Isn't This a Time: Live-Blogging Sunday's Inaugural Concert

By Al Giordano

HBO has asked all local cable companies to make Sunday's concert on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial available free to their viewers whether they subscribe to HBO or not.

The line-up is no less than spectacular but there's one name that sticks out above all others for me, and it's my 89-year-old pal Pete Seeger...

Pete sang on picket lines with union organizers and joined forces with Woody Guthrie and others in the 1940s to give voice to their struggles through The Almanac Singers (later known as The Weavers). After a number one hit w ith Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" they were blacklisted as communists from radio play in 1953. In 1955, Pete was subpoenaed to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee (he brought his banjo and tried to sing them a song, which they would not allow, so he recited the lyrics instead to "Wasn't That a Time" while also refusing to name names, telling the committee, "I am not going to answer any questions as to my association, my philosophical or religious beliefs or my political beliefs, or how I voted in any election, or any of these private affairs. I think these are very improper questions for any American to be asked, especially under such compulsion as this.") For that he was sentenced to ten years in prison for contempt of Congress, a conviction later overturned on appeal.

Pete marched from Selma to Montgomery in the Civil Rights struggles of 1965, played tirelessly at rallies for that cause, also for ending the war in Vietnam, for the environment and always for unions and against censorship. He was with us time and time again in the anti-nuclear movement of the 1970s, so on and so forth. Living in Beacon, New York, with his wife, Toshi, I saw him there two years ago by his beloved Clearwater Sloop boat, continuing the fight. In 2006, Bruce Springsteen and friends called the Seeger Sessions Band tour resurrecting Seeger's music and struggle for a wider public and on Sunday Pete will be there to ring in the new president of the government that spent decades trying to silence and even destroy him. It will be an especially emotional moment for many of us.

Update 2:40 p.m. First músico up, Bruce Springsteen, with a gospel choir, singing his 2000 song, The Rising.

2:50 p.m.: Next up Mary J. Blige singing Bill Withers' 1972 work, Lean on Me. (Note of trivia: All the singers are being backed by the same band. I'm trying figure out who's in it and will let y'all know when I do.)

2:54 p.m.: Between the musical numbers, Hollywood types and social leaders and videos are recounting quotations from the likes of FDR, JFK, Jefferson, Thurgood Marshall, etc. Third up musically, Bettye Lavette and Jon Bon Jovi dueting on Sam Cooke's 1964 "A Change Is Gonna Come." (Note how the songs chosen so far are themselves already classics in American folklore lexicon.) They're followed by Tom Hanks, backed by a military orchestra playing Aaron Copeland's Lincoln Portrait, quoting from and talking about Abraham Lincoln.

3:08 p.m.: James Taylor with electric guitar singing his "Shower the People." Now John Legend takes the second verse, Jennifer Nettles on the third...

3:31 p.m.: After some ancillary noise from Joe Biden (sorry, Joe, but, really), John Mellencamp comes out with an unidentified guitarist to play his "Ain't That America." The TV isn't identifying the other guitar player (nor a couple of previous back-up singers for James Taylor), which is somewhat annoying... Into a later verse, a huge gospel choir is revealed to sing behind him. They're not identified either.

3:23: Josh Groban takes the next part of "My Country 'tis of Thee" from archival footage of Marian Anderson singing it at that same Lincoln Memorial - Queen Latifa had just told that story by way of introduction - during the FDR era. Heather Headley joins him in duet. Gospel choir behind them, still unidentified.

3:29: Herbie Hancock with Sheryl Crow & sing Bob Marley's "One Love." Herbie on piano. Tiger Woods intros "The US Naval Academy Glee Club" but it's Renée Fleming singing "You'll Never Walk Alone" from the 1945 musical Carousel. Oh, there's the glee club now! (In the musical, the song was sung to console a grieving wife after her bandit husband killed himself after a failed robbery, but whatever...)

3:40: Garth Brooks - pioneer of the headset microphone! - with guitar sings (an abridged version of) Don McLean's "American Pie." A school choir is behind him. It's so cold they have to do their clapping with mittens on. And now he's doing the Isley Brothers' 1959 "Shout." (Actually, I think this is the best performance so far, because it's less buttoned-up and wilder in tone and of course its incongruities. A punk rock moment from a country star! More of that please.) Then the medley segues into his 1992 "We Shall Be Free":

When the last child cries for a crust of bread,
When the last man dies for just words that he said,
When there's shelter over the poorest head, 
We shall be free,

When the last thing we notice is the color of skin,
And the first thing we look for is the beauty within,
When the skies and the oceans are clean again,
Then we shall be free

I confess that I never would have expected Garth Brooks, of all the talents on the bill, to steal the show, but so far he's done that.

