The promise of celebrities ranging from Beyonce to Tom Hanks – not to mention President Barack Obama – was enough to make masses of GW students wake up early and brave the cold to attend the “We Are One” concert on Sunday at the Lincoln Memorial.
The concert, which honored Obama and Vice President Joe Biden, served as the official kick-off to the inaugural events.
Freshmen Chris Clark, Steven Oswald and Carolyn Mehrtens were glad they arrived early when they saw the number of people who were already there, stretching from the Lincoln Memorial back past the Washington Monument.
“We rolled out of bed and we went and it was absolutely jam packed at 8:20,” Oswald said.
“There was like 10,000 people there at eight in the morning for a 2:30 start time, so it was a little ridiculous,” Clark added.
Masses came to catch a glimpse of the celebrity guests, who included Martin Luther King III, Tom Hanks, Steve Carell, Denzel Washington, Tiger Woods, Jack Black, Jamie Foxx and Queen Latifah. Entertainment was provided by legendary musicians ranging from Bruce Springsteen, Stevie Wonder and U2 to Beyonce, Shakira and John Legend.
“The concert had such a great variety with all the different performers. It definitely catered to all types of people,” said sophomore Rhea Sud, who arrived at 10 a.m. to get a standing spot for the 2:30 p.m. concert.
Each artist performed their own renditions of popular American songs and serenaded then soon-to-be-44th president with tunes like “This Land is Your Land,” “One Love,” “Shout” and “American Pie.” The show was broadcast live on HBO.
For sophomore Diva Bole, who reached the National Mall at noon, the overflowing crowd was a source of excitement.
“It’s really stunning because there’s so many people,” she said. “It’s just an awesome concert experience.”
The first person in line was a woman who arrived at 2:30 a.m.
To brave the cold weather, concertgoers came equipped with space blankets, fur coats, snacks and Obama pins.
While Obama, Biden and their families sat in a bulletproof glass shelter on the stage, sharpshooters perched on top of the Lincoln Memorial to keep the stage secure. Concertgoers were also barricaded hundreds of feet away from the stage.
Speakers introducing each performance quoted famous speeches from American icons like Martin Luther King Jr. and President John F. Kennedy.
Both Obama and Biden addressed the crowd. Drawing large cheers, Obama’s brief speech urged citizens to be “patient for change.”
“Obama’s speech was inspiring, as usual,” said sophomore Lucy Conley-Smoucha. “He gave us a lot to look forward to. In the hard times we are facing as a nation, it is the perfect time for him to be addressing us and assuring us.”
Due to the sheer number of people, viewing the stage was difficult for many guests. Jumbotrons were situated around the Mall so concertgoers could watch the performances. Some attempted to scale portable toilets or nearby trees for a better view, but were quickly removed by police.
Senior Kris Rawls said hearing the next commander-in-chief speak made braving the elements worthwhile.
“Obama’s speech was so eloquent,” Rawls said. “I am hungry and cold but very happy after seeing him speak. “
Senior Jared McDonald agreed, “The concert was so crowded and the weather was freezing but the performances and seeing Obama speak were well worth it.” n
Becky Reeves and Cameron Dux contributed to this report.