A week after the Inauguration I’ve warmed up from the seven hours spent standing on the National Mall in front of a jumbo-tron—not nearly as cold as my recently adopted Windy City, but you stand in place on cold ground for any length of time and you’re bound to get chilled—but the high of last week’s Inaugural Day has not quite worn off. It’s a feeling I hope we can bottle and sell and look back on the way people talk about JFK.
There were a lot of festivities that weekend besides the main event (or the surreal musical stylings of Garth Brooks and Beyonce at the concert on the Mall Sunday). Having had an opportunity to buy tickets for the Midwest Ball, I opted instead for the Hideout Big Shoulders Inaugural Ball last Monday night at the Black Cat—located on 14th Street near the U Street corridor in Washington, DC. The night brought a lineup of eight, mostly Chicago-based, bands and full coolers of Goose Island to our nation’s capitol. And for me, it brought my two favorite venues—from my new city and my old home—together for one night. A strange collision of hang-outs in honor of our new president.
U Street was awash with crowds lining up at Ben’s Chili Bowl (no chance of a half-smoke unless you were willing to stand in a line stretching down to 12th street, thanks to Obama and Mayor Fenty’s TV appearance the week prior), but down the block the folks from the Hideout had managed to give the Black Cat the intimacy of its own gigs. The upstairs’ stage was festooned with streamers, bunting, Chicago flags, and the iconic Obama print that a few weeks earlier had hung from outside the Hideout itself. Tim Tuten held forth from a podium, delivering the characteristic introductions as Freakwater, Ken Vandermark, Tortoise, Andrew Byrd, and the Waco Brothers, among others, all took their turn at the Chicago talent show. Thomas Frank, author of “What’s the Matter With Kansas?,” led the crowd in singing “Solidarity Forever” along with Jon Langford of the Waco Brothers. There was vintage “thrift store” fashion, traditional black tie ball attire, and the rest of us hipsters who preferred to stay warm in our jeans.
It was a great night for music—this was the eve of not just the Inauguration, but of Andrew Byrd’s new release as well—but the music was secondary. The night fit seamlessly into a weekend of almost unfamiliar good will. Tourists and locals alike walked around for four days smiling to one another and starting conversations in shopping lines and on the metro. Across town my hosts for the weekend were at an Inauguration party for a group of musicians—composers, National opera types, and others—wondering who would be selected for National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities chairmanships, while bemused that they’d never felt compelled to hang a flag from their house until this night. At the Black Cat, a number of fine musicians brought their best, but the crowd was really waiting through the jazz and fancy whistle tricks for a party. Icy Demons and Waco Brothers were high points, in my view the epitomizing party bands of the night. Jon Langford introduced his mates as a protest band that had very little to protest that night. When they played “I Fought the Law” it seemed that for this night WE had won. The Wacos—three Yanks, a Welshman and an Englishman, based in Chicago, doing coordinated kicks and guitar windmills couldn’t have expressed our feelings better. For one night indie irony and cynicism was dead.