After Jim Justice was sworn in as governor in Charleston Monday, he returned to Greenbrier County to celebrate.
Held at The Greenbrier, Justice’s inaugural ball was a break from tradition – the celebration is traditionally held 120 miles away in the state capitol, but, when one owns America’s Resort, who’s to say he shouldn’t throw a party there?
And throw a party he did.
A representative from the state fire marshal’s office estimated that between 5,000 and 6,000 were in attendance at The Greenbrier Monday night for the black-tie optional event. The Chesapeake Room, Colonial Hall, the Cameo Ballroom, the Crystal Ballroom, the casino and both the upper and lower lobbies were packed with guests, and each room featured a cash bar, live entertainment or tables full of food.
The menu for the evening featured elevated Appalachian classics: brown beans and collard greens with fried chicken and macaroni and cheese. Passed hors d’oeuvres included pulled pork sliders, grilled cheese sandwiches, ham biscuits, fried peanut butter sandwiches (a “tribute to Elvis,” one server said) and chocolate drizzled bacon. The dessert bar featured a full slate of cakes, chocolate chip cookies, Greenbrier peaches and colorful macaroons.
Celebrants were hard pressed to know where to go first, not to mention where to look, with so many attendees dressed to the nines. The Crystal Ballroom was host to bluegrass fans, where Greenbrier County (and West Virginia) favorite Richard Hefner and the Black Mountain Bluegrass Boys swapped out their Hawaiian shirts for formal suits and picked some tunes while gown-clad ladies shuffled in their high heels.
In Colonial Hall, cover band River Jam kept the dance floor full, while the West Virginia Jazz Orchestra entertained the upper lobby from the Garden Room.
The orchestra followed the Greenbrier Singers, who brought the entire upper lobby into harmony with a charming rendition of “Take Me Home, Country Roads.” Miss West Virginia USA Lauren Roush, who towered over the room in 6-inch heels, sang along as she posed for pictures with the crowd.
Meanwhile, a line stretching from the Colonial Hall ballroom to the main dining room was filled with revelers waiting their turn to get their picture taken with the new governor and First Lady Cathy Justice.
At nearly 10 p.m., Justice came to the stage of Colonial Hall and introduced Lionel Richie, the headline entertainment for the evening. Richie has a history of performing at The Greenbrier over the last decade — he’s played at the grand opening of the Casino Club, the Greenbrier Classic Concert Series, at private Greenbrier Classic private events, and, last year, was a surprise entertainer at Justice’s daughter Jill’s wedding. Richie sang all his hits, and the governor and the first lady danced on stage to “Easy Like Sunday Morning.”
Earlier, Justice had told the crowd, “I want you to have the time of your life tonight. We’ll go to work tomorrow.”
In keeping with that promise, West Virginia favorite Landau Eugene Murphy Jr. started his set in the casino at 11 p.m., performing till 3 a.m.