EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 16, 2009

People plan to party hearty for inauguration

All sorts of celebrations planned to say 'goodbye Bush' and 'hello Obama'

By Anna Fiorentino

"End of an Era" at the Tupelo Music Hall in Londonderry, N.H., will mark both the beginning of Barack Obama's presidency and the end of George Bush's.

Okoawo, a poetry slammer, and her band, Rock By Funk Tribe, will rhyme about Obama's hope.

Aleo, a U.S. Air Force airman, and his band Rockspring will commemorate Bush with "Brave One," a song about a soldier who left his family for war.

The party is just one on a laundry list of "goodbye Bush" and "hello Obama" events planned here and all over the country around the Jan. 20 swearing in of the new president.

This time around, people seem more eager than ever to revel in the inauguration, whether by hosting a private affair around the TiVo, throwing a public ball with a dress code, or sharpening up on presidential trivia at the library.

Despite Aleo's support for Bush, the "End of an Era" party actually was organized to celebrate his dismissal. The performance is a follow-up to a show last fall, when the three bands first played together at an Obama rally at Life Alive Cafe in Lowell.

"Mark is taking part in it because the band is taking part in it," said Rockspring lead guitarist/singer Chad Verbeck about his conservative bandmate.

"The 'End of an Era' means something different to him. He's excited about the show, and to celebrate Bush's presidency," he said.

Others in the area also are planning inauguration parties to honor the first Democratic leader in years, the possibility of change during a war and a recession, and of course, the first African-American president.

"I've never written about any other presidents or even politics really, but with Obama I would hear a press conference and get inspired to write," said Okoawo, who earned the 2008 National Performance Network Artist of Color Residency Award and composed a poem for Rwandan President Paul Kagame.

"Over the campaign, I've been writing a lot based on Obama's speeches. You'll hear them at the show," she said.

Another reason for all the enthusiasm around the swearing in of Obama is his appeal to many highly energized young fans, Verbeck suggested.

"There seems to be a lot of support from young people and old people now," said Verbeck, 30, of Manchester, N.H. "People my age who I spoke with four years ago and eight years ago were disappointed that Bush was elected and re-elected — but they didn't vote."

Indeed, young people have become more civically involved in this presidential race, as seen in November when approximately 54 percent of eligible 18- to 29-year-olds voted. That was an increase of 6 percent since 2004 and 13 percent since 2000.

Young voter turnout, in fact, was second only to 1972, the first year 18-year-olds could vote in the presidential election.

Kimberly Lynn, teen and reference librarian at Memorial Hall Library in Andover, has witnessed the youth enthusiasm. She plans to provide a free community viewing of the inauguration Tuesday, followed by a party for students in grades six through 12 from 3 to 5 p.m., complete with presidential and Obama-themed trivia, bingo and Pictionary games.

"Obama is so appealing to students because he exudes charisma that youth can relate to," Lynn said. "He uses a BlackBerry and is up on technology. It's exciting to hear our teens having political discussions about everything from the deficit to global warming."

She said all year younger people have been coming into the library looking for information about the candidates, from biographies to news articles.

"We already did some fun things like a mock election (won by Obama) in the teen room for anyone not eligible to vote on Election Day," Lynn said. "The inauguration party is a next obvious step."

For private parties, many have purchased collectors items donning the names of the former president and the president-elect.

Bush's Last Day Designs, also a leader in Obama gear sales, started counting down to Bush's last day by selling goodbye Bush gear shortly after the 2004 election. Then last year, the Vermont-based company founded by Elliott Nachwalter and his wife began selling Obama gear at www.obamasfirstday.com and retail stores, including Newbury Comics in Manchester and Salem, N.H.

"This whole thing started in anticipation of Bush's Last Day, out of frustration with Bush's environmental policy," Nachwalter said. "Then we began supporting Obama because his policies are more in line with ours."

For party planning he offers balloons, champaign, wine and beer glasses in limited quantities. He anticipates the items will appreciate in value over time.

"Over the years we're going to wind up seeing this stuff on eBay," he said "We're running out now, and we're not renewing the '01.20.09' line."

Nachwalter said it's the biggest market for presidential gear he's ever seen. He said everyone wants to be able to tell the story about where they were on Inauguration Day.

"This is the first inauguration that the majority of the country is excited about," Nachwalter said.