Archive for October, 2007

Hiring A Wedding Band? Know The ESSENTIALS.

Wednesday, October 31st, 2007

If you are planning a wedding, most U.S. metropolitan areas offer a wide variety of musical choices. You will find bands of almost every style and price range available within easy traveling distance to your event.

But how can you know which band is the right band for you? The best way is with the Essentials.

First, always, you should ask the band’s price. There is no point in continuing a conversation with someone who is hopelessly out of your budget.

Next, tell your prospective bandleader the most important facts about your event. For instance – it’s not just “a wedding reception” – it’s a _____ (Jewish, Greek, Baptist, etc.) wedding reception. The ____ (groom, father-of-the-bride, etc.) loves to _____ (Swing, Latin, or Country) dance, and wants a lot of that music during the night. The bride is ___ (19, 29,39) years old, and adores ____ (Keith Urban, 50 Cent, Barry Manilow).

See? In just a few well-crafted sentences, you can outline your needs and expectations. This allows your interviewee the opportunity to either tell you why their band is perfect for you, or to recommend someone better suited for your particular party.

If the bandleader fails to offer it, you now need some essential information in return.

Does this band have experience in playing for similar events (do they “know the drill”)? Are they familiar with your venue (do they know how to get in and out/where the plugs are, etc.)? Does their repertoire contain an adequate supply of your special music?

References are yet another Essential – there is no substitute for the comments of past employers. You’ll also want to hear a demo of the band and see a copy of their song list. (If humanly possible, you really should see them in person. How loud are they? Do they smile and make eye contact? Do they – and their set-up – look professional?)

Finally, before signing a contract, ask about their intermission policy. Bands who break on-the-hour kill the momentum of the evening. You want a combo that will adjust their intermissions to your schedule (the cake cutting and toasts, as well as the bouquet and garter tosses, are perfect opportunities for the band to sneak in an “invisible” break.)

With the Essentials, you can – in a short time – narrow your choices from many possible bands, to a few probable-good-fits, to the best group for your needs and budget.

WHERE’S The Party? Woah – Never Mind!

Monday, October 29th, 2007

All party invitations tell you the “4 W’s”: who is having the event, what they are celebrating, when it happens, and – finally – where it will be.

Logic dictates that – if you send someone an invitation – you naturally hope they will join you. Unfortunately, just by your choice of where, you may unknowingly be delivering the message: Don’t Come.

My band and I recently played a fund-raising event hosted by a sorority. The age range ran from current co-eds and their dates, to guests of their parents’ and even grandparents’ ages. All of which was fine. We were prepared to play a wide selection of music, with something that should have pleased all of the above.

The trouble was – all of the above weren’t there. Only a brave few of the older invitees showed up. Why? It was their sorority, and the proceeds benefitted a variety of worthy causes. So where were the more mature Sisters – watching a “Matlock” re-run? No – according to some of the only folks my age and higher there – they stayed away because the party was held in our town’s “Bohemian Quarter.”

Deep Ellum is a Dallas neighborhood of 1920s-vintage storefronts, now converted into a collection of funky nightclubs. It is a mecca for 20-somethings, who – every weekend – keep the area hopping until the wee small hours. Many who are over 30, but consider themselves “adventurous,” also willingly venture into what is – admittedly – a pretty seedy part of town. To them, the occasional panhandler or drunk passed out in an alleyway only adds to the Bourbon Street ambience of the place. And – while regular reports of crime there may cause prudent patrons to stay together in groups – it hasn’t stopped folks from coming.

Young folks, that is. For – on any given Saturday – you will see a flock of black-clad, dog collar-wearing Sid Vicious lookalikes; hair of every conceivable color and cut; and fashions inspired by The Rocky Horror Picture Show. What you won’t see are people whose hair has any (natural) white in it. Most 40, 50, and 60-somethings simply won’t go there. Not even to support their favorite charity. Unlike the younger set, they are not willing to get all dressed up, pay top-dollar, then experience the sensory (sights, sounds, and smells) smorgasbord that is Deep Ellum. For fund-raisers such as ours was, this effectively eliminated the most financially generous demographic.

