Country Invades Washington

Tritt, Black to Play Presidential Inaugural Events

If you think the shindigs surrounding Saturday’s inauguration of President-elect George W. Bush aren’t serious, consider this: Perennially leather-clad Travis Tritt will be wearing a tux.

“It doesn’t get out of the closet very often, but I do own one,” Tritt told this week from his home in Georgia. “I’ve never been to an inaugural ball before, so I don’t know what to expect. We’re going with an open mind.”

A staunch Bush supporter, Tritt will headline tonight’s (Jan. 19) Senators Ball, an unofficial bash hosted by the National Republican Senatorial Committee. Tennessee Sen. Bill Frist, a country music fan who chairs the organization, invited Tritt. On Saturday (Jan. 20), the singer plans to attend the official swearing-in ceremony on Capitol Hill and the parade following at the invitation of Senate GOP leader Trent Lott, whom he met at the 1996 Republican National Convention in San Diego. Tritt and his wife, Theresa, will sit in Lott’s private box.

“It all came about as a result of my involvement with the campaign,” Tritt explains. “I pledged my support to Bush in December of 1999 and started out by doing some radio spots. I also performed at several campaign stops. I guess they’re aware of my commitment to the campaign.”

Tritt is just one of the myriad of country stars making the trip to Washington, D.C., to take part in a long list of inaugural activities, both official and unofficial. Lee Ann Womack and Asleep at the Wheel played “DC City Limits,” a party jointly hosted Thursday night (Jan. 18) by the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the PBS show Austin City Limits at Washington’s Hard Rock Cafe. Hank Williams Jr. will perform tonight (Jan. 19) for the Wyoming State Society event, where he’s expected to be joined by Delbert McClinton and Kid Rock.

On the official side, Brooks & Dunn, Lorrie Morgan and Sammy Kershaw performed at the Presidential Inaugural Committee’s (PIC) opening celebration Thursday (Jan. 18) at the Lincoln Memorial. Larry Gatlin and Linda Davis will emcee the Florida and Ohio inaugural balls, respectively, on Saturday night and Lee Greenwood will perform at the Vice President-elect’s Salute to Veterans at the Washington Convention Center today.

Dennis Grubb, the PIC’s director of entertainment, owns Wemus Entertainment, a booking and management company with offices in Dallas, Nashville and Midland, Texas. He also is a childhood friend and longtime business associate of President-elect Bush and can attest to W.’s love of country music.

“I’ve done all his inaugurals in Texas, and we’ve always featured country artists as the main entertainment,” he says.

In fact, Grubb says more country acts would have been part of the presidential inaugural if the official festivities hadn’t been scaled back because of time constraints caused by the election controversy. There are only nine official balls this year instead of the usual 13 to 15. The customary gala celebrations, held on the eve of the swearing-in ceremony, weren’t scheduled at all. The PIC wanted to include several artists — like Sara Evans, the Bellamy Brothers, Tracy Byrd and Loretta Lynn — who supported the Bush campaign. But Grubb hopes to use them in D.C. during the next four years.

“We might throw some parties on the back lawn [of the White House] and invite some of the top country acts,” he says. “Of course we’ll invite all the folks on the [Capitol] Hill that we’re trying to swoon, give them some good barbecue and country music.”

While the official activities include music from every possible genre, the hot ticket inside the Beltway this year is the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Ball, a non-partisan, unofficial party set for tonight (Jan. 19) at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. President-elect Bush is scheduled to attend the event, expected to draw around 9,000 people. The bill features only Texas-based acts, including Asleep at the Wheel, Mark Chesnutt, Lisa Hartman Black and Clint Black. Clint will take a break from recording his next album to perform “When I Said I Do” with Lisa.

“I committed to this before we knew who would be our next president,” Black tells “But I do have to admit that I’m very excited and proud that we’re going to have a Texan in the White House. I really believe he’s a good man, and, of course, I know his parents, so I know he had a good upbringing.”

Ward & Ames, a production company based in Houston, booked the entertainment for the Black Tie & Boots Ball. Producer Danny Ward says the President-elect had no input on picking the talent, but he’s sure he’ll be pleased with the award-winning acts, who were eager to participate.

“The artists are all making honorariums. They aren’t making their regular performance fees,” Ward says. “They’re in Washington because they love Texas and they want to be there.”

Rumors circulated that George Strait would perform at the event, and Ward says Texas standouts Strait and the Dixie Chicks were invited but were not able to attend.

But for those who will be there, one question hangs in the air: What does a country act play for a formal, inaugural happening?

“They really just tell me how long they want me to play, and then I pick their brains about how the crowds have been on previous occasions,” Black says. “But, since this is celebrating a new president, there may be something topical that I might stay away from.”

Tritt says he’ll just give them a Travis Tritt show.

“You can really overthink these things,” he says. “I’ve been in situations like this before where I went in really trying to change things up, thinking, ’Well, it’s an older audience or it’s a more conservative crowd,’ only to have them scream, ’Play “T-R-O-U-B-L-E” or “Put Some Drive in Your Country.”’ So, we’re just going to do our show.”