Black tie, boots, Beach Boys: Texans throwing one of DC's biggest inaugural parties
WASHINGTON — After a downsized gala for President Barack Obama’s second inauguration in 2013, the Texas State Society’s Black Tie & Boots Inaugural Ball is set to return to its full form this year.
Almost 10,000 tickets have been sold to the quadrennial ball, organizers say, around double the 5,000 that had been sold at this time four years ago.
The sales are still a little short of the 11,500 that bought access to the ball for Obama’s first inauguration in 2009. And the event won't reach the larger-than-life status it had for George W. Bush’s inauguration, when Texans flocked to D.C. en masse to toast their home-state president-elect.
But organizers are buoyant about the prospects for this year’s ball, predicting a Lone Star-studded event appropriate for the state where everything’s done a bit bigger.
After Arkansas cancelled its inaugural ball set for the same night due to low demand, a spokeswoman for the state’s Republican Party told the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette that some Trump supporters from Arkansas were buying tickets for the Texas ball instead.
“It’s a fun time to be chairman of Black Tie & Boots because we’re going to be so successful and there’s a lot of excitement,” said Rep. Roger Williams, the Austin Republican who is in charge of arranging the gala. “It’s the ball of choice, I can tell you that.”
Tickets for the event are still available online at $275 for Texas State Society members and $300 for non-members, and organizers expect they will still be selling tickets at the door. Capacity for the venue, the Gaylord National Resort & Convention Center at National Harbor, is 15,000 people.
VIP guests at the event are expected to include both of the Texans tapped for Trump’s Cabinet: former Exxon chief executive Rex Tillerson (State Department) and former Gov. Rick Perry (Energy Department).
During the day, Perry will be taking pointed questions from senators considering his nomination, but that night, he'll have a chance to show off moves from Dancing with the Stars.
Most top statewide officials, including Gov. Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, are expected to fly in from Austin for the ball, along with most of the Texas congressional delegation.
Joining the politicians will be a diverse array of celebrities, ranging from reality television star Dog the Bounty Hunter to former featherweight boxing champion Floyd Mayweather. Other famous attendees are set to include Fox News anchor Kimberly Guilfoyle, former Texas Tech (and Indiana) basketball coach Bobby Knight and football legend Jim Brown.
Williams stresses that the bipartisan nature of the Texas inaugural ball is part of what makes it a memorable evening. But in a red state like Texas, which Trump won by nine percentage points, the Austin Republican acknowledges that the buzz around inaugural events can build a little higher when a Republican president is ascending to the White House.
“If you were for Mitt Romney in 2012 and he didn’t win, you weren’t that excited,” Williams said. “So now we’ve got Donald Trump and we’re excited. There’s probably less participation from the losing side in these than not. That’s normal, I get it. But I know we’ve had a lot of my friends on the Democratic side getting their tickets, so it’s going to be pretty bipartisan and a lot of fun.”
The Beach Boys will be the musical headliner, according to a person involved with the event planning. Despite their California heritage -- often anathema to a Texas crowd -- it's their second appearance.
The hordes of country singers booked to also perform at the event include Jason Eady and Courtney Patton, Bonnie Bishop, Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers, Gary Nunn, Kevin Fowler, Kenny Maines, Wade Bowen, Randy Rogers Band, Tanya Tucker, and Dean Dillon and the Texas Jamm Band, featuring members of George Strait’s Ace in the Hole band.
The evening's entertainment will also feature several dance teams, giant costumed presidents, NASCAR drivers and beauty pageant queens.
Among the dozens of sponsors that have lined up for the event are several companies that have featured in headlines at various points of the Trump transition.
Tillerson’s former company, ExxonMobil, is backing the event, as is Lockheed Martin, the aerospace defense contractor that produces the F-35 stealth fighter jets, whose costs have come under fire from the president-elect in recent months.
BNSF Railway, headquartered in Fort Worth, is leading the charge as the “Silver Spur” sponsor for the event. Stetson will team up with Austin-based Allens Boots as the official hat sponsors for the event, while Allens and El Paso-based Lucchese Boots will be the boot sponsors.