Inaugural Balls Celebrate Obama's 2nd Term

It was a packed house at the Washington Convention Center Monday night, where thousands gathered for two official inaugural balls. The crowd went crazy when President Obama and the first lady arrived.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Alright, an inauguration is never complete without a night of inaugural balls. Both official events were held at the Washington Convention Center.

NPR's Allison Aubrey went to check out the scene and meet the guests who were there. Turns out, when you get a ticket to a ball with the president of the United States, you just get to Washington. Who needs a hotel?

ALLISON AUBREY, BYLINE: When Danielle Cantor and her friends snagged tickets to the inaugural ball, a few weeks back, they immediately started planning. One would fly in from Chicago, another from Idaho, and they'd all crash on a mattress at her place here in D.C. After months of working long hours as campaign staffers, they were excited to slip on gowns, pop open some bubbly and celebrate.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORK POPPING)

AUBREY: By 6 P.M. last night, they found themselves in a long line that wrapped around Washington's Convention Center, just waiting and waiting to get in.

DANIELLE CANTOR: Yeah, I'm obviously cold. I'm freezing.

AUBREY: Once inside, the crowd warmed up quickly when performer Alicia Keys started to sing a version of "Girl on Fire." It became Obama is on fire.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "OBAMA IS ON FIRE")

ALICIA KEYS: (Singing) Obama is on fire...

AUBREY: By this point the house was packed, it was shoulder-to-shoulder, and the crowd at the bar paid nine bucks for a glass of bubbly. A beer was $6.

On stage, country music star Brad Paisley talked to the crowd in between songs.

BRAD PAISLEY: Our democracy is the envy of the world and tonight we celebrate my getting drunk in a huge convention center.

(LAUGHTER)

AUBREY: By 9 P.M., the Obamas had not yet arrived. But it was, of course, the moment everyone was waiting for. So what did it feel like? Well, there were no waiters in gloves passing canap├ęs. There were just some munchies scattered about. And this certainly was not 1789, when President George Washington was said to have danced the minuet at two cotillions.

In fact, it was hard to spot any dancing at all. In the crowd though, we did spot celebrity performer Will.I.am, who'd been taking it all in.

WILL.I.AM: Yeah, it's a different age. This age, we live in a hyper social experience...

AUBREY: Lots of the ball-goers were busy snapping photos of themselves and their friends to post on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram.

WILL.I.AM: Capturing moments so we can share that moment. You know, so this after all is over here.

AUBREY: The band Fun did its part to amp up the celebratory spirit.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "WE ARE YOUNG")

FUN: (Singing) We are young. Going to set the world on fire...

AUBREY: When the president and first lady did arrive, their first stop was at the Commander-In-Chiefs Ball, held for men and women in uniform. Even troops in Afghanistan were connected to the ball via video link. And the president addressed all of them.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA: Thank you for volunteering. Thank you for stepping up. Thank you for keeping us strong. Thank you for always making us proud.

AUBREY: The Obamas then made their way across the convention center to the other official inaugural ball. When they hit the dance floor - the president in his tux and the first lady in a bold, ruby red gown - they danced as Jennifer Hudson performed.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S STAY TOGETHER")

JENNIFER HUDSON: (Singing) I'm, I'm so in love with you...

AUBREY: And Danielle Cantor was thrilled.

CANTOR: Because I've been working really hard for a long time, it's just amazing to be here in person and see it, and just like feel the moment. And...

AUBREY: But the moment never lasts long, the Obamas departed and their motorcade arrived back at the South Lawn of the White House just a little after 10 P.M.

Allison Aubrey, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LET'S STAY TOGETHER")

HUDSON: (Singing) I want to spend my life with you. Now let me say now, since, baby, since we've been together, oh, loving you...

GREENE: This is NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

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