Publication / DecodeDC
December 12, 2016
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Veteran organizers are surprised

It’s only a little more than a month until Inauguration Day, but President-elect Donald Trump’s inaugural committee has released few details about the event, which raises the question of whether it will be the grand celebration the nation’s capital has experienced in the past.

“Typically if they start the day after the election, they are already behind when it comes to planning,” said Steve Kerrigan, president of Barack Obama’s inauguration committee in 2013 and chief of staff for the committee in 2009. “We felt it was really important to lay out our plan early. It does concern me that we have no idea. … It sets the tone of what we may expect; maybe we’ll be in the dark a lot during the course of this administration.”

This much seems clear. This will be a scaled-down event, especially when compared to Obama’s first inauguration. Trump will attend the only two official inaugural balls — a big drop from the 10 official balls that Barack Obama attended for his first inauguration in 2009. So far, no concerts, community service events or prayer services have been announced, which also is a lot different from 2009.

In terms of attendance on the West Front of the Capitol, more than 1 million people are expected, according to Washington officials, which is much smaller than the nearly 2 million that attended Obama’s first inauguration.

DecodeDC was unable to get any response from Trump’s inauguration committee about whether they plan to hold any special concerts. A benefits package did, however, tout free tickets to an “inaugural concert and fireworks” for donors to the inauguration. However, so far there has been no public confirmation of musical acts for the event.

A spokesman for the committee told ABC News on Friday that a downsized inauguration — which, not surprisingly, will be themed “Make America Great Again”—is intentional.

“This is a workman-like inaugural. This is not a coronation,” said Boris Epshteyn, communications director for Trump’s inaugural committee. “And you’ve seen some inaugurals in the past that maybe did seem like a coronation. Again, it’s every president’s choice. This president wants to get to work.”

Trump himself, however, might be toying with more extravagant proceedings — at least when it comes to his arrival at the Capitol for the swearing-in ceremony. According to The New York Times, Trump has floated ideas past Mark Burnett, the producer of the reality TV show “The Apprentice,” who suggested arriving by helicopter.

One thing that appears certain to exceed the 2009 Obama event is the amount of money spent. Trump’s finance team has reportedly raised $50 million of a $75 million goal for inauguration events, which is considerably more than the $53 million that was spend in 2009. What remains unclear is how it will be spent.

In terms of talent for the inauguration, Epshteyn said the committee is reviewing performers but did not elaborate for what events. “We have world-class talent, world-class entertainers reaching out to us offering their help, offering their services so no struggle, whatsoever,” he said.

The president-elect is typically responsible for choosing a poet and singer of the national anthem during the official ceremony, according to Kerrigan. Additional concerts and events around the official Inauguration are only organized if the president elect so decides to have them.

One name that is in the mix is country music star Garth Brooks, whose representative Nancy Seltzer confirmedhe is in discussions with the inaugural committee.

But booking Brooks would be a far cry from the lengthy celebrity line-up Washington witnessed in 2008 when Obama’s inauguration was accompanied by a televised concert on the National Mall that drew thousands.

“All I can say is that the Obama Inauguration was one of those moments that was almost beyond an Inauguration, because everyone was so galvanized by this being our first African American President and there was this extraordinary sense of hope in the air,” Rob Mathes, who directed the celebrity- and artist-packed “We are One” concert, said. “This is a very different time in world history, a time of increasing fear and populism and the closing of borders; Brexit and President-Elect Trump.”

“We are One,” which was broadcast by HBO, included John Mellencamp, Bruce Springsteen, Tom Hanks, Tiger Woods, Usher, Samuel L Jackson and Garth Brooks.

“With President-elect Trump, I would have to think most of the artists would be country artists, which is somewhat common with Republican presidents. You do have your Kid Rocks and your Ted Nugents around that come from the rock side and are ferociously conservative. I doubt you’ll see U2, Beyoncé or Springsteen there or, frankly, anyone of that decidedly liberal bent obviously,” Mathes said. “It is a huge undertaking for anyone who has to organize and direct it. I wish them luck and as for the next four years, well…. let’s see.”

Thomas Barrack Jr., the chairman of Trump’s presidential inaugural committee told the New York Times that the group is “hard at work arranging world-class entertainment for the inaugural celebrations” but admitted that “no offers have been extended” and that “no specifics are in place.”

In November, Anthony Scaramucci, a member of the inaugural committee, stated on a BBC program that British singer Elton John would be headlining Trump’s proposed concert on the mall, but a publicist for John quickly denied it.

John Wolfslayer, managing director of East Coast Entertainment, a 40-year-old company that has for years provided musical acts for inaugural balls, also said the number of unofficial balls and events appear to be fewer this year.

“It’s been slow. It’s been slower than usual. And I don’t know if that’s an indication of the climate overall; I kind of suspect it is,” Wolfslayer said.

“Most of them tend to be bipartisan so it doesn’t make a difference who wins, but I think some of them are not — so a few we were working on, once the election played itself out, they decided not to move forward,” he said.

Wolfslayer also said that many of the clients they worked with in 2012 and 2008 weren’t doing balls this year.

“Well, 2008 was historic and that was crazy, it was exciting. I think this one’s different. I think there’s a lot of concern — it’s a statement about the process. I certainly think that seeing my business side of things, there’s a lack of real celebratory feeling for this one. I think it does raise some red flags about how this operation is going to go.”