No, A Tribute Band Wasn’t Going To Play Trump’s Inauguration

This blog post is a request post. Specifically, it’s at the request of my wife, Holly. You get to request posts too, if you’re married to me.

Anyway, there’s a story going round social media, backed up by links to news articles. It goes something like this:

Donald Trump is so useless that no good bands will play at his inauguration. He got so desperate that he hired a Bruce Springsteen tribute band to play, after the real Springsteen turned him down — a band that obviously hadn’t ever listened to Springsteen’s music, or they’d know not to support a monster like Trump. But Springsteen wouldn’t even give permission for them to play his songs at the inauguration, and eventually the backlash became so great that they’ve pulled out of the inauguration, and so Trump can’t even get a tribute band to play for him.

The problem is that almost all of this is false, and it has led to an innocent band getting hugely damaged.

What’s true is that Trump can’t get anyone decent to play at his inauguration. His people asked all sorts of people — the Beach Boys, Garth Brooks, Aretha Franklin, Elton John — but the best he could get is Three Doors Down and Toby Keith. That’s a terrible, terrible, line-up, and gives you some idea how badly Trump is perceived (and correctly so — he’s a monster).

(For non-Americans and people who weren’t around in the 90s, Three Doors Down are a dull southern rock band who had a few hits in the US in the late 90s/early 2000s, several lineup changes ago, while Toby Keith is a horrible country singer and bar-chain owner whose biggest hit has lyrics like “you’ll be sorry that you messed with the U.S. of A./’Cause we`ll put a boot in your ass, it’s the American way”.)

None of the rest of the story is true, though.

Most of the misinformation rests on a misunderstanding of the difference between the inauguration and “inaugural balls”. The former is a huge ceremony, televised throughout the US, when the US President is formally sworn in and becomes the country’s leader. It’s a big deal, and quite rightly, and it’s organised by the US Government.

Inaugural balls, on the other hand, are basically office parties that take place the night before the inauguration. There are dozens, at least, of these that take place throughout Washington and the surrounding area, organised by charities and societies. They’re basically piss-ups, and (other than the two official balls that are part of the inauguration) have no official significance at all.

Some of the inaugural balls from 2013, to give you some idea of what these things are:

  • BWUFA Youth Presidential Inaugural Ball – Crystal City Gateway Marriott Hotel, Arlington, Virginia. Black Women United for Action is hosting its second inaugural ball for ages 7-18
  • Chefs Ball – Art and Soul, Liaison Capitol Hill, 415 New Jersey Ave. NW Washington, DC. Celebrity Chef Art Smith and Executive Chef Wes Morton will co-chair the Chefs Ball, and five additional DC celebrity chefs will prepare late night bites for the event, with proceeds benefiting their charities of choice. Tickets: $75 includes late-night bites, an open bar, and live music.
  • National Association of Minority Government Contractors Inaugural Gala
  • South Dakota State Society’s Inauguration Celebration – Bistro Bistro, 1727 Connecticut Avenue NW Washington, DC. Celebrate with fellow South Dakotans. Tickets: $100.
  • That kind of thing. They range from a black-tie dinner and a relatively well-known singer to a buffet meal and a DJ. Literally anyone can put on an inaugural ball, and many organisations do, every four years. It’s a way of raising money for charity or whatever and getting drunk, and really has little to do with the President.

    One organisation that puts on an inaugural ball is the New Jersey State Society, a society for people in Washington with links to New Jersey. They do this every four years, and invite prominent New Jersey people in Washington (such as the Senators and Representatives from the state) to the ball, where they have a disco playing New Jersey music, like the Four Seasons, Whitney Houston, and Bon Jovi, and have a buffet meal. It’s a non-partisan event, and they invite members of both major US political parties to attend.

    In 2009 they booked The B-Street Band, a Bruce Springsteen tribute band, to play, because Springsteen is a popular singer from New Jersey. They went down so well that that night they were booked for the next party four years later. And on the night of the 2013 party, they were booked for the 2017 party, which they were going to play until today.

    However, the New Jersey Governor, Chris Christie, is honorary chair of the party in his capacity as Governor. He’s also one of Trump’s most noted supporters. So given his involvement (which as far as I can see consists of letting them use his name and maybe turning up for a free drink) and the well-known difficulty Trump was having getting anyone to play the inauguration, some clickbait sites put two and two together and got two million, eight hundred and thirty thousand, nine hundred and sixty-six.

    If you read any of the articles at all — rather than just the headlines — you can see that this is what happened. They glossed over the facts, but did all say “the New Jersey State Society Inaugural Ball”. But as no-one *does* bother to read articles at all any more before sharing them, people saw “inauguration”, “Chris Christie”, and “tribute band”, and decided that this was a story about a tribute band playing Trump’s inauguration.

