Ricky Martin, Brooks and Dunn Kick Off Inaugural Hoopla on Mall

By Jason Pierce | July 7, 2008 | 8:27 PM EDT

(Editor's note: 1st Add includes quotes from Bush's speech and other details about the entertainment. 2nd Add includes reaction from crowd about Bush's speech.)

(CNSNews.com) - Thursday's kickoff inaugural event in front of the Lincoln Memorial offered the thousands present more than just musical entertainment, but also a message of optimism and hope for the new administration.

Musical guests included Ricky Martin, who had the crowd on its feet while a fireworks show from the White House to the Washington Monument to the Lincoln Memorial wowed those who braved the cold, wet night to the end of the event.

The highlight of the weekend happens Saturday at noon, when George W. Bush takes the oath of office and becomes America's 43rd president.

But speaking at the inaugural celebration Thursday, the president-elect joked about being upstaged by the Latin singer.

"There's a lot of excitement in the air, and I'm not sure if it's because people came to see [Vice President-elect Dick Cheney] or Ricky Martin."

Bush said he was eager to serve his country and urged unification.

"My administration will serve all Americans and this inaugural is for all Americans to enjoy."

John Dodd, who came to Washington from Southern California for this inaugural weekend, said the event was a good way to start the beginning of the new presidency.

"It was energetic like the campaign and the new president, and it was good for a new beginning," he said. "It was a very good theme to have, because so many have a skewed view of the GOP when they are really inclusive of all people."

Dodd added that he thinks Bush will surprise those who have doubts about his ability to be president.

"I think those who didn't vote for Bush in this election will be impressed and will re-elect him in 2004," he said.

Carmen Dozier, who traveled from Mandeville, Louisiana, said the inaugural kickoff sent a good message. "President Bush spoke wonderful words about bringing our nation together," she said, "amidst all the divisive political groups in America today."

She said, "What a wonderful way to honor the new president, America and its people."

Denise Hopkins, also from Louisiana, said Bush's speech showed integrity and reflected the spirit of America. "Only in America would such a message of inclusiveness and unity," she said. "President Bush will represent the American people in an honorable and Godly way."

The weather was miserable, and the drizzle isn't expected to let up as the weekend festivities continue. But Paula Maxhime of Des Moines, Iowa was not discouraged. This is the third time she's attended a presidential inauguration.

"We came in '81 and '85 for President Reagan's two inaugurations, and we came here today to support President Bush," Maxhime said.

"We were supporters of [Bush] back home during the election. And we think he will pull this nation in the right direction," she added.

Security checkpoints were set up at several locations near the Lincoln Memorial, with officers checking bags and belongings.

The all-important portable toilets were also scattered throughout the area.

Sue Spavaro and her friends arrived from Fort Worth, Tex., decked out in boots and cowboy hats. Spavaro witnessed Bush's third inauguration, having also been on hand twice for his gubernatorial swearing-in.

"George W. and the whole Bush family hold a special place in ours and many Texans' hearts," Spavaro said.

The entertainment also included the Radio City Music Hall Rockettes, former Fifth Dimension singers Marilyn McCoo and Billy Davis Jr., and singers Jessica Newton, Charlotte Church and Wayne Newton.