PHILADELPHIA — On the third night of the Democratic National Convention, the parties were empty. The ones I was invited to, anyway.
Something fun about the DNC is that, while the politicians and Chloe Grace Moretzes of the world are speaking, the real action is unfolding at the ancillary parties and events orbiting the Wells Fargo Arena, where on Wednesday Barack Obama gave an 11 p.m. speech to a crowd of thousands, before kissing Hillary Clinton gently on the forehead and removing his shirt to reveal a large “I’m with her” chest tattoo—I’m assuming that’s what happened, anyway, since my colleagues and I left a few minutes early to avoid the crush of people exiting the stadium.
We had our work cut out for us just trying to leave the parking lot. The convention’s byzantine logistics made it near-impossible for anyone without a motorcade or a helicopter to move freely between the arena and, well, anywhere else. The official DNC programming was split between two locations, the Philadelphia Convention Center and the Wells Fargo Arena—a seven-mile drive about twenty minutes away in good conditions, which this week’s protests, road closures and increased traffic ensured were not. And that’s if you could even get a taxi or Uber—at the peak exit times, hundreds of people were requesting rides from cars waiting as long as an hour to get in just to pick people up.
So this is the conundrum: In general, most of the official sponsored parties started around 9 p.m., and ended at either midnight or 2 a.m., and most of the venues were in or around Philadelphia’s Center City. Each day’s official convention proceedings didn’t actually end, though, until 11 p.m., and on Wednesday, Obama—not exactly a speakers convention attendees would have minded skipping out on—went 45 minutes late. By the time anyone in or near the Wells Fargo Center could have possibly made it back to central Philly, nearly all the open bars were closed.
This means that throughout the week, thousands and thousands of dollars went to waste as lavish media parties unfolded with few attendees to nosh on the spreads and imbibe the sponsored liquor. The Creative Coalition Gala, which featured a performance by Fergie, had to push back its start time, and even then she was almost forced to take the stage to a pretty much empty room (Jezebel’s Ellie Shechet says a decent-sized crowd had formed by the time she started singing around 1:30 a.m., thanks to the adjusted schedule). The Daily Beast, which had a confirmed guest list so full even some of the usual suspects were told they couldn’t attend, ultimately decided to let in whoever showed up at the Reading Terminal Market when it became clear they weren’t going to come close to reaching capacity.
Meanwhile, there are so many celebrities crowded into the city over the week my hands would break trying to type them all into this post. Jerry Springer was walking around the convention plugging his new podcast to anyone interested; Rosario Dawson, Rosie Perez, and Susan Sarandon showed up on the arena floor; Sigourney Weaver, Demi Lovato, Lena Dunham, America Ferrara, Debra Messing, Lenny Kravitz, Paul Simon, Alicia Keys, Chloe Grace Moretz, Tony Goldwyn, Meryl Streep, Star Jones, Lee Daniels, Idina Menzel, Ben Platt, Elizabeth Banks, Kristen Bell and Darren Criss all appeared onstage to speak, sing, or in some cases, both. Even Karl Rove showed up for the fun.
At the D.C. Statehood Luncheon Tuesday, hosted by D.C. shadow Senator Paul Strauss—a D.C. lawyer and superdelegate who loves famous people almost as much as he loves taxation with representation, a parade of recognizable faces: Ashley Judd, David Schwimmer, Alison Pill, Dean Norris, Kevin McHale, one of the inmates from Orange is the New Black, and Billy Baldwin, who lectured me about Hulk Hogan. It was enough famous people to fill a bus, which as it turns out, they eventually did. (The most annoying person on the bus, Veep’s charming Reid Scott told me, was Josh Gad, though he says it was a close call between three people he wouldn’t name. So it’s not not Billy Baldwin.) Even Jazzy Jeff got to do a red carpet at a liquor party played by two alcoholic artists: Jason Isbell of the Drive-By Truckers and Joe Walsh of the Eagles.
But those are just the people you’d recognize on the street. The really important people were at the secret parties held by Super PACs and interest groups, where they, along with their corporate sponsors, are courting politicians and donors with free concerts from artists like Kesha, who performed at the Americans for Responsible Solutions PAC hosted by Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly, and Elizabeth Banks. Rahm Emanuel held a secret party at 30th Street Station, where Blues Traveler performed. Nancy Pelosi’s party, one attendee reports, had a ten-person band fit for a wedding. Blackstone, Independence Blue Cross, Bloomberg LP, Johnson & Johnson, Walgreens, AFLAC, the Financial Services Roundtable New York LifeTonight, were all out there, pressing free stuff into the hands of politicians, the New Republic reports. On Thursday, Lady GaGa and Lenny Kravitz are performed for wealthy donors at the Camden Rising concert, which was emphatically closed to press, despite the best efforts of some Bernie supporters who were reportedly giving away their tickets on the street in protest. At Google’s warehouse-sized party, guests had to dash through the rain outside to get to the bathrooms, which were of the fancy-trash trailer port-a-potty variety. The Future Is Blue PAC party Monday required interested parties pay a minimum of $15,000 to mingle with dozens of representatives under branding from AT&T and Cisco. The theme, apparently, was technology lobbying. And then there were the afterparties, which popped up wherever a bar was able to extend its hours til four a.m., something I’m sure Terry McAuliffe now regrets showing up for.
So, good news: Not all the sponsored champagne and caviar went to waste.