Archive for the 'Parties' Category

A Class Reunion – With Class

Monday, October 26th, 2009

The folks who show up at class reunions have one really big thing in common: either they, or their dates, attended the same school at the same time.

Other than that, however, they may have shared very little – even when they were in school. Some were no doubt very social, while others may have been more focused on studies or sports. Consequently, it’s hard to plan a single event that appeals to everyone attending.

Saturday, I brought the music to a reunion whose planners came as close as humanly possible to having something for each attendee. How? Well, they made it look as easy as A – B – C.

A. The event was held in the ballroom of a country club. Just outside the ballroom, separated only by glass doors, was the bar area. Those who were more interested in talking than in the entertainment could still be within sight of the main room, yet able to visit at much more conversational levels. This room was decorated with posters made of enlarged photos from school annuals. (Even I enjoyed browsing there, and it wasn’t even my school.)

B. During the dinner hour, we were instructed to keep our music level low, so that guests who hadn’t seen each other in decades could catch up on each others’ lives. Between courses, committee members made a few special announcements, thanked volunteers, and awarded gifts to certain class members (like those who came the farthest to attend.) The dance floor was used as the gathering place for a class photo at this time.

C. At the conclusion of the dinner, the band and I put on a brief show, geared to the songs and events of their graduation year. In this way, dancers and non-dancers alike had entertainment, planned especially for them. Afterward, we became a dance band, taking requests from the attendees.

At that point, the party goers had the option of dancing, visiting with one another in the ballroom, or going to the relative quiet of the bar area – to look at school memorabilia or continue chatting.

As nearly as I could tell, a good time was had by all. And that’s the hallmark of a successful event.

Fund Raisers: Treat Your Donors Like GOLD

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

Successful fund-raising events combine treating guests to a good time with bringing in a lot of money for a worthy cause. Any gathering which fails in either of these criteria cannot be deemed a success.

To that end, two elements of most fund raisers are the Live and Silent Auctions. Both of these depend on the goodwill of two constituencies – the buyers and the donors. As mentioned above, buyers must have fun, and must feel like they are appreciated.

Donors, however, also deserve royal treatment. Without them, there would be no items for the buyers to bid on, and the beneficiaries of the charities involved would suffer. Unfortunately, donors aren’t always afforded the consideration they deserve.

And by “consideration,” I don’t mean money. Most entertainers I know are happy to donate their talents for worthy causes, and don’t expect money in return. What they do have a right to anticipate is that the good folks at the charity offices will bend over backwards to be accommodating. (I for one would be less than thrilled to find that the charity was allowing the folks who bought my “freebie” to cash it in on a Saturday in December, for example.)

That hasn’t happened. But I did have an incident recently where a charity paired my services with a barbecue dinner at a ranch well outside our metropolitan area. This added hours to the total amount of time I was donating. The trouble was – I had never been asked, nor had I agreed to, this “extra” donation.

It kind of reminded me of the old joke in which a judge tells the defendant, “I sentence you to 20 years in prison – what do you think of that?” And the defendant replies, “I think you are being very liberal with my time, that’s what!”

I thought that the charity was being kind of liberal with mine, too, and that I deserved the courtesy of an advance call. Common courtesy to those who donate their time, talents, goods, and services should be automatic.

Let’s face it – there are lots of worthy causes, each vying for the same donors. If your favorite charity becomes a little casual about showing their appreciation, sooner or later donations will go down.

So when it’s your turn on the charity committee, treat those paying customers nice. But – in every way you can – show just as much gratitude to your donors. Let them see how much you value them as an essential source of revenue.

Otherwise, you will eventually have a really small group of items to auction off.

Outdoor Parties – What Could Possibly Go Wrong?

Monday, October 19th, 2009


Some folks (my wife, for one) have a very limited temperature comfort range. When the thermometer dips below 70 degrees, she hauls out the electric blanket. And if it goes above 80, she melts.

She’s not alone. I would even posit that most party goers dance less when the room temperature goes above 76 degrees, and leave earlier when it dips below 72. We are comfort-loving creatures, and temperature is a big part of what adds to (or detracts from) our sense of comfort.

This is yet another reason why I love parties inside big temperature-controlled ballrooms. Simply put, those events limit weather’s influence on an event to just the drive to and from the venue. Once inside, Mother Nature becomes a non-factor.

But twice in the past week, I’ve been the music provider at outdoor events. Mid-October is usually a fairly reliable time in my town to stage al fresco soirees (or “outdoor parties,” if you prefer.) But this particular autumn has been rather brisk, damp, and windy. And at both recent gatherings “brisk, damp, and windy” became Strikes 1, 2, and 3.

