WASHINGTON – Country singer Neal McCoy (search), who has been entertaining U.S. troops with the USO, opened the Black Tie and Boots Ball with a rock 'n' roll song: "The Boys Are Back in Town."
After he switched to country, the dance floor quickly filled with boot-clad ball-goers. "It's good to see people who know how to flow through here," McCoy said. "We travel all over the U.S. and I hate to see people halt when we play a two-steppin' song."
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President Bush and his wife, Laura, attended the ball, a uniquely Lone Star State experience that has become the hottest ticket in town, as well as three candlelight dinners for major donors who contributed $100,000 and $250,000 to the inaugural.
The Bushes stayed less than 15 minutes at each of the candlelight dinners, stopping longer at the last event site only to allow Mrs. Bush to change clothes for the Texas gala.
The president and his wife, along with their daughters, Barbara and Jenna, and Vice President and Mrs. Cheney, arrived at the Black Tie and Boots Ball (search) around 9:30 p.m. EST. Bush told his fellow Texans, "It's nice to be home."
Former New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani (search) — often mentioned as a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2008 — said the partygoers had made him an honorary Texan, presenting him with boots and a cowboy hat. "I've spent a lot of time in Texas," Giuliani said. "I feel very simpatico with the people of Texas."
Although it is not one of the official inaugural balls, demand for tickets to Black Tie and Boots prompted some to offer them at top dollar on eBay. The semi-required dress code was unusual: formal gowns and tuxedos with cowboy boots, hats and bolo ties.
Asleep at the Wheel, a nine-time Grammy winner, usually gets people dancing to its own chart-topper, "The Letter That Johnny Walker Read," or a reprisal of the Bob Wills favorite, "San Antonio Rose."
Led by vocalist Ray Benson, the Austin-based band has been the guardian of big band Western swing since the 1970s, producing a sound that combines country, swing, jazz, boogie and Western honky-tonk.
Benson said his appearance has drawn some angry e-mails from liberal friends and fans. But he said the band's appearance isn't about politics. It's about Texas.
"This is one thing that is definitely a Texas thing," Benson said. "The culture in Texas is wide and broad and extremely pervasive in American music. Blues, jazz and rock 'n roll all have roots in Texas. Western swing was born in Texas and is still a large part of what our popular culture is. We think it's good to bring that to the nation's capital."
Other Texas entertainers in the lineup included classical pianist Van Cliburn, gospel singer Yolanda Adams, and country singers Lyle Lovett, Robert Earl Keen and Gary P. Nunn.