On Monday night, I got to check out this week’s premier environmental event, Al Gore’s Green Inaugural Ball, held at the National Portrait Gallery. The food and dÃ©cor were eco-friendly, though one couldn’t tell by looking, as recycled-fiber carpet looks exactly like regular carpet. What really stood out were the star power and festive air.
The event was packed right from the start, so I waited in a long line to get in. There I ran into Lester Brown, founder of the Worldwatch Institute and Earth Policy Institute (and an occasional Grist blogger). He’s been in town for several inaugurations and said he had never seen anything like this in the green community before. There were reportedly at least 3,000 people at the event.
When I finally made it inside to the giant atrium in the middle of the gallery, I found small decorative trees bottom-lit with green lights (natch). A big television screen rolled photos of solar panels, critters, and cute kids. Red, white, blue, and green lights illuminated the stage, where Michael Franti was already getting started. Over the course of the evening, scheduled performers Franti, will.i.am, and Maroon 5 did their thing, and later in the night special guests Melissa Etheridge and John Legend got the crowd going.
A quick survey of the room revealed two dudes with ponytails, two guys in sneakers, three dirty hippies, several vintage-looking dresses, one guy in an Uncle Sam suit, and zero hemp-sack tuxedos.
By this point I was starving, since I had to skip dinner in order to squeeze into my old prom dress (hey, I’m all about the recycling). I made my way to the (organic, local) buffet, and proceeded to inhale whatever I could get my hands on; the room was too dark to actually see what was on offer. Only after some fancy macaroni and cheese was in my mouth did I realize there was some stealth ham in the mix. I never did locate the veggie and vegan options.
After fortifying myself, I trekked over to the VIP section in search of green luminaries. First sighting: The Goracle himself, holding court with surrounding fans. I couldn’t get close enough to chat with the once future president, sadly, and he was quickly swept off to hosting duties out on the main floor.
Then I spotted the real rock stars of the evening (at least if you’re an enviro wonk): incoming EPA administrator Lisa Jackson and CEQ head Nancy Sutley. We exchanged pleasantries. (Journalists were allowed to mix with the dignitaries, but we were not supposed to harass them for interviews.) Other bigwigs spotted in the VIP section and the “platinum” VIP section: Robert F. Kennedy Jr., Jason Grumet, Van Jones, Paul Reiser, Blair Underwood, Lisa Ling, John Cusack, Jon Bon Jovi, and Al Franken.
I was attempting to make small talk with Franken (and trying to figure out whether I was supposed to refer to him as “Senator” or “Mister”) when will.i.am cut in. I guess if you’re going to be interrupted by someone, it might as well be a Black Eyed Pea. The two chatted for a bit, about what I couldn’t tell. (I imagined the conversation like this: will.i.am: “So, are you a senator yet?” Franken: “Nope, and damn, all this flying back and forth to D.C. is bad for my carbon footprint.”)
Later in the evening, will.i.am and a chorus of children belted out his Obama-inspired tune “It’s a New Day.” Etheridge, who won a Grammy for her theme song for An Inconvenient Truth, performed a few numbers that might be considered green-tinged, including her “Bring Me Some Water” and a cover of Janis Joplin’s “Piece of My Heart.”
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) also made an appearance, telling the crowd, “Nothing could be more important than the issue that brings us here.” She continued: “I made this issue, reversing climate change and ending energy dependence, the flagship issue of the Democratic Congress.”
In the end, I can’t tell you how green the ball actually was, but there were certainly plenty of people hyped up about environmental issues — which was really the whole point, right?