One was a misty evening affair, at which the buffet tables were indoors – and so were all the guests. No amount of urging from the hosts could get the crowd to come outside for the musical presentation honoring the night’s special guest. The other event was a barbecue luncheon held at a ranch outside town. Guests who parked along the long dirt and gravel driveway and trekked up to the ranch house patio, found their Gucci boots speckled with mud. Soon, their fashionable and expensive western ensembles were wrapped inside an assortment of un-fashionable – but warm – jackets and coats. It wasn’t a disaster, but it wasn’t a party that everyone will remember for all the right reasons, either.

As a party veteran, I have to admit that – Yes! – an outdoor event held in perfect weather is a wonderful thing. But realistically, how many perfect evenings are there, in any given year? (A local meteorologist once told me that – in our area – the answer to that question is “30″. 30 perfect nights a year.) That leaves about 335 nights annually that are either a little – or a lot – too cold, too hot, or too humid. It either has rained, or threatens to do so soon. Dust, flies, mosquitoes, smog, or wind are factors.

In other words, we have about a 1 in 12 chance of “perfect” weather.

Since that is the reality, I recommend that those considering outdoor events follow these 2 courses of action:
1. Make the event casual, and encourage guests to dress appropriately for the weather.
2. Have a tent, house, or other nearby structure to which the party can move on short notice (in case of severe weather.) Never invite more guests than you will safely fit into your back-up venue.

But my best advice is to simply remove weather as a consideration at all. Give yourself one less thing to worry about. Go indoors.

Too Many Cooks Can Spoil The Broth – AND The Party

Wednesday, October 7th, 2009

We celebrated our third annual surprise birthday party for my brother John last night.

(Okay – I’m pretty sure that the first one was a surprise. He doesn’t seem as shocked any more.)

It was a community effort, in that just about all the guests contributed something edible or potable (that’s food and drink, for you fans of plain English).

And therein lies both the strength and weakness of such a joint project. Usually, at “pot luck” gatherings, folks bring something they do well. This means each individual dish is excellent. It also lessens the work load on the hostess. All of these are good things.

Of course, it also means that – sometimes – you wind up with 2 very similar potato salads, but no desserts.

For our party, everybody coordinated their contributions with my wife Gina. In this way, there was no duplication. It turned out great.

Some hostesses, though, actually prefer the do-it-yourself style of party. An annual New Year’s Day event we attend is master-planned to the tiniest detail. It would be unthinkable (as well as most unappreciated) for us to bring a dish to such an event.

Communication is the key. “Can we bring anything?” is a great question to ask when phoning in your RSVP. If the hostess says “No,” that should pretty much end the discussion. But if she is open to a contribution, be specific. Your hostess should always know what’s coming in the door.

A few other hints:

If you have any picky eaters in your group (ie. toddlers or Uncle “Meat & Taters” Harry), volunteer to bring a dish they are guaranteed to enjoy – with the approval of your hostess.

If you have a special drink preference that might not be in everyone’s cabinet (from Diet Dr. Pepper to a specific brand of beer), offer to import it with you – if your hostess agrees.

See the common theme here? If the party is at someone else’s house, they get the final say-so. Oh – and never crowd a hostess in her own kitchen. In fact, saying “I’m available, if you’d like any help” is infinitely preferable to barging in and putting on an apron. No matter how well-intentioned you are, your “assistance” may not be appreciated, when you haven’t been asked to help.

For the good of the party (and for your continuing relationship with those putting it on), limit your inner control freak. Sometimes, your best contribution to a party is simply to be a gracious guest and enjoy yourself.

Watching The Clock At Your Party

Wednesday, September 30th, 2009

Having a tentative schedule of the events at your party is a good thing. Being slavishly locked in to that schedule is – unfortunately – not so good.

In the first place, your guests have their own timetables. And they may be very different from yours.

If you have a cocktail hour outside the ballroom, just getting the guests in the door may take twice as long as you budgeted. (Some hosts even resort to “crowd herders,” to shepherd guests into the ballroom in a timely fashion.)

However, other invitees – older ones especially – may already be in the room and at their seats when the dinner chimes sound.

Invocations, words of welcome, and toasts are also notoriously variable in length. A 30-second prayer that was scheduled to last for 2 minutes doesn’t do much damage to your schedule. But Uncle Harry’s “toast” that turns into a stand-up comedy routine can leave your banquet staff wondering whether to serve now – on schedule – or to let the soup get cold, waiting for Harry to shut up and sit down.

