Archive for June, 2007

“Where Would You Like The Band?” (Part One)

Wednesday, June 27th, 2007

Few annoyances can ruin a party as quickly for your guests – especially your older ones – than being so close to a band or DJ that conversation is impossible.

Fortunately, of all the potential bugaboos that can plague your party planning, Senior Sonic Sensitivity Syndrome is one of the easiest to nip in the bud. How? Let me count the ways:

1. Open Seating. Folks who don’t want to be near the PA speakers will usually gravitate to the most distant tables, if they have that option. If Fussy Uncle Fred finds that his assigned seat is near the music source, he will be miserable (and he will make you miserable, too.)

2. Dinner Music. Tell your band or DJ you want low volume until after dessert. When the music is soft, your guests won’t have to shout at each other to be heard. This will lower the overall decibel level of the room. Then, to really cut back on the complaints, also keep the dinner repertoire instrumental (as opposed to vocal), and free from overly-busy solos. (You may need to remind your musicians that they are not being paid by the note.)

3. Aesthetic Distance. I recommend placing the entire dance floor between the stage and the first row of tables. In this way, nobody is seated next to a throbbing bass amp. When tables are set 5 feet from the stage – with others 100 feet away – somebody always gets cheated. Either the music level is right for those closest to the band (but not for those in the back), or it is blasting the folks down front in order to be correct for the room at large. If the dance floor takes up the first 20 feet in front of the stage, the only people who’ll experience the full audio impact of the band are volunteers (dancers).

Of course, even if you allow your guests to choose where they sit, and you hold the music down during dinner, and even leave lots of space between the diners and your band – someone will still complain. But you will have made it a lot harder for them to do so.

And Your Back-Up Plan Is…?

Monday, June 25th, 2007

Computers have given “redundancy” a good name. Not that long ago, to be redundant meant speaking in a boring and repetitive way. But in today’s info-age techno-jargon, it now means layers and layers of back-up programs ready to take over at a moment’s notice in the event of a system crash.

Sports fans call this same concept “depth,” when referring to a benchful of able and talented players, who are ready to go into the game any time they are needed.

In the party business, the equivalent of “redundancy” and “depth” is called “Plan B.” And it is every bit as essential for success as “Plan A.”

Take last Saturday, for example. I offered the motze and kiddish (blessings) over the wine and challah (bread) at a Jewish wedding reception, because the rabbi was elsewhere at the critical moment. No big deal, you say? Maybe not – except the blessings were in Hebrew, and I’m Baptist. However, after hearing them recited 2 or 3 thousand times, they have soaked in. The language of the Prophets probably sounded odd with my Texas accent, but everyone was polite enough not to say, “Huh?”

But then, on Sunday, my party’s hosts were covering for me. I had been hired to fly from Dallas to North Carolina for a 65th birthday party. Unfortunately, weather issues and a faulty plane air conditioning system combined to make me 5 hours late taking off.

My hosts never missed a beat. They recruited a volunteer pianist/guest to play for the cocktail hour. By the time everyone sat down to dinner, Elvis was in the building. Well, I was, anyway.

My point is simply that very few evenings actually go perfectly and without a single hitch. But – when those throwing the party keep their cool, and especially when they’ve thought ahead about what can possibly go wrong – most parties can still be successes.

So call it “Plan B,” “depth,” or “redundancy.” By any name, such foresight saves many a celebration.

“Low” Fashion Photography

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

There is a wonderful new photo on our kitchen hutch. It’s a picture of our son Erik and his date Adrienne on Prom night. She is wearing her hair up in an elegant, yet simple way, and she looks timelessly beautiful in her classic gown. He beams with justifiable pride to be escorting such a lovely young lady. In fact, there’s only one thing wrong with this picture: Erik’s outfit. He is dressed in a 35-year old maroon tuxedo and a pink, ruffled, big-collared shirt – both of which I bought new at a time when they were – I thought – the epitome of fashion.

I mention this because – like Erik and Adrienne’s Prom photo – life’s other milestone events tend to be documented in pictures. The clothes and hairstyles of decades past (in my case – my muttonchop-sideburned wedding shots) can really come back to haunt us when future generations peruse the family albums.

Because Erik wore my old tux as a goof, he won’t be as subject to embarassment. He looked silly on purpose. But – looking at his Prom photo – I am at a loss to explain why I ever thought that outfit (or my paisley tux shirt, or “clown”-sized bowties) actually looked good. Ladies of my vintage often have a similar reaction to pictures of their 70s-era Farrah Fawcett curls, hot pants, etc.

