We now continue the ongoing saga of planning my daughter Casey’s wedding, which will be at the Norwalk Aquarium in October.
If you had been in our house a few weeks ago, you might have been puzzled by the sounds of mostly bad music coming from both my wife Barbara’s office and mine.
We were listening to wedding bands.
When we got married, we had to go all the way to Staten Island to hear a band, which actually may be the only plausible reason to go to Staten Island if you don’t live there. But now it’s all online, so you can listen to all the bands you want, including –and I am not making this up–a combination Elvis/Neil Diamond band (in case you want to dance to that classic tune “Song Sung Blue Suede Shoes”).
As with everything else, we wanted something just a bit off the beaten path without getting lost in the underbrush. We needed today’s hits, yesterday’s favorites, the stuff my mother used to listen to on “The Make Believe Ballroom” on WNEW-AM, and also some Ben Folds. Oh, yeah, and Hava Nagila. And, judging from this blackmail-worthy photo I found of Casey and her fiance Alex, it would be nice if the band could call a square dance.
Plus, it wouldn’t hurt if they knew how to set up for the unique acoustics of an aquarium, which, you might be surprised to learn, is a type of venue not all bands are familiar with (the guys below were unavailable).
Speaking of which, availability was looking like it might be a problem. When I emailed one band in which we had interest, they replied that someone else had already inquired about that date. This briefly threw us into a panic until we realized the “someone else” was Casey, who had emailed them separately.
Another band responded that they could…
“…provide a mid to large-sized band featuring a minimum of six pieces with the option to go up to seven, eight, nine, ten, or eleven, depending upon your needs, tastes, and budget. The six pieces feature our four-piece rhythm section (bass, drums, keys, and guitar) with one male and female featured vocalist… During meal servings the band would play choice pop/rock, quiet R&B/jazz ballads, or medium-tempo songs at a low volume for background music, played poignantly. Whenever your guests are not eating we will be on full throttle in our delivery and presentation, yet constantly aware of our volume, sound clarity, and coordinating fluidly with the venue or any event planner involved.”
These guys clearly knew what they were doing when it came to weddings, although I was not aware that keyboards were part of the rhythm section. And I’d have to remember to have plenty of tissues at hand during meal servings when they played poignantly. I also liked that they were cognizant of their volume, as the music has seemed too loud to me at every event we’ve attended over the past few decades. (I’ve become that crazy New York City neighbor who bangs on your ceiling–his floor–when you play that “loud rock & roll music” like “Yesterday.”)
This band also impressed us by inviting Casey and Alex to hear them play at BB Kings. We figured they must be better than your typical Adam Sandler-based wedding band if they play clubs, although, as it turned out, they don’t play them all that well.
The next band under consideration let us know that they had played at the wedding of the singer-songwriter Marc Cohn and ABC-TV newsperson Elizabeth Vargas. We really like Marc Cohn (“Walking in Memphis”). We have all his albums and we’ve seen him perform many times. And while we don’t have any of Ms. Vargas’ work on our iPods, we felt this was a good recommendation for the band, although we would have preferred just having Marc Cohn play at the wedding.
We continued our search, and Barb kept sending me links with audio samples, but they all sounded the same to me, possibly because all wedding bands do the same songs. One band did “Ho Hey” by the Lumineers and I thought they were good. “The singer grates on my nerves,” was Barb’s review. “But they’re a little different,” I said. “BUT THEY CAN’T SING!” Barb replied, effectively ending the discussion.
We also became aware that many wedding bands are very fluid. By that I mean the musicians on their website video might not be the ones who show up at your event. They become more of a brand name (a band brand!) with ever-changing ingredients (“Now with flugelhorns!”) than a cohesive, consistent unit. They’re like those 70’s rock bands that are still touring even though all the original members are dead. (Did you know, for example, that over 100 different musicians have played as Blood, Sweat & Tears?)
We were only really considering live music, but I was starting to wonder why, if all they were going to do was covers, we wouldn’t be better off with a DJ who could play the same songs, but with the original artists who would, presumably, not grate on our nerves (unless the DJ played Rod Stewart who, frankly, I react to as though he was scratching his fingernails on a blackboard instead of singing). A DJ would be cheaper, too, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the recordings getting high behind the aquarium.
(There are conflicting reports as to why the DJ possibility wasn’t in contention very long. Casey claims Barbara dismissed it as something you use for bar mitzvahs and not weddings. Barbara denies this and says she had no strong opinion either way, but recalls me expressing that opinion–five years ago–although I don’t know why it would have come up then. I don’t remember anything that happened five years ago, but if forced to indicate a preference–something I prefer not to do when it comes to wedding arrangements–I would have to lean toward a band, although I do think it would be hilarious to watch Casey and her late-20-friends try to play Coke & Pepsi.*)
So we listened to more bands.
The thing is, I don’t really like dance music, which is a major problem when evaluating dance bands. One reason I don’t like dance music is that I don’t dance. I don’t dance because I have no rhythm whatsoever. When I’m at a concert and people are clapping along, I have to watch everyone else and try to sync my claps to theirs.
Anyway, in the end, we found a band we really liked, and one of its members actually sang at one of Billy Joel’s weddings. So, sorry, Marc Cohn. We like your music, but, hey, when you can get the Piano Man…’s man, you’ve got to go for it!
See you soon.
*It’s possible that the Coke & Pepsi reference is very specific to the New York metropolitan area, so let me explain for my out-of-town readers or any goyim who may never have attended a bar mitzvah. You see, the bar mitzvahs around here can be very elaborate, and often include not only DJs but an emcee and entire dance troupes. These entertainers spend much of the party amusing the 13-year-olds with a variety of games and by handing out a selection of chatchkas, many of which are inflatable. One of the games is Coke & Pepsi, where the kids run from one side of the dance floor to the other in various ways, depending on which brand of soft drink the emcee calls out. It’s kind of like a strenuous combination of Simon Says and Red Light, Green Light with the opportunity to end up in vaguely sexual positions that are probably inappropriate for 13-year-olds but which all the adults choose to ignore.