Also, parties rarely end exactly as predicted. Brides and grooms, stressed from too many intense days in a row, may run out of energy an hour before their planned departure. Other galas may practically scream for overtime. In either case, sticking to what you thought was appropriate timing ignores the real-world needs of your event.

Your catering staff, music supplier, and other vendors do need to have an approximate idea of the flow of the evening. But – as party professionals – they already know that your well-thought-out agenda is just a guideline, and is not chiseled in stone.

Time management is an important part of any successful event. But savvy event planners take into account that a few minutes more here or a few minutes less there, as needed, are the difference between a good party – and a great one.

“You Can’t Please Everyone, So You’ve Got To Please Yourself.”

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

The lyrics which form the title of today’s entry are from Rick Nelson’s 1972 hit “Garden Party,” composed after he was booed at a Madison Square Garden “Oldies” show for daring to include some newer tunes. As a philosopher, Rick may not rank beside Confucius or Lao Tse, but I do believe he expressed an important truth in this simple chorus.

All parties (not just the garden variety) need to express a point of view – be it that of the host and hostess or the guest of honor. The choice of music (as well as its volume) at a silver or golden anniversary event should – generally – reflect the tastes of the honorees. Food, timing, and decor at a quincinera and bar or bat mitzvah need to be appropriate for early teens. Everything at a wedding ceremony and reception ought to be an extension of the bride’s personality. (Sorry about that, grooms. The rehearsal dinner is your event.)

As the song truly says, “You can’t please everyone…” Or, at least, you can’t expect to please them all at the same time.

For this reason, many multi-generational gatherings offer sequential olive branches to their various constituencies. The music selection and volume at a wedding reception is often geared to older guests early in the evening, moving forward chronologically (and moving upward in decibels) as the event progresses.

But – too often – planners who try to please everyone wind up pleasing no one. The younger folks are bored out of their minds, long before any of “their” music is heard. And everyone over 40 hurriedly says their “good nights”, the moment the first Hip Hop song is played. By trying to have a “one size fits all” event, your perfect party feels like a perfect disaster. At least when you please yourself, somebody is happy, all the time.

Please understand that I’m not advocating knowingly alienating part of your crowd. I’m simply saying that it is almost impossible to keep everybody equally happy, all night long – with one major exception.

And that is, unless they’re happy because you are happy. If it’s your party, and you are having the time of your life, most of your guests will share in your joy (if not in your musical tastes.)

And frankly, when you are the guest of honor, or when your money is paying for the event, you have every right “to please yourself.” (So thanks for the wise words, Rick. Ozzie and Harriet would be proud!)

Define “Casual”

Monday, September 7th, 2009

Over this past Labor Day weekend, I played for a post-wedding brunch held the morning after the big event. Guests had been told that dress for the affair was casual. But never have I seen “casual” cover so much territory.

Part of this was due to the fact that many of the invitees were from out of town, and had only brought a limited selection of clothes from which to choose. But a lot of the least dressed-up were young locals, which leads me to conclude that the word “casual” itself has now become a subject of considerable generational confusion.

Older guests tend to define the word as meaning blazer but no tie for the guys and informal dresses or slacks for the ladies. But a growing number of younger guests apparently regard it as a license to wear the shirt they slept in, and it is this trend which has prompted some pre-party pre-emptive action by those hosting the events.

At similar gathering recently, the hostess actually called me personally to clarify the parameters of appropriate wear. To her, “casual” meant Tommy Bahama-style shirts and khakis. Apparently, every other guy got the same phone call, because we all showed up dressed for a Carnival Cruise.

Other hosts narrow the variety by designating their dress code as “Business Casual,” “Dressy Casual,” or even “Party Casual.” These terms seem to communicate well to both men and women. And so it is only the generic term itself that has become seriously degraded.

Knowing this, we may soon see the day when an invitation arrives, asking us to wear Clean Casual, or Ironed Casual. Because just as styles change, so do word usages. And it appears that “casual” is a word which now carries a completely different meaning to one generation than another.

The war is over, and the old definition lost. So hostesses, you’ve now got 3 options: Plan to call each guest individually to discuss wardrobe, use modifying terms (like maybe “Country Club Casual?”) in your invitations that make explicit your dress code, or… learn to be okay with greeting a guest at the door who has come “Ultra” Casual.

Hard Times Are GOOD Times For Bargain Hunters!

Wednesday, August 26th, 2009

In the classic Western, The Magnificent 7, Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen – as Chris and Vin – approach gunfighter Bernardo Reilly about joining their team. Reilly, played by Charles Bronson, is chopping wood for his supper. But he speaks with pride about the $600 he was paid for one job and the $800 he received for another. He’s obviously a man who – in the past – was paid a lot of money. Chris tells him, “The job pays $20.” Bernardo first scoffs at the low pay, but then he puts down his ax and says, “Right now – $20 is a lot of money.”

