Performing for The Easter Egg Roll at The White House 2005
Saturday 2:00 PM
The van is loaded and off we go. My wife Tami and our sons Robert and Stephen accompanied me since the boys were on spring break for the week.
Easter Sunday 4:00 AM
We're standing at the 15th street gate of the White House, awaiting clearance to enter, there is thankfully only a light mist falling. We clear 2 checkpoints and receive our temporary credentials to go on the lawn for rehearsal time. We join some friends already over by the stage. (For the first time in the history of the event there is a dedicated Magic Stage.)
My friend Ralph Metzler, our host, has our equipment in his SUV. After it's searched and swept, he's allowed to drive in and onto the South Lawn driveway, very cool in and of itself! We unload right on top of the special jogging path installed for Bill Clinton, then carry our things up a small bank to store them overnight in an enclosed tent. Somebody expresses concern about security for the equipment until we gently jolt them back to the reality of where we are.
Our contact person, Christine, from the PR firm overseeing the event, welcomes and briefs us on the weather and other pertinent info. (There was heavy rain in the forecast for Monday, however due to the enormity of the event and crowds expected everything proceeds hour by hour. Based on how dry the lawn is that afternoon, everything is a go at that point.) We look our stage over, discuss logistics and then spend the next hour or so giddy as kids reveling in the majesty of the setting. Twelve of us had the run of the lawn, by ourselves, and we spent the time taking and posing for pictures and studying the building up close. Nobody bothered us.
As we're leaving we're briefed once more about the weather and given our permanent event credentials. Then we head to dinner with a group of friends then back to the hotel and to bed early, we knew the next day would be a bear!
Easter Monday 4:30 AM
I'm up, didn't sleep at all, nobody else I asked did either. The whole family is ready after a bit and we leave our hotel, The Mayflower, by taxi to arrive at the gate by 6:15 AM. The Secret Service agents smile at Dino the rabbit, as we go through security, that doesn't happen often. It's pouring rain as we head over to the stage. Everything is still a go. The gate opens to the public who have tickets at 8:00 AM, so we have time to get acclimated to the hustle and bustle. We head over to the performers hospitality tent for breakfast and visiting. The mood is somewhat hopeful in the tent. The event was cut short early the year before because of rain, so the sense of dread of a repeat lurks close by. Hundreds of volunteers and performers roll in over the next hour or so to make this incredible event happen. Costume characters slogged through the wet lawn to provide frivolity and sparkle for the live feeds to the TV network's morning shows. We tried to stay warm and dry for the work ahead.
We walked up to the stage to meet our sound man for the day and get things started. Folks we're filing in, but a bit slowly, due to the weather. Now we were all concerned that the event would be called early, the rain was not letting up. We huddled together and jointly made the decision to throw the set schedule out. It wasn't going to work that day, instead everyone would do a shorter program to allow all a chance to perform before the C word (canceled) could come. My buddy Leo Salgado (Stretch the Silly Man from New Jersey) was first up and he borrowed Dino the Rabbit from me for his finale. Leo worked for 10 minutes in a medium rainfall to a very appreciative group. Smiles were everywhere and this continued performer after performer. We paused at 9:00 for the opening ceremonies with the National Anthem and remarks by Secretary of Education, Margaret Spellings. Although we were very close to the main stage, we couldn't quite make out who did the beautiful rendition of the anthem. Rumor had it, that it was Jennifer Lopez, I still can't say for sure as a lot of the schedule is held secret until last moment. Mix in the problems of the weather and it's hard to know.
It's a downpour and I haven't gone up yet. I'm hoping it will ease up if we wait a bit and actually we take a break for that reason. Thirty minutes later, no letup in the rain and we know word calling the event will arrive soon. They come and take our sound board to another stage. The other blew out because it got soaked. We've already abandoned ours anyway, as we all had our very expensive personal microphones and music systems, none of which we wanted to get wet.
A couple more folks go on, but now you can only do a few minutes on stage before you're drenched. The cold and dampness were starting to take their toll. My friends Bruce Bray from New Jersey, Ken Scott from Atlanta and Leo all walked up complaining they could no longer feel their feet. My sons Robert and Stephen chimed in on that as well. About that time Christine shows up to say that they are ending the event at 10:30 but it will take awhile for folks to clear out.
It's now raining harder than before. Trixie Bond (from Houston) decides to go on and a crowd comes over. I go in the tent to get ready and prepare what I'm going to perform. Trixie finishes and I want to wait a moment to see if the rains going to ease up.
Bruce says "Mark, it's time, let's go!" and he and Leo call an audience over. Off come my glasses, on stays my leather jacket and out I go. Amazingly I have an audience in a downpour, this could only happen at the White House! I do my performance to many smiles and applause, then duck back into the tent where I can no longer feel my feet.
The grounds are cleared and then we made a mad dash through the downpour with all our equipment to a parking deck two and a half blocks away. We collapse, wiped out, as a group, for lunch together at The Old Ebitt Grill (a favorite of Teddy Roosevelt's) to compare pictures and war stories. The red satin lapel of Trixie's Mary Popinsesque topcoat has bled all over her white ruffled dress shirt, it automatically becomes a great keepsake with a priceless story.
If you've ever heard the old showbiz saying "It ain't all glamour but sometimes you get a good lunch." That was us that day. Would we do it again? We can't wait!
Did we see the president?
We were told he would arrive at some point during the event, after spending the week in Crawford at the ranch. Alas, he would use a secret entrance so we didn't get to see him then. Well, after sightseeing all day on Tuesday, night had fallen and we finished up at the Lincoln Memorial (spectacular at night) and the Vietnam Memorial. We walked down Constitution toward our car parked in a deck under the Reagan Building. We passed the White House and crossed the street. Just then, we heard a lot of sirens- Tami, the boys and I froze to watch the Presidential Motorcade hurry by into the White House. We were so stunned we forgot to take a picture! A perfect finish to our trip!
To read the story of our second visit in 2006 click here.
A history of the 120 year + history of the White House Easter Egg Roll can be found at whitehouse.gov.