Thursday, January 04, 2007

Webb Party at Clarendon Ballroom

I was hoping to have a twofer to report; having intended to go to the Senate Open House today, but I ended stuck at work today and must settle for a report on the goings on at the Clarendon Ballroom last night.

At 4:45 I walked around the corner and saw Mac McGarvey standing surrounded by Arlington motorcycle cops, and realized that Senator Webb must already be there somewhere. Mac looked sharp in a muted plum business suit. That man is intense.

The paying customers were checking in, getting name tags, and proceeding downstairs, while the everyone else stayed on the main floor. There were already at least 150 in the Ballroom, probably more, and the crowd was growing by the minute. After scoring a free Miller Lite at the bar I grabbed a pretzel and wandered around until meeting other people I recognized as having phonebanked at the Webb HQ on Wilson Blvd. We ventured to the food tables, which were hidden behind a ravenous horde, and I decided not to take a chance on being trampled and eaten.

At some point the band set up, and by that time the crowd was pretty thick. The Locust Mountain Boys is a classic bluegrass band. Their lead singer, 18 year old Jesse Carper, plays mandolin, sings lead, and shows enormous stage presence. They played for over an hour of rousing bluegrass classics. I'm a little old to be a groupie, but I ended up moving to the front to take pictures and get a little closer to the music.

After the band stopped for a well-deserved break it was about another half hour in the crowded room before Donald McEachin came on stage and bade us all welcome the man who turned the United States Congress blue, Jim Webb.

A vigorous and energetic Webb took the stage, greeted the crowd, and told us of his proposal for a GI Bill like the one given WWII vets upon their return from the service. He talked about the need for a change in foreign policy and promised action to bring all parties to the table in negotiations. He spoke of the need to ensure economic fairness for all and to enact the minimum wage legislation. He thanked everyone for their support, teased that he doesn't expect to be invited to George Will's Orioles party this year, and cracked that "it's all about the beer," promising more parties with free beer from time to time. What a contrast between his sometimes palpable uneasiness during the campaign and his self-assurance and comfort before the crowd last night. This amazing transformation took place in less than a year. Hong Le Webb and the new baby and her daughter were all there, and took the stage.

Webb surprised the Locust Mountain Boys with a request that they retake the stage and play Freeborn Man. They blew the doors off the place with a loud, proud rendition.

Sliding into the role of MC Senator Webb then introduced Rodney Crowell, who has written songs for Emmylou Harris and others. Webb said he wanted Crowell to play a song which has particular meaning for him and is for those who are serving overseas, Remember Me. Terrific song. First time I've ever heard it.

The Senator then left the stage and started shaking hands with as many in the crowd as he could. I'd brought a copy of Born Fighting which I wanted him to sign for my niece, a Marine reservist recently returned from her second tour in Iraq, but as he approached I was suddenly run over by a very excited Vietnamese gentleman who in a combination of English and Vietnamese begged Senator Webb to take a picture with him. He was so darn excited I couldn't complain. It seemed to have great meaning for him. Webb complied and was carried farther away from me by the crowd. I resolved to get him to sign it today, but then had to stay at work. Someday ...

Finally the crowd began to diminish. We had one more song from the band and then things began to wrap up. Fortunately, the bar was still open and I finally got a second beer and spent a few minutes talking to Steve Carper, Jr., the leader of the band and Jesse Carper's father. His father, Steve Carper, Sr., was there, too, so it's a real family operation. What a pleasure it must be to have your son following in your footsteps and continuing a family tradition, and one which gives people such joy. Mr. Carper told me how lost they'd gotten driving around Arlington. They passed the Pentagon several times and finally told a police officer who they were and where they were going. They were pleasantly surprised to receive a police escort to the Ballroom. Mr. Carper asked me what it was like on September 11, 2001, and we spent a few minutes in somber discussion of that terrible day. I wish I'd brought enough money to buy their CD.

It was a great party and I'm glad I got the chance to attend.

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