On January 20, Donald Trump will become the 45th President of the United States. His inauguration ceremony will be watched by millions worldwide, some still rubbing their eyes in disbelief, others delighted by the outcome. It’s no secret that Trump has struggled to attract performers to celebrate with him — and while it’s fair to say that a president shouldn’t be judged by the celebrities and artists he rubs shoulders with, it’s telling that even some right-leaning musicians are considering the event career suicide.
For many Coloradans, the idea of watching the televised programming is painful. They need alternatives, and thankfully, we have some. One of those is the People’s Inaugural Ball, taking place at the Boulder Theater on Friday night. The event, which aims to promote positivity at a time when many are feeling marginalized and under threat, was organized by Charlie Stein, among others; local R&B singer Hazel Miller will headline.
“The idea goes back to November, after the election,” says Stein, founder of the Injoy Birth and Parenting Education media company, and a man who has little experience hosting concerts. “I think there was, at least in the Boulder community, a lot of shock and disbelief, sadness and depression. I was certainly feeling a lot of that. At that time, I realized the value of reaching out to the community, just being together and processing what is happening. I thought about inauguration day, and I really hoped Boulder would have some kind of alternative going on, because I think people would really want that. So I thought maybe I should look into doing it myself, and the ball started rolling.”
Miller received a call from Stein early in December, and after hearing his pitch, she was happy to get involved. She liked the idea of easing the fears of the community while raising money for local nonprofits: Out Boulder, Boulder County AIDS Project, Boulder Food Rescue, and Safehouse Progressive Alliance for Nonviolence are among the evening’s featured organizations.
“We all know that there are going to be some tough times coming, so why not let people know that there are nonprofits out there that are in place to help them?” Miller says. “This ball introduces the Boulder community to some of them and allows people to get help that they didn’t realize was out there. The music is to bring people in and get them dancing, get them talking to each other, maybe exchanging ideas and positive feedback. No negative intentions. No negative vibrations allowed. This is simply a matter of community interaction and support and awareness.”
Miller moved to Colorado from her native Kentucky in 1984. By 1986, she was in the middle of a blossoming local R&B and blues scene. She’s entertained the troops on multiple military tours all over the world, and has either opened for or sung backup for everybody from James Brown to James Taylor. She’s even been on the road with Big Head Todd & the Monsters, an experience she describes as “the biggest thrill,” because the guys in the band treated her “like royalty.”
“I have had a charmed, small life,” Miller says. “I think God blessed me with this one because I had children and I couldn’t afford to be all over the map trying to be a big star and neglect my kids. He blessed me with a small but really fulfilling career. I’ve had my own band in Denver for thirty years, and I’ve had a ball. I’ve raised two sons, and I’ve got three grandkids, so I can’t complain. Everything that God has given me has been positive. I don’t have time for negativity. I have to return it the way it was given to me. If not, I’m squandering the gift.”
That’s a remarkably impressive outlook from an inspiring person who has perhaps as many reasons to be worried about what’s in store as anyone right now. Miller is a self-professed card-carrying liberal, but she says that America can get through four years of anything.
“I was not one of those people who, the day after the election, was freaked out,” Miller says. “I take it as it comes. There have been other presidents that I didn’t love, but I made it through them, and I’ll make it through this guy. I’m not going to get all bent out of shape because this guy won; it doesn’t work that way for me. Being a woman and being black in America means that you take the cards that you’re dealt and you do the best you can to draw a winning hand from the deck. That’s what I’m going to do.”
There might be some out there who consider it disrespectful to host an event on inauguration night so clearly meant to appeal to opponents of the forthcoming president.
“This is just an event that’s resonating with the people of Boulder — not all the people, of course, but everybody’s welcome at this event,” says Stein. “It’s not a political event, per se, but it is an event that’s bringing people together to take some action.”
Miller agrees, adding that she has never felt compelled to watch an inauguration event before and doesn’t feel compelled to this time.
“I have voted religiously in every election since I turned 21, but I have never watched the inauguration,” she says. “I’m not one of those people who’s going to be sitting there glued to the TV. For me, to be making music for a positive reason is more important than watching the inauguration on TV. I’m not trying to be disrespectful at all. I’m trying to be positive.”
She means it, too. According to Miller, she received phone calls from liberal musicians who wanted to perform at the ball but were ranting and raving about their disappointment about the election results and the president-elect. Miller wasn’t having that, and those musicians are not performing.
Rather, this is going to be an evening of joy. It’s about like-minded people coming together on what might have been a difficult evening to rub shoulders and allow music to do what it’s always done so well: provide people with an escape from the daily grind. Miller, for one, is ready to party.
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Other performers for the evening include New York-based DJ (and Boulder High grad) Matt Vorzimer and comedian Nancy Norton. Notable musicians Chris Daniels, Michael Hornbuckle and Lisa Watkins will guest with Miller.
“We’re going to keep the set very familiar,” Miller says. “We might throw in a few originals, but it’ll be a whole lot of Earth, Wind & Fire and a whole lot of Aretha Franklin. The Boulder Theater is one of my favorite places in Colorado. The sound guys there I’ve known for years, and they rock. The people who come there come to party. They come to listen, they come to dance, and that’s perfect for me. Come on, let’s boogie.”
You heard the lady.
The People’s Inaugural Ball
8 p.m. Friday, January 20, Boulder Theater, 2032 14th Street, Boulder, 303-786-7030, peoplesballboulder.org.