Visitors who hadn't raised hundreds of thousands of dollars couldn't get closer to the performance. "Excuse me! You got tickets? If you don't have tickets, you have to go to 'General Population,'" shouted a guard at an entrance near the memorial, gesturing with her arms to turn around and head back away from the show.
The concert was supposed to be part of "the people's party," said Shawn Paterniti, who had come with his wife Mia from Columbia, Md., to see the show. "But still, you have the VIPs who want their front-row seats. So I guess they get their tickets no one knows about," he said, as he and his wife headed to join the "general population," far away from the performances.
"It seems odd to have a VIP section for a concert about unity," quipped the local blog DCist.com. The blogger, Kriston Capps, suggested a new name for the event: "We Are One, but Some Are More One Than Others."
On Tuesday, millions are expected to brave the weather on the National Mall to be a part of Obama's inaugural parade and swearing-in. Meanwhile, businesses and law firms with offices along the parade route are inviting moneyed clients and lawmakers to view the parade from warmth and catered comfort. And of course the inaugural committee handed out fistfuls of tickets to both events to its high-rolling financial backers. It also gave out 10 tickets to other Americans through an essay-writing contest.
The real inaugural partying happens in the evenings, in lush ballrooms and well-appointed homes. Corporations, unions and interest groups plow tens of thousands of dollars into lavish inaugural balls and parties, while the city's power brokers throw invitation-only soirees in private homes.
Visitors without connections may scrounge to buy a $150 ticket to a state ball and feel a small part of history; meanwhile CEOs, media personalities and major campaign donors hop from private party to ball to private party.
Garnering RSVP's for the most elite parties should be easy, but some hosts aren't above resorting to friendly bribery: At least one sent invitations to potential guests accompanied by specially-engraved bottles of champagne.
"There are lobbyist-sponsored and corporate sponsored parties all over Washington during the week," says Criag Holman of the Congressional watchdog group Public Citizen, who believes the events can be used to improperly influence politicians.