-driving big-ticket effects of the musical performances at the swearing-in ceremonies almost eight hours earlier with Lady Gaga's stirring performance of "The Star-Spangled Banner" and Jennifer Lopez's laser-focused mix of "America the Beautiful" with Woody Guthrie's populist anthem, "This Land is Your Land."

Springsteen's lyrics and minimalist delivery pretty much picked up where Guthrie's left off: "... this train, dreams will not be thwarted/This train faith will be rewarded/This train hear the steel rails singing/This train, bells of freedom ringing ..."

Springsteen said before he began that he was cold and host Tom Hanks looked and sounded somewhat shivery and slightly creaky as he welcomed millions of viewers to an all-but-vacant Capitol Mall. Hanks' tone and the prevailing atmosphere seemed less like a celebration at first and more like the start of an earnest, but semi-solemn mass Zoom meeting bridged by brass fanfares.

It soon became clear, though, that this 90-minute broadcast wasn't a party designed solely for the glitterati and well-heeled corporate donors and politicos. "Celebrating America" delivered pretty much what it promised: a cross-country salute to front line workers -- teachers, nurses, delivery truckers -- who, in the prevailing sentiment of the night's narrative, kept the country going, educated its children, helped its needy, cared for its sick in the past ten months of shutdown and economic trauma.

They had their say -- as did both Biden, who, standing in near-ghostly light in front of the text of the Gettysburg Address on a Lincoln Memorial wall, provided variations on themes delivered in his inaugural address by warning once again of the unprecedented crises facing America, requiring of citizens "the most useful thing in a democracy: unity." The newly minted, history-making Vice President Kamala D. Harris also had her own spot-lit moment, chiming in with her own encouraging words for Americans and insisting that however daunting those crises alluded to by the President, "American aspiration" would help get them through.

The pre-taped musical interludes -- as musical interludes go -- were a mixed bag: Jon Bon-Jovi warbling George Harrison's "Here Comes the Sun" as the sun was rising over a Miami pier; Justin Timberlake and Ant Clemons meeting up in a Memphis stage to sing of "Better Days" ahead (the neon-lit grit of the scenery upstaging the pop stars); Tim McGraw and Tyler Hubbard duetting on "Undivided"; John Legend hurling "Feeling Good" live into the dark District skies; Lin Manuel-Miranda reciting one of the President's favorite verses from Seamus Heaney's "The Cure of Troy."

As pep rallies go, it was well organized. But it didn't quite make one's heart levitate -- until towards the end when Demi Lovato pretty much saved the night with a breathtaking cover version of the late Bill Withers' "Lovely Day" that was braced by a heartwarming human quilt of Americans of all races, genders, ages and regions lip-synching, dancing and vogue-ing to Lovato's vocals. Little wonder that the President and the first lady were shown dancing with one of their grandchildren to the music before Katy Perry's vocal fireworks helped set off the biggest display of actual fireworks anybody could remember seeing on the Mall.

I guess pyrotechnics are easy when you don't have to move a lot of people out of the way. Never mind. Another Inaugural Ball tradition was broken Wednesday night. After all, as Biden and Harris indicated, there's a lot of work to do Thursday.

Indiana Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 941120

Reported Deaths: 15315
CountyCasesDeaths
Marion1282511983
Lake633041097
Allen53609758
Hamilton43827447
St. Joseph41906590
Elkhart33545490
Vanderburgh30383448
Tippecanoe26820249
Johnson23609417
Hendricks22250341
Porter21737346
Clark17409229
Madison17366384
Vigo16108281
Monroe14466191
LaPorte14311239
Delaware14070221
Howard13865272
Kosciusko11418135
Hancock10841165
Warrick10674177
Bartholomew10542168
Floyd10430205
Wayne9959226
Grant9130204
Morgan8865160
Boone8389111
Dubois7710123
Dearborn762289
Henry7608130
Noble7413101
Marshall7362128
Cass7176117
Lawrence6957153
Shelby6584111
Jackson656785
Gibson6156107
Harrison603786
Huntington600195
Montgomery5805105
DeKalb574291
Knox5494104
Miami542488
Putnam536768
Clinton533665
Whitley524953
Steuben497268
Wabash483592
Jasper479160
Jefferson470092
Ripley454277
Adams444068
Daviess4169108
Scott405865
White391857
Clay390857
Greene388392
Decatur385296
Wells384983
Fayette374278
Posey359941
Jennings353156
Washington332047
LaGrange321375
Spencer317835
Fountain316555
Randolph312888
Sullivan307449
Owen283863
Starke280064
Fulton277553
Orange275859
Jay254837
Perry251652
Carroll243729
Franklin239338
Rush234130
Vermillion233250
Parke219820
Tipton209655
Pike207639
Blackford168334
Pulaski163551
Crawford146018
Newton144345
Benton142516
Brown135346
Martin128217
Switzerland125810
Warren114616
Union96911
Ohio79711
Unassigned0479

Ohio Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 1365800

Reported Deaths: 21596
CountyCasesDeaths
Franklin1522221560
Cuyahoga1344852327
Hamilton976051320
Montgomery670271141
Summit562091047
Lucas50900863
Butler47417655
Stark41580976
Lorain31567532
Warren30001331
Mahoning26963639
Clermont25628292
Lake24585417
Delaware22313145
Licking20487241
Fairfield20420221
Greene20309272
Trumbull19866509
Medina19796287
Clark17879328
Richland16314234
Portage16130229
Wood15681208
Allen14115256
Miami13786253
Muskingum12641152
Wayne11946238
Columbiana11708241
Tuscarawas10953269
Marion10725148
Pickaway10465129
Scioto10324127
Erie9747171
Ross9436176
Lawrence8755125
Hancock8458141
Ashtabula8317185
Geauga8173156
Belmont8140187
Jefferson7527172
Huron7423128
Union731851
Washington7183120
Athens697165
Sandusky6848134
Darke6756136
Knox6671122
Seneca6358137
Ashland5948113
Auglaize587188
Shelby5727101
Brown564171
Mercer557890
Defiance5483101
Madison543371
Crawford5425114
Highland541581
Fulton530683
Clinton525580
Logan512182
Preble4994110
Putnam4833106
Guernsey470364
Williams459282
Perry449852
Champaign445964
Ottawa436884
Jackson425362
Pike388843
Morrow383851
Fayette375853
Coshocton374766
Adams360675
Hardin359069
Gallia347356
Holmes3259108
Henry324668
Van Wert314670
Hocking301769
Wyandot280658
Carroll262652
Paulding242243
Meigs213942
Monroe189749
Noble169340
Morgan165829
Harrison157940
Vinton138118
Unassigned05
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Sunshine and warmer air return to round out the work week, but the warm-up is brief.
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