3:50: Stevie Wonder on the keyboards, Usher & Shakira dueting (and looking for their lost last names?) on Wonder's "Higher Ground." Then Samuel Jackson comes on and tells Civil Rights movement stories and that of the day of MLK's "I Have a Dream" speech on the same memorial steps. And he introduces U2 to play Bono's tribute to King, "In the Name of Love." Bono: "In two days, his dream comes to pass." Then U2 plays "City of Blinding Light."

4:08: "We will now water-board this American Bald Eagle."

4:12: Obama speaks:

What gives me that hope is what I see when I look out across this mall.  For in these monuments are chiseled those unlikely stories that affirm our unyielding faith - a faith that anything is possible in America.  Rising before us stands a memorial to a man who led a small band of farmers and shopkeepers in revolution against the army of an Empire, all for the sake of an idea.  On the ground below is a tribute to a generation that withstood war and depression - men and women like my grandparents who toiled on bomber assembly lines and marched across Europe to free the world from tyranny's grasp.  Directly in front of us is a pool that still reflects the dream of a King, and the glory of a people who marched and bled so that their children might be judged by their character's content.  And behind me, watching over the union he saved, sits the man who in so many ways made this day possible. 

And yet, as I stand here tonight, what gives me the greatest hope of all is not the stone and marble that surrounds us today, but what fills the spaces in between.  It is you - Americans of every race and region and station who came here because you believe in what this country can be and because you want to help us get there.

(Among the scheduled performers, two haven't yet performed: Beyonce and Pete Seeger. My guess is we'll hear from some surprise guests, too. My guess: a "This Land is Your Land" with all the performers together, led by Seeger and Springsteen.)

4:18: Heh. Nailed that one!

4:20: And Pete delivers the punk rock moment extraordinaire:

As I went walking I saw sign there

And on that sign it said "No Trespassing"

But on the other side it didn't say nothin'

That side was made for you and me...


Nobody living can ever stop me

As I go walking down freedom highway

I dare anyone living to try and stop me

Because this land was made for you and me...

That's more like it. 

Now Beyonce ends it with "America the Beautiful." (I really did just predict that here in the newsroom, but neglected to post it to the blog. Ah, well. Hopefully they'll surprise us with a little somethin' extra next.)

Post-concert: Here's video of Pete's mischievous and conquering all-at-once moment. The significance of it did not go unnoticed. Way to go, Pete...

I'm sure I'm not alone in feeling a sense of vindication - and justice - here.


I hope

the live streaming works 'cause that's how I'll have to watch it. I have cable but apparently my cable company (Cablevision) and many (if not all) others are only making it freely available to DIGITAL cable subscribers. I don't have a digital set-top box so I'm out of luck. :-(

Pete Seeger is a hero of mine too. I hope I'm able to see this online.

One small correction, Al

Pete Seeger is 89 (he'll be 90 this May) not 79. Still going strong, too!

You're right, Lisa

A Freudian typographical on my part, no doubt, as I just can't think of him as anything but forever young. Will fix.


For those of us without cable TV, at least part of the inaugural will be available on



Thanks for the great 411

Pete has been #1 on my "fantasy inaugural concert team" from day one. I share your (shall we just bite the bullet and say..)joy.   btw he also wrote the consumate book on the 5 string banjo.

The DVR is already set

Tomorrow is a big American football day, so we'll be watching the games live and the concert later.

We spent the day today glued to CNN's coverage of the whistlestop tour eating it all up with a big spoon and stupid grins on our faces.  It's as if we have been starving for inspirational leadership for eight years and have been presented with a banquet of intelligence, grace and a sense of history...

So exciting

We are driving down to DC today through the snow.  We will miss the concert but will hopefully catch some of it on Youtube.  We have tickets to the swearing-in but not sure if the kids will be able to stay standing through the cold - we will try and if not hubby will take them to the museum while I stay and watch.

If you have a chance check out this photo gallery of Obama's staff from the New York Times Magazine today

very cool


  I just found of yesterday


I just found of yesterday that Time Warner in Dallas would be showing the concert.  I've already set my TIVO for it. 

