Culture \

Cock Rock at the Capitol: Scenes From Donald Trump’s Inaugural Concert

It was when I saw him on the big screen, standing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial—tangerine face, shiny bangs flattened against his forehead—that the futility of our situation really hit me for the first time. This was not the hearthrob and Grammy-winning superstar Rob Thomas that the crowd was gazing upon, but a man named Brad Arnold. With surprise and disappointment, I realized at that moment that 3 Doors Down and Matchbox Twenty are in fact two different bands, and we would not be hearing “3AM” at Donald Trump’s first inaugural concert, not to mention “Smooth.”

I’d joined the crowd at the concert about 15 minutes before, picking a spot at the corner of a row of port-a-potties, as a country singer I didn’t recognize performed “God Blessed Texas.” This was the honky tonk blowout before the storm: Less than 24 hours before a charismatic reality TV star with an openly racist policy agenda was set to formally ascend to the nation’s highest office, tens of thousands of Americans were descending on Washington in support and in protest. A good chunk of us were assembled alongside the reflecting pool this evening, bopping along to a song about the Lord’s special preference for the state with more Walmarts and executed prisoners than any other. “We got America back! I can’t believe it!” a Midwestern-sounding woman next to me exclaimed. As attendees filed out of the plastic restrooms, she shouted “Welcome back,” as if they’d spent the last eight years inside.

Next up was Lee Greenwood, singing his 1992 country smash “God Bless the USA,” a big hit with the crowd. Everybody clapped and whooped when the cameras cut to Trump himself, looking like a little boy on Christmas morning as he watched from the wings. When Greenwood finished, everyone chanted: “U-S-A!”

And then: 3 Doors Down. No Rob Tomas, but the assembled masses tried to get into the music anyway. The first song they played was uncharacteristically peppy, but the lyrics were a little on the nose: “This is a call to the broken, to all the ones who have been thrown away / Stand up and take your world today… We’re going to do it our own way.” They shifted into one of their turgid hits, and I noticed a man in the crowd with intense green eyes, wearing a cowboy hat and a white robe with near-life-sized images of the Virgin Mary printed on either side. Multiple people asked for photos with him as they passed. I asked the man his name, and about the significance of his outfit. In response, he handed me his business card, which read “Tomasio: PraiseMoves Spiritual Fitness Instructor, Musician and Artist.” Tomasio told me a bit about his music–contemporary religious chanting, he said, all about the mother of Christ–but didn’t get into the fitness instructing. He tried unsuccessfully to get a Facebook Live video going of 3 Doors Down’s performance. “I don’t think I’ve heard of them before,” he said. “But I’m enjoying it.”

Soon, the sun began to set, and the energy of the crowd was palpably waning. The inaugural committee may have predicted that boredom would set in, because the next several musicians performed in a ghoulish Vaudevillian lightning round: a military band, a singer, a drummer who smacked and yelled unintelligibly as the screens flashed pink neon and images of fireworks behind him. A quartet of men played a saccharine tune on a single piano, giving a performance that would have qualified as conceptual art had it happened in a downtown Manhattan loft in 1978. The singer tried to lead a singalong, but no one could hear what he was singing .

In front of me, a white Trump supporter whose t-shirt read “BLACKS MAKE RACIAL SLURS AND COMMIT HATE CRIMES TOO” wildly gesticulated with a closed fist, to the evident delight of his younger companion. I was too fixated on this scene to catch the name of the shouting drummer, and had to ask the two men next to me. “No idea. I have no idea what was going on there,” one of them answered. “He played pretty fast, though,” said the other. The announcer said the drummer’s name when he returned for a second round of insane bashing, and the best I could make out was “DJ Robby Rob.” (Turns out his name is Ravidrums.)

Finally, Toby Keith managed to shake the crowd from its stupor, singing about the kind of workingman’s daily grind that Donald Trump has never experienced in his life. Unaware that the man himself was about to give a seemingly impromptu pre-inaugural address, I followed the lead of scores of other attendees and made my way to the exits, hoping to beat the crowd. Tomorrow is going to be a big day for everyone.