The entertainment also included the Mexican band Mana and country singer Brad Paisley, who joked that Americans have a democracy that's the envy of the world, so we celebrate by "getting drunk in a huge convention center." The audience milled around, buying drinks at the cash bar and bemoaning the skimpy snacks — until the popular, Grammy-nominated band fun. came on, with lead singer Nate Ruess' energetic vocals inspiring much of the crowd to sing their anthem "We Are Young" — even if they weren't.
Albert Wilkerson is 74, to be precise, but he was enjoying the evening immensely, he said, despite the noise, the crowds, the cash bar and food that consisted of pretzels and snack mix, $150 tickets notwithstanding.
"I like being here," said Wilkerson, who came from Coeur d'Alene, Idaho. "I feel like a true American."
Caitlin Kelly wasn't quite so forgiving. "You diet for weeks to get into a dress, and then they give you pretzels?" asked Kelly, 28, of New York. "I'm gonna get tipsy fast."
It was a three-generation affair for the Sawtelle family, meanwhile, with grandmother Anna Kristina Sawtelle, 76, from Ogunquit, Maine, by way of Sweden, attending the main ball by wheelchair. Sawtelle's extended family traveled from Sweden to see the event, with her 12-year-old U.S.-born grandson — a Boy Scout from Troop 698 of Burke, Va. — serving as volunteer security for the parade.
"I am proud my grandson guarded the president,'" she said.
The Obamas soon came down and repeated their dance with Hudson, to huge cheers from the crowd and too many cellphone photos to count. After one more appearance at the third venue, the Obamas went home. But Stevie Wonder took the stage, his familiar hits — "My Cherie Amour," ''Signed, Sealed, Delivered" and more — luring a few brave souls to dance.
Over at the Harman Center for the Arts, meanwhile, there was a hipper vibe, with a big bash thrown by the Creative Coalition, an arts advocacy organization, featuring a full concert by the rock band the Goo Goo Dolls. There, everyone was up and dancing in their theater seats by the second song. At yet another venue, the 9:30 club, pop singer Ke$ha was performing, and praising Obama's speech. "I really appreciate him addressing equal rights" for gays, said Ke$ha. "It's an issue very close to my heart."
A slew of celebrities had also watched Obama's swearing-in earlier in the day. Katy Perry showed up in a chic orange coat and wide-brimmed hat. She sat next to singer/guitarist John Mayer. Up on the podium, folk icon James Taylor sang "America the Beautiful," and Kelly Clarkson performed "My Country, 'Tis of Thee."
But the biggest attraction? Ask Jada Mason, age 8, from Tulsa, Okla. "I got to see the president — AND Beyonce!" she beamed, when asked her favorite moment of the day. (Beyonce sang the national anthem.) Jada's family had taken a road trip from Tulsa in a 12-passenger van — nine family members, and three generations — to attend the inauguration. Just try telling their mother, Mattece, that this inauguration was less powerful than Obama's first.
"It was just momentous," said Mason, who is African-American. "More important than the first. Because it was based on his credentials, you know? Not someone giving us a chance because it was time to give us a chance."
Amber M. Whittington feels the same way. "This is a validation of our electing the first black president," she said, explaining why she felt the day was so important. "It wasn't a fluke."
And so, when a little boy started complaining about the cold early in the morning, the 26-year-old volunteer, who was waving people through a gate, knew just what to say.
"You will be very grateful to your parents one day," she told the boy. "This is history. You will realize that soon."
"It's worth it."
Associated Press writers Nancy Benac, Kimberly Dozier, Josh Lederman and Mesfin Fekadu contributed to this report.