    Which would be OK as far as it goes — ha ha, he can’t get anyone better to play, that’s funny — except that it led to a bar band who had agreed to play what is essentially someone’s office piss-up two years before Trump even decided to run for election suddenly becoming the centre of an international media feeding frenzy, and all the social media horrors that go with it.

    And now this bar band have had to cancel a gig they were booked for four years in advance, a few days before the gig, at what will be a *considerable* cost to themselves for breaking the contract, because of stuff that has nothing to do with them.

    Now one could certainly argue that they should have cancelled as soon as it seemed likely that Trump was going to become President, but that could be said of any of the many acts that are playing these events. I don’t think it’s right that these people have been singled out, worldwide, based on a false story, for not wanting to break a contract. Reading an interview the band’s leader did with Rolling Stone, from before they decided to pull out, almost broke my heart:

    “We’re contracted,” Forte says. “I’ve been in enough litigation in my life. I have four kids. I’m 63 years old. I can’t make stands like other people can. I’m not in that position.”

    To my mind, the B-Street Band are no more at fault for not having broken their contract straight away than the bar staff or cloakroom attendants are. They’re working people who can’t afford to break contracts, and the inaugural ball is a non-partisan event. The fact that they’ve been forced to break their contract and take a financial hit because of a clickbait controversy — and now they’re getting abuse from the other side as well, for pulling out — is utterly shameful.

    Trump needs opposing on every level, *at* every level. His policies, his appointees, his behaviours, need to be stopped for the good of humanity. Tweeting abuse at some poor sod who’s done nothing other than agree to play the keyboard part from “Born to Run” at a works junket in order to feed his family is not the way to do that.

    But if you’re going to do stuff like that, at least do it on the basis of having read the articles, and not just the headlines.

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    4 Responses to No, A Tribute Band Wasn’t Going To Play Trump’s Inauguration

    1. dm says:

      I’m not your wife, and I know it’s not really your purview, but I’d love to know your opinion of Springsteen’s music now

      • Andrew Hickey says:

        I don’t really have one, oddly enough. My wife’s a fan, and I find the music perfectly listenable and unobjectionable, but it makes no real impression on me. Which is odd because I like his influences — Dylan, Phil Spector, Roy Orbison — and I like quite a few people he has influenced (most notably Steve Earle, whose stuff I *love*), but it doesn’t connect with me at all. I’ve heard most of the famous albums multiple times, but could maybe name half a dozen of his songs. But he’s one of those people where I accept that it’s definitely me not getting it, rather than there being nothing to get, and I think it’s good that he exists for those who do get it.

        • FrF says:

          I’m a bit of an odd-duck Springsteen fan as my favorite albums of his are “Greetings From Asbury Park” and “The Wild, The Innocent And The E-Street Shuffle”. I remember that Springsteen said in an interview that his output after these two became decidedly less eccentric. I also enjoy “Born To Run” and “Nebraska” but with the exception of the latter I have, despite my best efforts, multi-layered problems with his albums after…1975! I’d characterize this post-BTR work as too muscular, too unsubtle, sonically at least somewhat conservative, and preoccupied with an iconography which simply doesn’t match my sensibilities. It’s a great pity because Bruce seems to be such a nice man with an endearing earnestness and no cynical inclinations. He’s, as they say, a real mensch. Andrew, I suggest watching the three documentaries which were made to commemorate the releases of the expanded editions of “Born To Run”, “Darkness On The Edge of Town” and “The River”. I love these films, even more than the respective albums! Their titles are “Wings For Wheels”, “The Promise: The Making of Darkness…” and “The Ties That Bind”. They show Springsteen as a very analytical, eloquent storyteller, a “searcher” (as bland as that word may sound, it’s fitting in his case), always and sometimes desperately trying to battle his demons with art. One wouldn’t have guessed it but he’s probably rather introverted and had problems connecting with other people. In the “Ties That Bind” he also alludes to his relationship problems: That at some point he was tired of just describing instead of living life and that he was afraid (I’m paraphrasing) to become solipsistic if he stayed alone. In this interview (it’s a bit cozy and star-struck but nevertheless interesting) he also talks about his ongoing struggle with depression: I think I’m soon going to read his autobiography which got excellent reviews. In short I’m almost more interested in the man than in his art. I’ll keep on trying to like his albums from the last 40 years, though!

    2. Christian Taylor says:

      “You get to request posts too, if you’re married to me.”

      . . . And thus was the UK’s most legendary bigamy trial born.

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