By Mark Hanson
October 18, 2009
Greta and I are back from our sojourn to San Francisco. We flew there Thursday morning, October 15, 2009, to play at a reception/dinner for President Obama. The event took place at the St. Francis Hotel on Union Square in downtown San Francisco. About 175 people attended. I played guitar solos for about two hours, the last 45 minutes of which the president was in the room greeting people in a receiving line. I made sure to play some tunes that were appropriate for him, including Stevie Wonder's "Isn't She Lovely" (the Obamas are Stevie Wonder fans), the Beatles’ “Michelle” (for Michelle Obama), and the basketball anthem “Sweet Georgia Brown” (since he is a basketball player himself). Greta sang the Ray Charles hit “You Don’t Know Me.”
As the greeting line finished up, Greta and I joined the line to meet the president and have our picture taken with him. I thought about how we might make ourselves memorable to him (he had already met 150 people in the prior 45 minutes, plus many more in New Orleans earlier in the day), so, being a basketball player myself, I wore my tie featuring orange and black basketballs. The photographer, Alan Berliner of Los Angeles - with whom I had had a conversation earlier; he’s a brilliant photographer and developing guitar player - mentioned my guitar playing and my tie to “Mr. President.” This initiated our conversation about Craig Robinson and the Oregon State University basketball team – Coach Robinson is OSU’s second-year basketball coach, and Michelle Obama’s brother. Greta thanked the president for supporting the arts and inspiring our youth, including our two daughters, to a mindset of hope and possibilities.
After the reception, we went downstairs to the Mezzanine ballroom where Tracy Chapman performed a four-song set for about 3,000 people. Her performance was followed by short speeches by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi and President Obama. The president followed his speech with a campaign-style “rope line”, shaking hands with many folks in attendance, including our daughters and Greta’s sister and brother-in-law.