Downtown Madison was pervaded with an optimistic and energetic mood the night of Obama's inauguration. Parties and celebrations in his name, even unofficial ones, seemed to line the streets on this particularly lively Tuesday night. I attended several of these functions to scope the scene, and found a fairly consistent and quintessentially Madisonian vibe at each.
Up first was the party at the High Noon Saloon. I hurried there late, anxious to see what exactly the buzz surrounding Aniv de la Rev was all about only to find them performing the last song of their set. The club was fairly crowded with people wearing all sorts of Obama paraphernalia, and there was a table in the back taking donations and giving out information from the Tennant Resource Center and the Worker's Rights Center. After making a small contribution, I headed downstairs to the Brink Lounge to check out a folk show.
The scene at the Brink was low key and much quieter than that upstairs. The "Mad Toast Live" variety show hosted by Chris Wagoner and Mary Gaines was holding court near the entrance, their guests this week including fiddler Reid Gromnicki, yodeling cowboy Stephen Lee Rich, and country legend "Lefty" Frank James. Over by the main bar, meanwhile, one of the televisions was tuned into Fox News, albeit with the sound on mute. The screen showed a wide shot of the new President and First Lady dancing in their formal attire. That juxtaposed with the Americana roots music reminded me that our country's sense of tradition and innovation have become more harmonious. A sense of unity washed over me, and it returned in various ways throughout the evening.
As I ordered my drink and a small appetizer from the friendly bartender, I noticed the conversations around me were all centered on the inauguration. Several older businessmen around me were discussing the ceremony itself, while a few businesswomen at another spot near the bar discussed their determination to hold Obama to his promises. Interestingly, this crowd had the very same tone as the younger blue-collar and college student crowd at the High Noon. Was this, too, a sign of the country's growing sense of unity?
Next stop was The Frequency, where ambiance was much closer to that at the High Noon -- a little more beer-soaked yet nonetheless positive. It seemed that even the punks had caught this contagious sense of well-being, something that seemed particularly clear when a friend I hadn't seen in a while careened at me for a drunken embrace, spilling nearly half my beer all two leather jacket-clad guys with facial piercings behind me. I apologized profusely, half-expecting my teeth to be knocked out only to find them more than graciously accept my apology.
A brutal lineup consisting of The Gusto, Kildrifter, Things Fall Apart, and The Transgressions kept the sound hardcore on stage. Though none of the bands I saw explicitly referenced the recent power-shift, the show was billed as an "Inauguration Day Party," so I saw this as a proper release of pent-up aggression after eight years of the Bush regime.
My ears sufficiently blown, I decided to finish my evening at Café Montmartre for the "Bye-Bye Bush" dance party hosted by local DJ OCD Automatica. The entire place was jam packed with nu-ravers and too-cool-for-school-types all dancing to the loud thumping beats of current obscure dance music and remixed classics from the likes of Michael Jackson and the creators of cheesy '90s Jock Jams. As soon as I noticed one girl rocking the now-classic Shepard Fairey portrait of Obama on an oversized t-shirt with a pair of blue lamé tights, the same iconic image appeared just about everywhere else. Many partiers wore the same t-shirt, or had buttons or silk-screen patches of the image, which has come to define at least a part of this new sense of unity for me.
From four very different scenes, I was able to gauge a common mood of optimistic relief, along with a sense of what President Obama has been touting since the start of his campaign: hope. If we can get together and put at least half as much energy into unifying our community as everyone who was celebrating Tuesday night, we may have a good reason to believe our country may just be headed in a positive direction.