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 2:41 AM
Updated: Jan 22, 2021 2:41 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.

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 770246

Reported Deaths: 8661
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1537491923
Ramsey63444980
Dakota57071526
Anoka54052520
Washington33690331
Stearns28419253
St. Louis23735361
Scott21652160
Wright21388171
Olmsted18144120
Sherburne15515115
Carver1366556
Clay1025399
Rice9985131
Blue Earth966659
Crow Wing9518109
Chisago837263
Kandiyohi835197
Otter Tail8061105
Benton7477111
Beltrami658079
Mower645541
Douglas629190
Goodhue619985
Itasca618885
Winona611854
McLeod595770
Steele585825
Isanti573074
Morrison557767
Becker534862
Polk512879
Freeborn487642
Nobles481652
Lyon456356
Carlton446866
Nicollet434454
Pine428532
Cass425745
Mille Lacs416967
Brown411547
Todd400036
Le Sueur386332
Meeker356854
Waseca327331
Martin326336
Wabasha29538
Hubbard292744
Dodge273510
Roseau265227
Fillmore243812
Redwood240443
Wadena238429
Houston231117
Renville228549
Faribault220630
Pennington217227
Sibley211612
Cottonwood197128
Kanabec192230
Chippewa190340
Aitkin184043
Watonwan171112
Pope16148
Yellow Medicine157220
Rock155319
Jackson147315
Koochiching138619
Clearwater136618
Murray135011
Swift134619
Marshall134520
Pipestone133427
Stevens124911
Lake109521
Wilkin102814
Lac qui Parle98524
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Norman8789
Big Stone7974
Grant7869
Lincoln7845
Kittson61122
Red Lake5899
Unassigned538124
Traverse5165
Lake of the Woods4764
Cook2460

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 474151

Reported Deaths: 6785
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk74657729
Linn29194394
Scott24733274
Black Hawk20335358
Woodbury19207244
Johnson17988100
Dubuque15834229
Pottawattamie14276200
Dallas14109108
Story1288551
Warren774296
Cerro Gordo6951110
Webster6950111
Clinton6929101
Des Moines667594
Marshall641885
Muscatine6352113
Wapello5936137
Jasper578279
Lee565689
Sioux565676
Marion508191
Buena Vista491746
Plymouth463487
Henry389847
Jones370861
Washington366856
Benton359257
Bremer357168
Boone350937
Carroll346353
Crawford339347
Mahaska322856
Dickinson301052
Clay279133
Buchanan279039
Jackson273546
Kossuth271873
Hardin270249
Tama264976
Fayette260649
Delaware258546
Cedar249526
Page249328
Wright243645
Hamilton233954
Winneshiek233338
Floyd221845
Harrison217777
Madison216925
Clayton214558
Poweshiek211741
Iowa208029
Butler206638
Cass201557
Jefferson201040
Mills199929
Allamakee194753
Cherokee193844
Lyon192941
Hancock187639
Winnebago186633
Calhoun186116
Appanoose180850
Shelby178439
Louisa171052
Grundy168537
Humboldt167727
Emmet167146
Franklin164628
Mitchell164043
Union162637
Chickasaw159318
Sac157924
Guthrie155434
Montgomery142342
Palo Alto142032
Clarke141328
Keokuk139635
Monroe134335
Howard128222
Ida118641
Greene116315
Davis115225
Lucas113724
Pocahontas111423
Monona108738
Worth10818
Adair105335
Osceola94017
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Van Buren84221
Decatur82612
Taylor79713
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Adams5095
Unassigned380
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