Also bought a new labtop yesterday with a larger screen, so even the cable feed doesn't work, I'll definitely be watching.

Karen, Thx for the link to


Thx for the link to New York Magazine, that was a cool collection

I'm with Allan

Gotta watch the Cards but thanks to DVR will be able to watch the concert, probably more than once, what a line up!  I hope Jack Black has a substantial time allocated.

Good stuff Al

I'm all ready to watch HBO today. What a frustrating expense that channel is. It is either absolutely awful or has groundbreaking shows and events. Nothing in between but today it clearly is the latter.

I'm doing pretty much nothing this weekend and taking Monday and Tuesday off to savor every minute of this. I guess I'm making up for not watching hardly any TV thru the primary and general election! So many great moments with the on the spot interviews like this one:


My first concert was a Pete Seeger concert--lying on my dad's lap. That music was a part of my childhood and I make my kids listen to it today.

My mom always maintains that it was attending a Pete Seeger concert that made his superiors send my dad to Vietnam.  That, and the way she dissed Westmoreland at a party with a bunch of career army.

He's a true national treasure.

Live audio stream available worldwide

For those of you outside the US (HBO strangely decided to block the rest of the world from seeing the broadcast), the live audio is available from NPR's home page at

It's streaming

You can watch a live stream at

as for the band...

I could have sworn that I picked out Kenny Aranoff as the drummer. Of course, he's the drummer for 98% of these kinds of things.

Also, the kid sleeping behind Obama is awesome.

Excited for Shakira's performance

I have been impressed with the performers selected for this show. Mellancamp, Springsteen, and U2 have all been involved in progress issues for years.  But, I am most excited for Shakira's performance with Stevie Wonder.  Shakira has been a vocal voice for peace. Her charity, Pies Descalzos, has been building schools for poor Colombian children for years.

I think it says a lot about Barack Obama that he didn't just invite popular musicians, but musicians who have given back to the community.


Al, you were asking about who made-up the backing band and I can almost be certain I saw "Blue" Lou Marini from the Blues Brothers Band playing saxophone.


Wow. Barack has to be pissing himself right now.

That Jack Black thing killed me. I'm not sure what that was.

That definitely was Kenny Aronoff on the drums. An interesting interview about it:

I thought the bass player might be Nathan East, but on second thought I'm not sure.


We're getting this in América too! The only thing missing is Emmylou Harris and John Prine. Saw them under the stars at Red Rocks in June. Awesome!

a Palestinian dream

Did anyone else think Bono hesitated before saying that?


Also, I thought those eagles were gonna fly?  Did they not eat

their wheaties or were they scripted for the double parallel bar



Not to was a good show.  Good mojo and good

song choices.  And....I missed the beginning, but am I right

not one rendition of Star Spangled Banner?  Yes!  Will we ever get

around to changing our national anthem to America the Beautiful?

(Easier to sing, no bombs bursting...)


Garth Brooks - hoocoodanode!


Pete Seeger - he's seen it all and RUNS off the stage at age 89.

Thank you Al and commenters

I do not get cable so assumed I would not be able to watch this, but read Al's post and the comments in time to be able to watch online.

I am so grateful for your comments about Pete Seeger in particular. I teared up during his segment. I don't think I knew all those details about him - just the general picture. This makes me forever grateful that I took the opportunity to take my sons to see him when he did a performance here in Salt Lake over a decade ago. They can tell their grandchildren about this. I remember taking them because it was a children's performance and I like Pete Seeger's songs! Now I know the bigger background and feel terribly good about being able to have seen him live. Thanks Al for giving Seeger's accomplishments such a deeper context for me.

Anyway, I don't think HBO identified Sheryl Crow (I think that is who it was...) either. Sort of random on the identifying. Garth Brooks surprised me in his versatile song selection. Nice.


Poor Eagles

They were sent back to Guantanamo, I guess, or, worse, Rahm Emanuel's office.

I cried the whole time


I was making one-world-vegetarian-chili while watching this (black beans, kidney beans, tomatoes, mushrooms, celery, onions, carrots, bell peppers, corn).

I started crying as soon as I saw the crowd and I don’t think I ever stopped.

I feel like this concert was the “real” inauguration. At least for me.

Three things: Seeing the clips of John Kennedy, I remembered skipping school at Morey Junior High in Denver in january 1961 to hear John F Kennedy’s inauguration. The inspiration of that day shaped my life.

