WASHINGTON … Pop music concerts are supposed to be one step short of a party, but Sunday's inaugural opening event at the Lincoln Memorial was decidedly different.
Sure, the crowd danced and swayed as Garth Brooks stole the show with his rocking versions of "American Pie" and "Shout," but it stood eerily silent when Tom Hanks read from Abraham Lincoln and when Barack Obama ascended to the podium two days before he becomes president.
And Obama himself leavened the mood with a speech that was both somber and hopeful.
"In the course of our history, only a handful of generations have been asked to confront challenges as serious as the ones we face right now," Obama said.
Noting that the nation is at war and that the economic crisis has left many worrying about the future, Obama said: "I won't pretend that meeting any one of these challenges will be easy. It will take more than a month or a year, and it will likely take many. Along the way there will be setbacks and false starts and days that test our resolve as a nation."
But then Obama transitioned into the more hopeful message that defined both his campaign and the performances by the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Stevie Wonder.
"But despite all of this … despite the enormity of the task that lies ahead … I stand here today as hopeful as ever that the United States of America will endure … that the dream of our founders will live on in our time," Obama said.
The incoming president has been doing this for weeks now: talking in a more measured way about the hope he preached during his campaign, and warning of tough times ahead.
It's all enough to make one wonder: how tough are those times going to be?
… Jerry Zremski