These days, party professionals in general and music providers in particular can identify with Bronson’s comment. They too are accomplished veterans, highly regarded within their industry, and have earned big bucks for their efforts in the past.

But that was then. Today is another story.

Right now, if you are willing to work with them regarding the date of your event, you should be pleasingly surprised how far your entertainment dollar will go. Saturday nights in the very near future, or less than prime times months from now, are selling at discounted rates for the simple reason that event specialists would rather work for less than to not work at all.

One caveat: don’t expect much of a deal on the first and second weekends in December, or on New Year’s Eve. But that open Saturday three weeks from now could be yours for a steal.

Hard times impact the party business more than the neighborhood grocery store or gas station. You’ve got to eat, and your car has to have gas, but you can scale down a party (or even cancel it altogether.) So event professionals are among the first to feel the effects of any economic downturn.

Go ahead, then. Ask a music provider or caterer what they can do for you in your budget range. Chances are very good that they will be thrilled to work with you. Because Charles Bronson was correct: “Right now – $20 is a lot of money.”

Tag-Team Hosting

Wednesday, August 19th, 2009

At most parties, the guests drift in through much of the first hour. Consequently, many hosts and hostesses make themselves available to “work the door,” greeting each new arrival.

Similarly, the final hour of a typical event sees a fairly steady stream of guests exiting. Since they naturally want to thank their hosts before leaving, the hosts are once again at the door and away from their other guests.

In between the start and finish of the evening, lots of parties tend to spread out from room to room, or even indoors and out. No matter how easy a great hostess may make it look, seeing to the needs of many guests over a large area is a daunting task.

So I was terribly impressed last Saturday night by the beautifully coordinated “tag-team” approach to hosting that I witnessed at a house party honoring a golden anniversary. Early on, one of the honorees was always at the door to make each of their special friends and family members feel welcome. But they took turns, relieving each other every ten minutes or so. This allowed the hostess to frequently check the status of the canapes – her special province. After floating around the room, she took over door duties for her husband – whose area of concern was the bar.

When the buffet opened in the second hour, about half the crowd took their plates outside to sit at tables around the swimming pool. The rest of the guests were about equally divided between the living and dining rooms inside. Once again, our host and hostess took turns, neither staying in nor out for too long, and thus making sure that every single guest got “face time” with their hosts.

Not long after the ceremonial cutting of the cake, I noticed that our hostess had casually taken up station at a spot convenient to those who were the first to leave. She didn’t actually stand at the door – that might have been interpreted as inviting guests to leave. Rather, she simply picked a location that made her easy to see for those who chose to leave early. And soon – sure enough – her husband took over for her.

I never thought to ask them whether their choreography was something they had planned beforehand, or was merely the result of 50 years of learning how to read each other’s minds. Either way, their subtle-yet-sophisticated choreography ensured that no one ever had to go looking for their hosts in order to say “hello,” “goodbye,” or “congratulations!”

The Room Looks Great – But How Does It SOUND?

Monday, August 17th, 2009

My town has some beautiful venues for special events – the recently restored Union Station, our art museum, and the lovely Art Deco Centennial Hall at Fair Park, to name a few. One offers lovely vistas of the downtown area, the second puts you up close and personal with Monet and Van Gogh, while the third’s architecture takes you to back to the 1930s glamor of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers. Each is wonderful in its own way, and each lends its own special character to your event.

There’s just one eensy teensy little problem with these – and other, similar – venues: they were never acoustically designed as ballrooms, and they get very loud (as well as very echo-y), very fast.

This poses no problem to the hostess who imports a string quartet for the evening, and schedules no speeches by or for the honorees. Light music (harp or piano are also great) bounces off the stone walls and drifts around the venue, setting an elegant mood.

Unfortunately, loud music is amplified by the hard surfaces, which makes your guests have to shout to hear each other, which then further increases the overall decibel level to the pain threshold and beyond. Speeches become unintelligible jumbles of primary and reflected noise.

So – if you’re planning to have a band and/or speeches at your event – consider a good old-fashioned ballroom for your venue. Most were designed with a comfortable blend of surfaces creating an acoustically neutral environment. Rim shots from the drummer will be heard once, not infinitely. And the spoken word will be understood throughout the room.

What you don’t want is for your guests to say (or shout) to each other, “You know? As a ballroom, this place makes a great train station!”