The other was seeing the tribute to Marian Anderson. I spent my childhood in Kentucky and I remember with horror segregated schools and “colored” drinking fountains and “coloreds” having to sit in the balcony of the movie theatre. But I also remember my grandmother (who was a Democratic National Committeewoman) and my mother, and their explaining to me when I was very little about who Marian Anderson was, and how wrong it was that she wasn’t permitted to sing at Constitution Hall. My grandmother resigned from the DAR in protest. My mother and my grandmother exhorted me to be of service, to practice compassion and to make a contribution to society, and that, too, has shaped my life.

Admittedly, I will be in service in my art studio on Monday, one this will be one the few days this semester I won’t have teaching responsibilities. But since Jack Kennedy was also quoted today as saying, “If art is to nourish the roots of our culture, society must set the artist free to follow his vision wherever it takes him”, I don’t feel too guilty.


Finally, I saw Pete Seeger back in the 60’s at Symphony Hall in Boston and it was a transcendent experience, and I am so grateful that he could be with us today.


A great event

I grew up in DC and live on the west coast and watched on the net, so I appreciate how many people showed up in the cold for this.  And overall it was a great event.  Especially Pete Seeger :)

By the way, 'You'll Never Walk Alone' long ago was appropriated for other meanings.  It has been covered many times by a remarkably wide range of performers, including (thanks Wikipedia) Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland, Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, Doris Day, Ray Charles, Aretha, Elvis, Kiri Te Kanawa, The Three Tenors, and Johnny Cash.

My three favorite versions are the warbling pop rendition by Gerry and the Pacemakers, which is the long-established anthem of the Liverpool Football Club and is sung by the crowd before every match, the interpolation in Pink Floyd's 'Fearless' (itself a bit of a metaphor for Obama's journey) of the Liverpool FC crowd, and the same backing Tackhead's The Game.

A truly versatile bit of music long wrenched from its rather banal original context.

Along with Curtis Mayfield's 'People Get Ready,' this is the tune I will long remember 2008 for.

bloody hell

HBO are only streaming it to those in the US. Damn.

A Pete Seeger post

at Daily Kos with the video of his song. IMHO, Pete Seeger with Bruce Springsteen with this song was the best along with Garth Brooks.   And I'm not a Garth Brooks fan but he did it up great.  The readings my Denzel Washington and Tom Hanks were so well done.

The whole 2 hour HBO show was classy, beautiful, meaningful and enjoyable. Of course, it was something the Obama team put together so I'm afraid I'm beginning to expect nothing less!

one more thing...

I'm going to watch the repeat of it here in a few minutes and only plan to miss the Biden speech er I mean the Biden yell. What the HECK was that?  Al, I saw your comments and I mean really...did he find part of a "78 speech in an old winter coat pocket?  It didn't fit at all with the theme of the event.  Thankfully it was short.

Yeah, Biden may have to

Yeah, Biden may have to start using Obama's speech writer.

Did anyone catch MSNBC's documentary "Yes We Can...The Barack Obama Story"  Brian Williams narrated, and it had some reall good clips from the primary and general election season.   It's pretty interesting


The 2009 Official Inaugural Store

Symbolism and consistency are so important. If you are interested in ordering inaugural memorabilia - comemorative china plate, T-shirts, posters, buttons, tote bags, jewelry, etc you can order here.

Note:  All items are marked "Union/USA made".

DAR in the House

When Queen Latifah was telling the story of the DAR

rejecting Marian Anderson, I thought she might mention

that the Obama daughters are eligible for membership

in the Daughters of the American Revolution, through

Obama's mother's ancestors.  It's true, his ancestors

fought in the American Revolution.  Check it out.

Such a well done show

The whole thing was just pitch-perfect....yes, well, except for Biden's screaming.  I kept thinking, there are microphones and nobody else is yelling...what's his deal?  Anyway, I had it set to record and so didn't intend to sit on my butt and watch the whole thing while I should have been painting the laundry room but I couldn't move once I got started.  It was just captivating.  One of my favorite moments was the Lincoln tribute by Tom Hanks.

The whole thing was clearly a top notch production.  And the patriotism reminded me of Al's Capture the Flag post.

Have folks heard Obama is Moving In yet?  You can find it and it's by the Presidents of the United States of America.  It's a fun inaugural song.

The Cards in the Super Bowl?!?!?  You gotta be kidding me!

