Having a Ball: Civic Center manager works 2nd inauguration

Kerry Craig | News-Telegram Assistant Editor

Joey Baker, center, and assistants Rusty King, right, and Army Sgt. Kenneth Matthews take a break from working on carpeting a stage with the Presidential Seal to be used in the Commander-in-Chief's Ball during the inauguration of President George W. Bush on Dec. 20.
Photo submitted by Joey Baker

Jan. 26, 2005 -- Attending any part of the inauguration of the President of the United States is an event to remember. For Sulphur Springs resident Joey Baker, 2005 marked his second time to not only attend the celebration, but to have an integral role in making the event happen.

Prior to becoming manager of Hopkins County Regional Civic Center, Baker, in association with Glen Smith Presents, managed events for many of the top names in the music industry, from Willie Nelson to Garth Brooks and others, but his biggest production came four years ago when he was asked to produce and manage some of the events for President George W. Bush's first inauguration in 2001.

For the 2005 inaugural ceremonies, Baker was asked to come back to Washington, D.C., as production manager for three consecutive events that were held in the National Building Museum.

"I was very flattered that I got asked to be involved the first around," he said. "It was very humbling and flattering to be asked to come back and participate again. I felt very much honored."

"The first event was the Texas Celebration. ZZ Top was the musical guest along with Gary P. Nunn, Clay Walker and Neal McCoy," Baker said. "The second night were the candlelight dinners. There were three occurring simultaneously at different points in the city. We were one of the three. The third night, post inauguration, was the Commander in Chief's Ball where all the military elements were involved."

As would be expected, attending or participating in an event of the scope of the presidential inauguration offered the opportunity to meet many of the top governmental officials. Baker said, however, he met nine men who impressed him far more than the vice-president or secretary of state.

"There were lots of interesting people, anybody with real celebrity status, but on Thursday night with the Commander-in-Chief's Ball I got to meet Condoleeza Rice and Donald Rumsfield," he said. "The most exciting of all, I got to meet nine Congressional Medal of Honor recipients from the Korean Conflict. Former President and Mrs. Bush also met with these men as did Vice President and Mrs. Dick Chaney."

The President and Mrs. Bush then met with representatives of all branches of the military before moving onto the stage Baker and his crew constructed using a carpeted design of the Presidential Seal.

"The President and Mrs. Bush danced there on the seal," he said.

Planning for the Commander-in-Chief's Ball began in mid-December. In the first planning session, Baker was given a design concept for the ballroom.

"At this point, they had the main stage where President Bush was going to speak in the center," Baker explained. "Down on the other, they had a performance stage where the entertainers would perform."

Among those performers were Mark Wills, Ken Gravitz and the Ken Arlen Orchestra.

Some of the production issues were merged because of budget issues, and two small stages were made into one and a larger stage for the ball.

With the event set for a Wednesday, actual work in the historic building began only two days before. The building was built at the end of the Civil War and obviously not designed to accommodate technology and equipment that was to be used.

"In the building, we had to 'fly' essentially all of our production [sound, lights and video screens] was not ground-supported but was [suspended] from a grid of the building," Baker said. "The building having been build 150 years ago or so created some issues. When they built it, they didn't plan for us to be hanging all this stuff on it in 2005. There were some added precautionary measures we had to make, because the President was moving around under all this stuff we had hanging in that building."

Security surrounding the inaugural events was more rigid this time than four years ago, but for Baker, security clearance was more easily obtained than most of those involved in the events.

"I had gotten a clearance from the Secret Service even prior to the inaugural celebration when I was doing some stuff for Bush when he was still governor," he explained. "There was a clearance process I went through at that point and I was already on file with those guys."

Some of the workers hired in Washington failed to pass security requirements and were "kicked," meaning they could work in the building, but could only work there when the security net was drawn.

Prior to the actual event, Secret Service officers removed everyone from the building and did a security sweep. After the sweep was completed, workers were let back in after going through metal detectors, and the building was considered "locked down" and secure.

"Free movement inside the building in certain areas was allowed, but to get to certain areas you had to have a special pin showing you had been cleared to access those areas," Baker said.

Baker's security clearance gave him almost total access to the entire building during the construction of the stages.

"Other than the point when President Bush was in the building, I had free roam wherever I wanted to go in there.," he said. "There were only three men, me and two other people, that had that access other than the Secret Service."

Baker said the first event was the opportunity of a lifetime, and the participation in a second inauguration was of even greater importance to him.

When asked if he might participate in a third inauguration, Baker said he would welcome the opportunity. Even if that chance does not become a reality, Baker said, he already has plenty to tell his grandchildren.

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