So if you are planning a multi-generational event – be it a wedding reception, company party, or fund raiser – bear in mind when choosing your venue that where to have your gala is one of the most important decisions you will make in determining its success. If you really want Aunt Fanny to come, don’t put out the “Un-Welcome” mat. Leave Funkytown to the Goths and Lydia The Tattooed Lady. Opt instead for a place that will seem inviting to everybody. (Well – everybody but “Sid Vicious,” maybe.)

Celebrating “Nothing”

Wednesday, October 24th, 2007

Before Paul Newman became a purveyor of foods, he made a classic film entitled “Cool Hand Luke.” The movie’s title came from a poker game which Luke (Newman) won on a bluff. He didn’t even have a pair of deuces. Luke’s response to his victory: “Sometimes ‘nothing’ is a real cool hand.” In my life, sometimes “nothing” is also a really great excuse for a get-together.

Twice today, I participated in joyous celebrations. Tonight’s was to congratulate son Erik’s lovely friend Adrienne on her acceptance at Texas A&M (no Aggie jokes, please.) The earlier one (a brunch) was – ostensibly – about nothing. It wasn’t a birthday, anniversary, or retirement party, but was rather simply an excuse for a lot of very old friends (perhaps I should re-phrase that “friends of long standing”) to once again share a few happy hours together. All too often, those of us of a certain age see each other frequently – but mostly at funerals, hospitals, and other less than gleeful gatherings.

The “nothing” party was rich with laughter, great old stories, and – since we were celebrating “nothing” – no official business, like toasts, cakes, and such. This reduced level of stress (no surprises to keep, and nobody whom we had to “impress”) allowed the host and hostess to actually enjoy their own event (which is often impossible at more formal gatherings.)

Gina would want me to point out that – as hosts – she and I did enjoy tonight’s party in Adrienne’s honor. Our event was also low-key (and low-stress), and also included wonderful stories, great food, and a convivial combination of friends and family. But we had a particular reason for celebrating. The brunch bunch needed no excuse at all.

And that particular “nothing” is a something well worth celebrating – all by itself. So the next time anybody tells you that they have “nothing” to celebrate, I hope you’ll respond, “Me too! Let’s have a party!!”

Avoid Sending Mixed Messages To Your Band

Monday, October 22nd, 2007

A few years ago, I got a call from a gentleman who would soon be celebrating his 50th wedding anniversary. He had a very specific vision of how he wanted my band to look and sound at his party. Essentially, he wanted “Dave Tanner: Unplugged,” with grand piano, upright bass, drums, and sax. Could we – he asked – do an all-acoustic, un-amplified evening of romantic songs of the 40s and 50s? The answer was a delighted yes (it sounded like a lot of fun to me). So he and I sealed the bargain.

But a few weeks later, his wife and daughter phoned me with their personal song requests. I had to tell them that – honestly – what they wanted to hear (which included a lot of Rock), and what their husband and father had explicitly hired me to do (no amps, no PA, no guitar), weren’t compatible. And, since I had been hired by Dad, he was my boss. I answered to him.

Within 15 minutes, he called back to say, “Do whatever they want.” So – from that point – I answered to them, and the plug was pulled on “Dave Tanner: Unplugged.”

Something similar occurred last Friday night. My full band had been engaged for a dinner and dance club’s Fall party. By full band, I mean 2 horns, a female vocalist, and 3 rhythm musicians/vocalists. But, just as the guests sat down to dinner, the party co-chair told me that – for volume reasons – he wanted piano only during the meal. My problem was, the other co-chair had already indicated that she wanted the full band playing during this same time.

Since neither person outranked the other, I made an executive decision which I hoped would please both parties. As each new course of the meal was served, I sent the band out on break. For that 15 minutes or so, the guests could talk at a reasonable level, without having to shout over the band. Then, about the time they were through with their salads – and later, their entrees – I brought the band back in for several dances between courses.

