Weeks before Donald Trump's presidential inauguration, the subject of securing performances has been contentious. Last night, the president-elect weighed in on the debacle (on Twitter, naturally), saying in his inimitable way that he didn't need "so-called 'A' list celebrities." "I want the PEOPLE!" he tweeted. But according to top music managers, Trump's team has been hustling to secure a high calibre of talent and star-power for the event nonetheless.
"We've gotten calls that almost sound a little bit desperate: 'Does anybody want to perform?'" says Ken Levitan, a top music manager who represents liberal and conservative artists including Kings of Leon, Hank Williams Jr., Lynyrd Skynyrd and Emmylou Harris. "At this point, we haven't had anybody that has any desire to perform at the inauguration.
"Even if you're a Trump supporter, you've got to look at how he plays the media [and] the public, in terms of how he attacks and twists things around. I've got to think there's a fear of talking about things and working with him," Levitan continues. "I do know some of the very conservative [artists] have no desire to do it. ... [They] just don't want to be involved in the circus — it's a media circus, and not necessarily in a good way."
Elton John, Garth Brooks and Celine Dion have reportedly turned down offers. Italian opera singer Andrea Bocelli was allegedly turned down by Trump, according to inaugural committee chairman Thomas J. Barrack, Jr. And most recently, The Beach Boys, who've performed at events for Presidents Reagan, Clinton and George H.W. Bush, have said they're considering an invitation to perform at an inauguration event, according to a representative for the band. So far, the confirmed inauguration performers include the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, the Radio City Rockettes and 16-year-old singer Jackie Evancho.
"They want to be cool and they want to be hip, but the problem is, they're not, and no one's going to go along with the charade," says Simon Renshaw, a Trump opponent who manages the liberal Dixie Chicks. "And the stuff they could get, they're looking at it and going, 'We're going to have Ted Nugent and Kid Rock — oh my God, that doesn't look like an inauguration, that's going to look like a bar-room redneck brawl.'"
Nugent and Rock, both of whom supported Trump during the election campaign, are rumored performers at the inauguration, but Rock's manager wouldn't comment and Nugent reps did not respond to calls and e-mails. Other Trump-friendly artists, including Kiss' Gene Simmons and country legend Loretta Lynn, also did not respond. Lee Greenwood, who has sung his signature hit "God Bless the USA" on stage with five presidents, changed the subject in a brief phone call: "The information that you requested about me being at Trump's inauguration is not confirmed yet," he said. "I'm sure we'll know shortly."
Some smaller artists have half-jokingly suggested they'd perform for the right price. Matt Healy, singer for rock band The 1975, told the BBC: "I'll do it if they give me cash up front. ... What do I want? Well, he's got gold seatbelts in his plane—so at least a million quid." Others have tried to draw invitations in exchange for political statements. In a statement to Rolling Stone, former Sam and Dave singer Sam Moore, who appeared at an Obama ball in 2009, said he would perform in exchange for explaining to Trump that artists need more fair radio royalty rates. "If I could get him to listen to me, it would be worth all the hell I might be subject to for agreeing to performing," Moore said.
Numerous top music-business sources denied reports that Trump's administration was offering ambassadorships to potential inauguration performers or their representatives.
The president-elect's inauguration reps did not respond to requests for comment, although Charles Koppelman, a veteran record exec who is co-managing Prince's music, defended the incoming administration. "I would not think it would be difficult at all to get performers," says the Trump supporter. "When the president asks, you usually show up."
"At the end of the day, almost 50 percent of the country voted for the guy. I have artists who were pro-Trump — none of them have been called," says Allen Kovac, manager of Motley Crue, whose singer Vince Neil was "uninvited" to perform. "Musicians tend to be more liberal than the rest of the public — if you're black, or a woman, or Hispanic, you may have a point of view that makes you feel uncomfortable [after] a very contentious race for president."
Parroting his boss, Trump advisor Boris Epshteyn says inauguration is "about the people."