President Bush Hears From Country Friends at Inaugural Ball

Black Tie & Boots Event Features Evans, Walker, McCoy and Others

WASHINGTON, D.C. -- If you're going to perform at an inaugural ball, you might as well hit the stage at the biggest party in town. Sara Evans, Clay Walker, Neal McCoy, Lyle Lovett and several other country acts did that very thing Wednesday night (Jan. 19) at the Black Tie & Boots inaugural ball.

More than 20 musical acts performed as a crowd of 12,000 packed several ballrooms at the Marriott Wardman Park Hotel. The party coincided with the 100th anniversary of its sponsor, the Texas State Society of Washington, D.C. The organization was formed in 1904 "to foster and encourage a fraternal spirit among the Texans at the national capital."

With Neal McCoy kicking off the ball with "The Boys Are Back in Town," there was no shortage of fraternal spirit among Texans gathered to celebrate the official start of President Bush's second term. Other performers included Robert Earl Keen, Asleep at the Wheel, classical pianist Van Cliburn and gospel singer Yolanda Adams.

Walker had never even met the president until the Black Tie & Boots ball.

"I've met his dad a few different times at different football games and functions, and he and Barbara are great," Walker told CMT News prior to the ball. "I've met Jenna, his daughter, and they're really a sweet family. I'm just looking forward to meeting him. I brought him a Resistol hat today to present to him, and it should be a lot of fun. There's a lot of people here that I'm sure basically are going to be pulling at him and prodding at him. If I just get to shake his hand, I'll be happy with that."

Evans has performed for Bush on several occasions, including the Republican National Convention.

"He's nice," Evans told CMT News. "He's very down to earth. He's very friendly. He always acts like he knows who I am. ... The very first time I ever met him, I told him I loved his mother, and he gave me a kiss on the cheek. I guess that was a huge compliment to him. But he just seems really, really nice and friendly and very intelligent. When you meet him up close, it's pretty overwhelming."

However, Evans' arrival at the ball was less than dramatic.

"I've been watching people from my hotel window," she said. "I mean, there are some beautiful people out there dressed up so fancy." She laughed, adding, "But then they escorted me down here through the kitchens. So, I mean, the chefs looked really nice, and they looked like they are prepared for a great evening."

McCoy joked that performing at a presidential inaugural ball is nothing more than routine business for him.

"Ah, I do these all the time," he said. "I do about 200 of these a year. It's no big deal." Laughing, he added, "No, this is a big deal. We do a lot of shows, but this is really special. It's an honor to get invited, to come up here and do this thing. I'm a George Bush supporter. Of course, I'm from Texas, born and raised. ... We're proud people. I've been running into a bunch of people with the same attitude that I have. ... We're excited about getting the chance to do it."

The Black Tie & Boots ball wasn't the only event bringing entertainers to town for the inaugural. Earlier Wednesday, Kenny Chesney braved a sub-zero wind chill to perform at the Celebration of Freedom concert at the Ellipse. The Presidential Inaugural Committee distributed some 65,000 tickets to the event, but the cold weather hampered attendance at the concert that also featured American Idol host Ryan Seacrest and opera singer Andrea Bocelli.

The Celebration of Freedom concert honored the service of U.S. military personnel, as did a Tuesday (Jan. 18) event billed as Saluting Those Who Serve. John Michael Montgomery performed "Letters From Home" and Darryl Worley sang "Have You Forgotten" during the program that also featured Gloria Estefan and Saturday Night Live comic Darrell Hammond.

Also on Tuesday, the president and first lady Laura Bush attended a concert positioned as America Rocks Today: A Call For Service. Aimed at a younger audience, the show featured Hilary Duff, 3 Doors Down, JoJo and American Idol winner Ruben Studdard. Kid Rock, at one time mentioned as a possible performer, was not in attendance.

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