Seeing dozens of celebrities, enjoying the free, live music from some of the top musical acts in the world, and listening to President Barack Obama speak on Sunday was well worth it for the estimated half-million spectators present at the inaugural concert at the Lincoln Memorial in the early-morning freezing temperatures.

Actor Denzel Washington kicked off the festivities, offering spectators a welcome respite from the penetrating cold.

Washington, the first of many celebrities, introduced the concert’s theme: “We Are One.” In his characteristically booming voice, Washington explained that a concert was a fitting way to begin the inaugural festivities.

“Music has always been the great heartbeat of the American experience,” he said.

Performances ranged the musical spectrum from country to R&B, featuring Jon Bon Jovi, Mary J. Blige, U2, Garth Brooks, Bruce Springsteen, Beyoncé and countless other celebrities who sang national favorites and inspirational tunes. Many songs were classic American ballads, including Josh Groban’s rendition of “My Country `Tis of Thee” featuring Heather Headley, a Trinidadian R&B singer.

Other songs were for pure entertainment. The crowd welcomed Garth Brooks’ “Shout” with loud cheers and as much dancing as tight-quarters would allow. John Mellencamp’s “Ain’t That America” and Mary J. Blige’s “Lean on Me” also raised the spirits of the crowd against the freezing temperatures and started an off-key sing-along.

U2 performed two of its own hits, “Pride (In the Name of Love),” a song they wrote for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and “City of Blinding Lights,” one of the songs played frequently during Obama’s campaign trail. Between songs, Bono, U2’s lead singer, said he was honored to play for the soon-to-be president.

Entertainers Jack Black, Samuel L. Jackson, Elmo, Steve Carell and others offered speeches and readings focused on America’s history and its future. Tom Hanks read a series of quotes from some of Abraham Lincoln’s great speeches, including the Gettysburg Address, while an orchestra played “Lincoln Portrait,” a piece composed by Aaron Copland during World War II. Quotations and video clips from other past presidents such as Theodore Roosevelt, John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan recalled that America had fallen on hard times before and had persisted through them.

At the end of the concert, President Barack Obama delivered a much-anticipated speech which recognized the nation’s current turmoil, but also offered hope.

“There is no doubt that our road will be long, that our climb will be steep. But never forget that the true character of a nation is revealed not during times of comfort and ease, but by the right we do when the moment is hard,” he said.

During Obama’s speech, the crowd, which stretched from the Lincoln Memorial to the Washington Monument, applauded more than it did for any of the previous performers.

After Obama’s speech, Beyoncé took to the stage as the final act, garnering nearly as much noise from the audience as the president. She closed the concert with a rendition of “America the Beautiful.”

The crowd’s repeated chants of “O-BAM-A” and “We are one” were reminiscent of a college sporting event. Though many spectators had arrived as early as 5 a.m. for the 2 p.m. concert, the crowd remained energetic, tossing around beach balls, doing the wave and cheering on those who managed to climb up the surrounding trees for a better view of the stage.

Though the crowd was lively and excited, one volunteer security guard commented that throughout the concert, the crowd remained “surprisingly orderly.”

The concert’s impressive security, which consisted of a patrolled perimeter fence and a bag search of every attendee, operated smoothly. No arrests or major issues were reported.

“The experience can’t compare to anything else” said Grace Park (SFS ’12), “To be able to actually physically see Obama speak and see all the other celebrities was awesome. There was a definite feeling of patriotism that I can’t say I’ve ever experienced before. It was worth the walk and freezing cold!”

“It was really cool how many people showed up, and came to D.C. early [for the event],” Melissa Coleman (MSB ’11) said. “There were so many people there, gathered around, singing along. It was a lot of fun.”

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