Inauguration Activities Unfold as Pop Production

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

FROM Mr. Rogers to Kenny Rogers, Big Bird to Little Feat, the nation's capital is in the midst of a five-day inaugural bash that is unmistakably stamped with baby-boom imagery and proportion.

While the pomp of Republican inaugurations was measured in stretch limousines and fur coats, the Democratic return to power has all the trappings of a Hollywood extravaganza.

The Clinton-Gore festivities seem to be drawing more inspiration from rock benefit concerts, where star after star takes the stage, than from solemn occasions of state.

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But the $25 million series of festivals, balls, and concerts has been less exclusive than any inaugural before. A free, two-day "Reunion on the Mall" - featuring American tributes in song and food to "the common man" - attracted thousands to the National Mall. Despite the winter cold, the festival tents were jammed with dancing audiences by 11 a.m.

"I've waited 12 years for this," said Delia Camacho, a kindergarten teacher who earned tickets for tomorrow's swearing-in ceremony because of her Democratic activities in El Paso, Texas. "It's incredible, all these people," she said, gesturing to the crowds on the Mall Sunday, adding proudly: "and you know they're all Clinton people."

But the crowd - full of 30- or 40-something types with either a Labrador-retriever dog or baby in tow - had a yuppie flavor, just like the candidates.

"I haven't ridden the Metro since 1985," said one northern Virginia man, lured by the festivities onto a crowded subway car.

President-elect Clinton and Vice President-elect Al Gore Jr., completing a bus ride from Charlottesville, Va., made their first public appearance in the city Sunday by walking down the steps of the Lincoln Memorial before a crowd of 300,000.

A band played Aaron Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man," while 21 military jets flew in formation overhead in what was certainly an unintended, but hard to avoid, reminder of that day's military showdown with Iraq.

It was the kind of goose-bump-raising production that a television generation could thrill to as dozens of movie, television, and music stars - and oddly just a lone figure, Robert F. Kennedy Jr., President Kennedy's nephew - welcomed the president-elect to the seat of world power. Jack Nicholson, Aretha Franklin - revved to the tune of R-E-S-P-E-C-T - and Michael Jackson seemed to draw the biggest response from the crowd.

The Clinton and Gore families climbed on stage to sing "We Are the People," before walking across the Memorial Bridge into Virginia, where they led a national ringing of the "bells of hope." It was the start of five days of inaugural celebration that Mr. Clinton said should serve as "the beginning of renewing our nation."

"National unity" is the theme linking inaugural events throughout the week. The Faces of Hope luncheon yesterday, for example, was a reunion between the Clintons and regular people whose lives and stories touched them on their election campaign.

Today, the Clintons and Gores attend two Kennedy Center programs that are free to the public - a "Salute to Children" that includes the Muppets and children's TV personality Fred Rogers, and a "Salute to Youth" that includes a rap group and the Joffrey Ballet.

Tomorrow's inauguration swearing-in ceremonies and a parade from the Capitol to the White House are topped off by invitation-only inaugural balls around town.

On Thursday morning, the Clintons host "A Presidential Open House," in which the general public is invited to visit the White House.

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