There is a way to prevent these photographic horror stories, and it is one which Adrienne instinctively understood: go for that ageless “classic” look on such occasions. Tell the guys to shave their scruffy goatees, trim their sideburns and hair, and leave the platform shoes and gold chains at the Goodwill Store. For the ladies, avoid “this year’s” colors on nails, lips, and eyes. Also eschew any trends in dresses and shoes that are “the latest thing.”

A potentially beautiful young lady once said, “I want to be different and look good.” To which her wise mother replied, “Just look good – that’s different enough!”

“I Wish I Hadn’t Said THAT!” (Over The Microphone)

Monday, June 18th, 2007

Speaking to a crowd – I’ve seen the mere mention of it reduce professional athletes to tears, turn astronaut/fighter pilots into quivering masses of jelly, and even frighten women who have survived giving birth!

Some of us would rather do almost anything than hold a microphone in our hands to address a large audience – even an audience of close friends (and – sometimes – especially an audience of close friends!) We don’t know what to say; we’re afraid we’ll say something stupid; and – if we do – we know we will kick ourselves for decades to come.

Chill, children! Help is on the way.

At most parties – including most wedding receptions – the required speeches are short, sweet, and straightforward. If you are the host, simply welcome everyone to the party, express your hope that they have a good time, and thank your long-suffering spouse (or whoever put in months planning the event.) If there are guests of honor (as at weddings, birthdays, and anniversaries) offer a toast to them. It doesn’t have to be clever or fancy. Just raise your glass and say, “Please join me in a toast to…” Then relax. Your hard work is done. All you have to do from here is pay for the party!

If you are the Best Man or Maid of Honor at a wedding reception, and you are not a gifted speaker, you too can – and should – keep it simple (and clean). Those who aren’t comedians need not prove that fact by bombing their way through a series of lame jokes. Similarly, self-written “poems” are usually far less enjoyable for the crowd (and the victims-of-honor) than their authors imagine. Much better are succint and sincere best wishes for the happiness of the lucky couple. Avoid at all costs any embarassing story that might create later problems for the bride or groom (as in “Did you really DO that?”).

By committing to keep your verbal output at the microphone to a minimum (and keep it clean), you can avoid hours of stress before the event, and years of regret afterward.

Watch Out For The Wee Ones At Weddings!

Wednesday, June 13th, 2007

Part of what makes wedding receptions so special is the joyful presence of 4 full generations, from great-grandparents down to rug rats.

The littlest guests are usually the first to discover the dance floor (a magnet for impish running boys and angelic “butterfly ballerina” girls). And – as long as they are the only ones utilizing the space – the dance floor is a perfect spot for them. It is centrally located, making it easy for moms and dads to keep one eye on their little darlings, while enjoying conversations uninterrupted by tiny voices. Early in the reception, it is also an area largely unused by the adult guests. For these reasons, it makes a safe – and really big – play pen.

The problems begin when a few grown-ups (typically Senior Citizens) have the notion that a dance floor should actually be used for dancing. And it is at this point in the evening that both toddlers and Seniors are in danger.

Did I say danger? Absolutely! Older brittle bones and unsupervised wee folk are a tragedy-waiting-to-happen. The tots have gotten in the habit of having the run (pun intended) of the dance floor. They are oblivious to the dancers around them, and have no way to anticipate that they are on a collision course with Great-Uncle Harry’s box-step. Such crashes, when they occur, inevitably result in the potential for a scary fall. Old bones hitting a hardwood floor with force tend to break. Tiny tibias don’t snap as easily, but having the combined 300+ pounds of an elderly couple falling on top of you is pretty traumatic for them, too.

Knowing this, most Seniors won’t share the dance floor with uncontrolled tykes – and this is bad news for the progress of your party. It is these Granny-types, you see, that get the dancing underway. Unlike your college friends, they don’t have to wait until 11PM to suddenly discover that there is – in fact – a dance floor.

Your job, then, is to make the dancing area both kid and Senior-safe. The little ones can still be out there, they just need adult supervision. Two bridesmaids can keep an entire flock of wee ones happily engaged in the Chicken Dance and Hokey Pokey in the center of the floor, while Grammy and Poppy safely circle the perimeter.

Plan to delegate such “kid-herder” duty well ahead of time. That way, any kissing you do on your special night will not be to make some little one’s “boo-boo” feel better. (Or some big one’s broken hip, either.)

The Reception Is Dying (And So Are You) – Where’s That *%#* Limo?

Monday, June 11th, 2007

It was – in the immortal words of Yogi Berra – “deja vu, all over again.” Last Saturday’s wedding reception had run its course. Everyone – including the bride and groom – were ready to call it a night. There was just one eensy-teensy problem: the limo was AWOL.

No limo (or carriage, or even helicopter, on occasion) = no photos of your perfect departure. Indeed, with no wheels, you have no “perfect” departure. If you choose to wait for the missing transport, most of your guests who should have been tossing rose petals while waving bye-bye have – in fact – already waved goodbye long ago. It makes for an anti-climactic end to an otherwise stellar event.