I guess it worked. Neither co-chair fussed at me, and the guests seemed to have a good time. But sometimes, the results of mixed messages are not quite so pleasant. The tempo and volume goes up and down like a roller coaster as multiple bosses issue competing instructions. In such cases, the party takes on a split-personality, with too much Rock and Roll for one chairperson, and too much “elevator music” for the other.

Instead of co-chairs having overlapping responsibilities, it is far better for them to each have separate and distinct areas of authority. Have the band answer to one boss, and let all suggestions or criticisms be filtered through that person. Directing the band by committee only guarantees a musically confusing, and – ultimately – unsatisfying experience for all concerned. The old saying that “Too many cooks spoil the broth” also applies to having too many (and 2 can be too many) competing bosses for your band.

For what it’s worth – I’d still like to try that “Unplugged” evening some time.

Reunions Need Lots Of Time AND Room For Visiting

Wednesday, October 17th, 2007

Gina and I attended my high school class reunion this past weekend. Compared to many similar gatherings I have seen, this one worked really well. Here’s why:

1. The evening had a good balance of organized activities and “free time.” Every hour or so, we all participated in a “group” activity. Those who had worked on planning the reunion were recognized, as were classmates who traveled the greatest distance. There was a class photo (taken early, before coats, ties, inhibitions, and sobriety disappeared.) In fact, all the traditional reunion stuff was done – just not all at once. 50 minutes or more of each hour was left for guests to visit, eat, or dance, as they desired.

2. The venue had both plenty of room, and plenty of rooms. Normally, I favor big, boxy ballrooms where everyone is in the same place at the same time. But at reunions – unlike wedding receptions and anniversaries, for example – the primary purpose for the event is visiting – catching up on what old classmates have been doing. For some folks, this is best accomplished at a quiet table off to itself. Our gathering utilized a large ballroom, the foyer outside, the separate dining room where our buffet was laid out, and the porch outdoors. There was a place for everyone.

Mostly-vintage music created a mood that we all could feel, even if we didn’t choose to dance much (or at all.) But what really set this reunion apart from so many others, was that the majority of the guests spent the majority of their time engaged in exactly what they felt like doing at that particular moment. By that standard, this was one of the most successful events I’ve ever attended.

I’m already looking forward to the next one!

The Tent Is LIVE, With The Sound Of Music (And Chatter)

Monday, October 15th, 2007

For outdoor events, a party tent is the essential piece of equipment. Light to moderate rain, wind, heat, or chill that would otherwise defeat your months of planning become non-issues. Unfortunately, unless you know what I’m about to share, the tent itself can create an insurmountable problem.

Today’s party tents are typically made of plastic – practical because they are light-weight, rain-proof, and quick to install or take down. But plastic tents also have an acoustic characteristic which – if unaddressed – will ruin your party.

The same dense property of plastic that repels moisture makes it incapable of absorbing sound. So, sound waves – be they conversations or music – simply continue to bounce around like so many Flubber-filled balls. For those inside a plastic tent, parties get very loud very fast. As guests speak up in order to be heard over the music and other conversations, a quantum increase of the decibel level occurs. Soon, the noise is actually painful, nobody is having fun, and your party flops.

What can you do? Try these 3 steps:

1.) Turn down the music. In the open air, where soundwaves can disperse in every direction, music projected through a speaker at 100Db (roughly equivalent to jet engine noise) drops to almost half that decibel level at 50 feet. At 100 feet, the racket is only about one-quarter of its original intensity. But inside a plastic tent, audio meters placed at both 50 and 100 feet away will register only a slight drop. The sound is carried by the plastic tenting with (literally) stunning efficiency. Instruct your band or deejay (who probably set the volume at its usual level of 11 on a scale of 1 to 10) to cut back 50% for starters.

2.) Leave the tent sides open. If weather permits, don’t seal yourself into what will become an audio torture chamber. The plastic ceiling will still be a noise conductor, but most of the soundwaves will escape out the sides.