The Mellencamp Song is called "Pink Houses"

Levette and Bon Jovi(!) were just terrific-probably the highlight of the show for me (though I agree that Garth Brooks did a terrific job as well).  Awesome job all around-I had tears in my eyes many times.

Heh. I hear you on the Eagles, Al

I found it somewhat depressing, how they kept trying to fly and their bland-faced keepers kept them roped to their gloves. I kept thinking they were going to set them free, but I guess we were just supposed to stare at them in all their captured glory.

Pete Seeger, though-- if Santa Claus ever retires... I grew up with him singing "Which Side Are You On?" and "Abi-Yo-Yo." He was just so lovely in his tucked-in shirt and rainbow hat, trotting on and off the stage.

Private Property

I came late to a small party friends were having to watch the concert.  It was  joy enough to see Pete and Springsteen come out and break into This Land.  I was wondering how many verses they would eke out and what Pete's choices might be, wondering if he would come up with some new lyrics, like he often does.  Amazed that he chose the private property verses, and so appropriate.

I first learned more of the history of the song from Utah Phillips - how he would have loved this concert!  Bruce changed the lyrics to 'No Trespassing', since those were the signs we were in front of at the time.  And it's true, the back sides didn't say nothing!  Still don't.  And that's a good place to be.


And where was Arlo?


To think that we have lived to see this day, how far we have come, and how much further we might go.  So many who worked so hard and with such passion to get us here, many of whom couldn't make it here, many who would never have imagined what has come to pass.  Extraordinary.

HBO censorship

<a href=>HBO owns Obama's inaugural concert. If you took any photos or videos you'd better destroy them now.</a>

According to Joe Sudbay, HBO owns the entire concert. So much for seeing Pete Seeger sing This Land Is Your Land. 

I don't have cable, so i was very appreciative of seeing this clip on your site, Al.  


Bishop Gene Robinson

I watched the entire program as broadcast by HBO, and I kept wondering why I didn't hear anything about Bishop Gene Robinson.

This diary at DKos explains.  Wonder what the truth about this is.

Concert notes

I think that was John Mellencamps guitarist Mike Wanchic playing with him.  Does anybody know what model Fender guitar James Taylor was playing?

Gene Robinson's Invocation

HBO should release this

Apparently HBO is killing some of the links to this.  They need to release the rights to this performance, and to the entire concert.

Why did the transition team allow HBO to own this very public concert?

Marian Anderson/My Country Tis of Thee

It was a tremendous concert.  Watched it on my TivoHD, and it was just a gorgeous looking show.


In addition to all this -- the part that I noticed the most was the Marian Anderson segment.  Check if I'm wrong:


Queen Latifah references the incident where Marian Anderson was not permitted to perform for the DAR because she was African-American.  However, she gets invited to perform at the Mall, and she chose the song "My Country Tis of Thee."  Then you get Josh Groban and Heather Headley both singing a duet. 


Ok -- here's where it gets interesting to me:  So of all of the "backing vocals"/choirs they could use, they feature the DC Gay Men's Choir.  They're uncredited, like the other choirs (except that the Navy Glee Club got a audio mention, as opposed to the visual graphic).  Yet, there's gotta be some intention there, right?


Assuming that there everything is done with intention (for example, Biden's rather clunky 'American working' values speech leads into Mellencamp's "Pink Houses."), I thought this was a clever-nod to all of the post Prop 8/Rick Warren drama, and surprised that it hasn't been noted elsewhere in the coverage.



A minor correction in the

A minor correction in the great scheme of things: Garth Brooks is most certainly not the pioneer of the headset microphone.  Peter Gabriel used one no later than his 1982 "Security" tour.

Oh, Pete

My very first album was Pete Seeger; someday I'll figure it out, but it had "Inch by Inch" and other lovely songs.  Some radical cousin probably got it for me.  Now everything makes me cry; every old crazy dude I see happy about this I think how wonderful that they got to see it.  Pete's not crying, though; I suspect that his faith was stronger than mine.

What a mensch.

I've been too busy to watch either football or inaugural entertainment, but watching clips now and then I've gotten more tears out.  We've got a 10:00 staff meeting tomorrow.  I'd call in sick so I could wallow in my joy, but we're going to talk about how many lawyers we have to cut out of our budget, so I'll just go a few minutes late so I can watch the oath being administered online.  At least one of those damned webcasts better be working.  Any opinions on which might be the most likely not to crash under the load?

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About Al Giordano


Publisher, Narco News.

Reporting on the United States at The Field.

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