And why? Was the limo driver double-dipping, taking another couple from their reception before circling back for you? Was he cruising the city burning gas that you paid for?

Probably not. Typically, he was missing for the simple reason that you told him to be back at a designated time. Your party, however, didn’t last quite that long. There can be any number of reasons for this, none of which are a criticism of you personally. If your guests simply have already danced themselves into a state of blissful exhaustion, or if you suddenly realize that your own energy reserves are running on empty (this happens to brides and grooms frequently, and with little warning), it’s time to go – no matter what the clock on the wall says. In such moments, you need that limo, now.

My best advice: have the limo (or carriage, etc.) exactly where you need it, from the earliest possible moment forward. If your party is scheduled until midnight, have your driver in position, circling the block, or waiting down the street from 11PM on. Have his cell phone number on your speed-dial. Keep him informed of the party’s progress. (Alternatively, don’t have a limo at all. Have a family vehicle standing by from Moment One.)

Some guests will stay until the end of your reception, no matter how late the limo may be. But for a “picture-perfect” finale, it is so much better that the limo be an hour early, than that he be even one minute late.

Pleasing A Wide Demographic: “Is Everybody Happy?”

Wednesday, June 6th, 2007

In the 1960s, Gloria Steinem told women wanting successful marriages, families, and jobs, “You can have it all.” By the late 90s, she had amended that sentiment to say: “You can have it all – just not all at the same time.”

When your guest list includes multiple generations of people from widely differing backgrounds (as at most weddings and even at many corporate events), that same idea might be paraphrased: “You can please them all – just not all at the same time.”

At weddings, as opposed to annual events (like Christmas parties and award dinners), you have only a few hours to make every guest feel that you wanted them to have a good time. To accomplish this, I recommend dedicating the first hour’s music selection (and music volume) to the grandparents in the room. Fill the second hour with Mom and Dad’s favorites, then cater to your younger guests for the duration. (For more on this, check out my April 18th blog, “Do You Wanna Dance?”)

The annual corporate awards banquet and dance my band played this past Saturday night honored a workforce that ranged from their 20s to their 50s, and with about equal numbers of black, white, and hispanic guests. Our job was to alternate with a deejay. We played Classic Rock and Country; the DJ did every other musical style. Anyone not thrilled with our particular brand of music could take comfort in knowing that either last year’s Urban/Funk band was for them, or that next year’s hot Latin ensemble will be. With such a diverse group of honorees, this alternating cycle of bands (and deejay) is a practical way to ensure that every demographic is represented on a regular basis.

It also prevents each new celebration from being a carbon copy of the previous year’s party. For this reason alone, it is an idea worth considering – whatever your demographics may be.

Rx For Teen Party Success: The “Illusion” Of Independence

Monday, June 4th, 2007

Parties for younger children require carefully-managed structure (“Now, let’s play Twister!” or “It’s time for the birthday cake!”). The twin goals are to include every guest in the fun, and to keep them from hurting themselves or each other.

After these same youngsters reach high school, the party goals are the same, but your methods must change. When God installed the wiring inside teenagers, He put in an anti-parenting, anti-structure microchip. Any hint of parental guidance is rejected automatically. Teens don’t want to be in the same room (or even the same house) that you are. The trouble is that high schoolers are at least as likely to make potentially harmful choices as their younger siblings, and thus still require ongoing supervision.

So how can you have an event that is fun and un-structured enough for the teens, while being safe for them and pleasant for your adult guests? Answer: through the “illusion” of independence (and some creative cuisine).

3 recent parties I attended honoring May graduates each featured variations on this same theme. At one, the teen guests passed straight through the home to the deck in back, where they all congregated. They even closed the door behind them. The only times they came back in were to hit the food table. As far as they were concerned, they had complete privacy. (Of course, we could still see them clearly through the windows.) Had any iffy behavior started, the hosts could have stopped it in an instant.

Although the teens at the other 2 parties commandeered the back yard/pool area, the result was the same: they had their party, we adults had ours. In only one case was a parent required to intervene before some horseplay got out of hand, and that was quashed so quietly that most of the youngsters probably never noticed.

Food – the other component at such parties – needs to be of the “grazing” variety. Teens do eat, but only on their own time schedule. Hot or cold dishes that will spoil should therefore be a small part of the buffet (and replenished as needed.) The majority should be chips, dips, cookies, and cakes. (Hey – it is a “kid” party, after all. Put out food that they like.)

Bottom line: if there is food when they want it and if they have the “illusion” of independence, your teens will think the party you planned was a great success. (In spite of the fact that you planned it!)