Dancing to a Different Beat

Today’s couples want their weddings to be unique, and bands and DJs are rising to the occasion.

For their first dance as husband and wife, Kimberly Love and Marc Piermatteo chose “To Make You Feel my Love,” one of their favorite Garth Brooks songs. And the Baltimore-based 18-piece swing ensemble Blue Moon Big Band, was able to pull off the country classic beautifully.

Though it wasn’t in the band’s repertoire, the leader, Rob Leonard, says Kimberly, “found the music and arranged it for his band.” And although the rendition for the Annapolis wedding—with 14 horns and a band leader in black tie—was probably a far cry from Bob Dylan’s original, the couple was delighted. Love admits that the big band sound isn’t normally her kind of music, but after seeing the group play at a winery in Pennsylvania, the couple decided “it was the way to go for the wedding.” Since the September event, in fact, Love has raved about the band to friends planning their own nuptials.

“Everybody wants a classy wedding, and what’s more classy than an orchestra?” asks Leonard, who admits that Blue Moon Big Band is a labor of love. (His day job is in corporate marketing.) While swing may have surged a decade ago when the Gap used the dance style in a memorable advertising campaign, Leonard thinks the big-band sound “will never really go away.” Many of his clients are in their 20s and 30s, he says, and they are looking for something a little different.

It isn’t just Leonard’s style of music that makes his clients happy. It’s his adaptability, an essential attribute when it comes to those providing wedding music. “The band’s willingness to do what the couple wants is one factor that determines whether or not I will work with them,” says Briana Dixon, owner of the planning firm Nouvelle Weddings and Events. When it comes to music trends, says Dixon, what’s more important than a particular style of music is the approach of bands and DJs. “The biggest trend among couples is toward individuality. Everyone wants their wedding to be unique, and it’s essential that the vendors are willing to do things the way the couple wants.”

What you want

When Dixon got married in 2007, she and her husband chose a DJ, from Crow Entertainment, based in Calvert County. Owner Brian McDaniel, she says, “played exactly the kind of music we wanted, so it was really our style.”

McDaniel says his company is hired as much for what they don’t play as what they do.

“We aren’t known for playing ‘Love Shack’ (by the B-52s) and a lot of cheesy wedding songs,” he says. “A lot of our clients are younger people who go out to clubs.” Even so, says McDaniel, those couples come in with two concerns: “Can we cater to the older family members, and can we play a great party for their friends?”

The Crow DJs, says McDaniel, will get the requests out of the way in the early part of the reception, and “later on, we start hitting all the stuff we were hired to do: the top 40, club tracks, things like that.”

The company is often hired to complement a live band, to play during the band’s breaks, and to accommodate requests that the band can’t—or won’t—play. The key, says McDaniel, is listening carefully to what the client wants.

It’s all in the coordination

The folks who provide wedding music—whether they’re spinning discs or strumming a bass—often find themselves wrapped up in the planning process.

When Denise McGovern hired a band for her daughter Amelia’s wedding, she was delighted that the band’s manager, Jonathan Harwood, who works with EBE Talent, took an active role in the evening’s schedule. “He made up a timeline for the band and worked with the wedding coordinator, so everyone could put their timelines together and adjust them,” McGovern recalls. “It was phenomenal.”

Indeed, wedding musicians must be aware of much more than whether their instruments are tuned or if there’s feedback in the audio loop. EBE co-owner Mike Gendler says his band managers are trained to be mindful of details.    

“Our band leaders can run a party,” he says. For example, if it’s time for the first dance and the band leader notices that the photographer is in the other room getting something to eat, he or she will

make sure “the photographer doesn’t miss a magic moment.”

The company, based in Philadelphia, has 14 bands in its stable, says Gendler, with an average of about seven musicians each, though the size can be adjusted according to a client’s wishes. Most often, he says, “we’ll add a horn section,” with trumpet, saxophone, and trombone. The bands can play everything from Frank Sinatra to Lady Gaga, he says.

But the latest trend at EBE, and a popular choice for high-energy wedding receptions, is the “DJ-infused band,” a phenomenon that Gendler first encountered at a party in Los Angeles. “The DJ actually plays along with the band,” he explains, “so you can have an old disco song mashed up with a new Top 40s song.” The DJ, says Gendler, understands the beats and rhythms of the band, and becomes involved in the show. “They understand how to spin; they don’t just throw on a CD.”

Celtic style

Sarah Petke and Michael Fay met at an Irish pub, and, soon after, traveled to Ireland together. “When we were in Ireland, we dropped in at a Ceilidh,” says Sarah. Pronounced “kay-lee,” the term refers to a traditional Celtic gathering—with singing, dancing, and a range of music. “It was like an impromptu music jam with a lot of traditional instruments,” she says. The couple had a great time. So when it came to planning their 2010 wedding, held at Thorpewood, a nature retreat in Thurmont, they wanted something to reflect their Irish heritage and their love of music.

They considered hiring a bagpiper, she says, but “wanted something more mellow. Bagpipe music can be so harsh.”

They finally tracked down Elise Kress, a musician whose website is celticweddingmusic.com. The Irish music, says Petke, “fit perfectly into the outdoor wedding.” And moreover, she says, “our friends loved it. They’d never been to a wedding like that.”

Kress offers groups ranging from one or two musicians who can play traditional music for the ceremony or cocktail hour to a larger band with a dance caller who can coordinate and lead traditional dances and reels. “Ceilidh music is universal,” she says, “so everyone gets up to dance.”

Choosing music that works for a range of guests and multiple generations is generally the biggest challenge for couples. Kimberly Love says that about 25 percent of her wedding guests were over 60, and even those who didn’t dance enjoyed the Blue Moon Big Band. Says wedding planner Elle Ellinghaus of ElleDesigns, “A lot of brides want their grandmother to be comfortable, but they also want their friends to have fun.” At her own wedding,  “I told the DJ, ‘If you play ‘Love Shack’ or the Chicken Dance, you’re not getting paid.’”   

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