3.) Hang sound-absorbing fabric. Sound waves cannot pass through a thick curtain. Place fabric behind the stage or buffet tables. Not only will it be decorative, it will be functional as well, serving to “soak up” excess sound. For best results, place your curtains at 4 opposing spots. (Picture your tent being intersected by an “X.” Hang the drapes at each point of the letter.)

You go to the trouble and expense of renting a tent to avoid problems with weather at your party. Just a little additional time and planning will ensure that the tent remains your “solution,” not a new and separate problem.

“Everybody Loves ____” (Or DO They?)

Wednesday, October 10th, 2007

I did an all-Sinatra evening tonight, which was made even more fun by the 16-piece Big Band I worked with (and their very authentic Sinatra charts). Two other things worked in my favor: (1.) the program only lasted 90 minutes (which is long enough for a lot of Frankie’s hits, but not too long. And (2.) this was a perfect audience for that repertoire.

In fact, everything went so well, I wondered why – the last time I did a 100% Sinatra evening – it hadn’t gone as swimmingly. That occasion was a party whose hostess told me, “Everybody loves Frank.”

Well, that night, everybody didn’t. At least, not 4 straight hours of Frank and only Frank. I got lots of complaints at the bandstand, but my hands were tied. The lady who had hired me, and who had my check, said “Sinatra only.” It was a long night – for “Everybody” except the hostess.

So I was understandably wary when another employer engaged me to do a “Jersey Boys” party next month. “Jersey Boys” – in case you don’t know – is a smash Broadway hit about another Frankie – Frankie Valli and The 4 Seasons. My unease only increased when my hostess said those fateful words, “Everybody loves Frankie Valli!”

Fortunately for me (and the party attendees), what this hostess wants, is one 4 Seasons tune out of every 5 or 6 songs played. The other songs are to be (mostly) other hits of the 60s. But I am allowed – this time – to play requests from her guests. At some point in the evening, we will do a 15 or 20 minute block of “Walk Like A Man,” “Oh What A Night,” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off Of You,” etc. Anybody who objects can make a pit stop and a trip to the bar. By the time they get back, we’ll be done with our 4 Seasons Medley.

The lesson I am hoping to communicate to you is that – in general – it is a mistake to generalize. Yes, many or even the majority of your audience may like Elvis, or Dixieland, or Cajun, or Ska, but does “Everybody” you are inviting to your party really love any one musical style enough to hear that (and only that) all night long?

Be careful how you answer – “Everybody’s” enjoyment of your party depends on it.

“Scary” Santas, Clowns, And Other Strangers

Monday, October 8th, 2007

A series of photos in the Dallas Morning News this week traced the evolution of our Texas State Fair’s mascot, “Big Tex.” Almost 60 years ago, before landing his permanent gig near the entrance to the Midway, “Tex” began his career as Santa Claus. If the newspaper picture does him justice, he must have been the most terrifying Santa ever – as tall as a two-story house, with immense teeth and a vacant stare. For little ones, seeing him would have been more of a threat than a treat. (“Yeah, kids, if you’re bad, I’ll make you go see Santa. Waa-hah-hah-hah-hah!!”)

Almost every family has a photo tucked away in an album somewhere of one or more of their offspring, warily regarding a normal-sized Kris Kringle (if they’re not captured in mid-scream after being handed off to this stranger.) Wee ones seem to like the concept of Santa, more than they actually enjoy being passed like a football into the arms of a guy whose red suit smells like mothballs.

What – then – is a parent to do? How can you get a perfect snapshot of your Munchkin with Santy Claws to send to the grandparents? In 4 words: hold the little darling.

Most kids are fine with Santa (or – for that matter – party clowns or complete strangers) as long as they are safely in your arms, and you are okay with Santa, Bozo, or… whoever. What the wee ones don’t like is feeling abandoned by you (even if it’s just for a photo.)

