POLITICS

'Nashville' stars sing for Condi Rice, Bill Russell

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Yeas and Nays,Politics,TV,Alicia M. Cohn

"Nashville" is having a moment ... in the District. Sam Palladio and Clare Bowen, singing duo Gunnar and Scarlett on ABC's country music drama, visited D.C. for the first time last weekend to perform at the annual Ford's Theatre Gala and wound up meeting President Obama and Michelle Obama at the White House.

"I'm from a very small town in Australia, so I'm a little blown away right now," Bowen, fresh from the meeting on Sunday, told Yeas & Nays. But she didn't ask if the Obamas watch the show. "It was more like, 'I wish we had a country leader like you' conversation," she laughed.

"I haven't been let loose on this city yet, we've been sort of working the whole time I've been here. It's full of very big, official-looking buildings," she told us. Bowen hoped to sightsee Monday, though she did make it -- appropriately -- to the Lincoln Memorial before the event at the site of President Lincoln's assassination. "Two world leaders that I really, really admire: Lincoln was one of them, and Obama is the other one," Bowen said, summing up her day.

British actor/singer Palladio brought his parents along -- on their first U.S. visit -- and planned a whirlwind sightseeing trip on Monday, with the Lincoln Memorial also at the top of his list.

The evening's theater program, including two "Nashville" duets by Bowen and Palladio and tributes to first responders and the parents of Matthew Shepard, was directed by Broadway's "Newsies" Director Jeff Calhoun and hosted by veteran actor Richard Thomas.

Thomas (still best known as John-Boy from "The Waltons") told us that while, as a New York City actor, he loves filming his role in D.C.-set show "The Americans" there, he also loves performing here. "I've never had a bored day in D.C.," he said.

Bill Russell and Condoleezza Rice were each presented with a sterling silver Lincoln Medal awarding work exemplifying Lincoln's legacy.

Russell, a 2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient and record championship winning player-coach for the Boston Celtics, didn't stop for photographs, and former Secretary of State Rice skipped the red carpet entirely.

Gawkers, cameras-out, lined the blocked-off street awaiting the mystery guest who prompted Secret Service activity, but pouring rain chased most away before Vice President Biden turned up.

They still got a glimpse of other VIP guests, such as Eric Stonestreet from "Modern Family," Broadway's Brian Stokes Mitchell and Heidi Blickenstaff, and lawmakers, many on date night with their spouses, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Sens. Max Baucus, D-Mont., and Roy Blunt, R-Mo.

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