Similarly, at parties, you should stay with Junior until Barfo the Clown has him so enthralled with balloon animals that he completely forgets how 5 minutes ago, Barfo was a stranger. The same thing goes for Aunt Fanny. You may have known her all your life, but if your kid hasn’t, give the 2 of them time to get acquainted before you wander off to the buffet table.

As for Santa, the last thing he wants is yet another tyke screaming bloody murder. Ask him nicely, and I’ll bet he’ll let you hold little Ruprecht in the photo. If you’ve been really good this year, maybe he will even let you sit in his chair, and will pose standing beside you. Then – unless you start crying – you’ll wind up with a photo worth sending to the in-laws.

You Know It’s Time To Call Off The Wedding When…

Wednesday, October 3rd, 2007

Marriage is (or is supposed to be) a huge, life-changing experience. So as the date gets closer, some pre-wedding jitters are perfectly normal. How will you like seeing that same face every morning and night for the rest of your life? How will they like you, when they really get to know you?

Does your intended already have some habits that drive you slightly nuts? If so, do you think you can get them to change? What if they won’t? (Or can’t?)

If precisely such thoughts have caused what was once a small voice in the back your mind to start screaming “Time out,” “Slow down,” and even “I cannot go through with this!” – the good news is: you don’t have to. You have options. Some of them include:

1. Counseling. Sometimes, a little communication in the controlled environment of a psychologist’s office is all you’ll really need. It may well be that your partner had no idea their annoying habits were driving you up the wall. However, if counseling doesn’t work, you may want to consider…

2. Postponement. My bride and I postponed our wedding – and I’m glad we did. We both had baggage the size of steamer trunks from our previous relationships. The extra time allowed us to work our problems down to something closer to carry-on size.

However, when postponing still isn’t enough, there is always…

3. Cancellation. Give back the ring and the gifts, forfeit your deposits on the venue and band, and put the wedding dress in mothballs. It may be expensive and embarassing, but it’s a lot cheaper in the long run (and easier on your psyche) than going through with a bad marriage.

For what it’s worth, almost every time a wedding for which I’ve been hired gets cancelled, I receive a call within 6 months from that same bride saying she and her (usually new) guy are ready to take that big step. And I’ve never seen a two-time Runaway Bride yet.

When It’s Time To Start The Party, START THE PARTY!

Monday, October 1st, 2007

The traditional closing of a Jewish wedding ceremony occurs when the groom steps on a wine glass wrapped in a napkin to symbolize the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem. (It can also symbolize the fragility of the trust relationship in a marriage.)

At one such event, a shard of the wine glass came right through the sole of the groom’s shoe and into his foot, requiring a trip to the Emergency Room for stitches. (And an hour-plus delay in his getting to the reception.)

The bride’s parents were faced with a tough call: wait until the ER trip was over, or start the party without the guests of honor. They did the right thing – they started the party.

Now, you might think that a wedding reception without the bride and groom seems a little odd. But with the clock running on the venue (and the guests’ attention span) – not to mention the food, band, and everything else – the smart thing to do was proceed. Which we did. By the time the limping groom escorted his bride to the dance floor for their first dance (fortunately – his foot was still numbed by Novocaine), the rest of us were in full swing.

This past week, I was at another event where the party planner faced a similar choice. A fundraiser for M.D. Anderson Cancer Center featured a live interview of Carol Burnett by Deborah Norville, both of whom were on very tight schedules. Unfortunately, about 40% of the guests refused to honor repeated announcements for them to come into the ballroom and take their seats. They each seemed to want to be the very last one at their particular tables. We waited 10 minutes past the official start time, and still they lingered in the foyer outside. Then, in a brilliant move, the party planner ordered the ballroom doors to be closed. All of a sudden, the “fashionably late” crowd realized that – yes – this party could and would go on without them. It was amazing how quickly they found their proper spots, once they were motivated.

No party is successful unless the comfort (and inner clocks) of the vast majority of the guests are respected. And since the goal of every party planner is a successful event, when it’s time to start – there really is no good reason to keep everyone else waiting.