String of Weddings Yield New Insights

Photos and Commentary by Rick Hiduk

The tradition of June weddings has been broadened over time into two wedding seasons per year; May to early July and late August to October. Couples-to-be smartly avoid what is generally the hottest month of the year, even though Mother Nature always has the final say. I was fortunate to book six weddings for the first season this year and have three to go yet in the fall. Each of these provided a wonderful opportunity to get to know new people or make a special day for established friends. I also learned new tricks of the trade that I can share with other couples.

My weddings this year ran the gamut from upper end, fully-catered affairs to do-it-yourself social hall receptions. I appreciated elements from every one of them and generally saw that the married couples and their families were satisfied with most aspects of these momentous affairs. Nonetheless, when you have six weddings and receptions in close succession, it’s impossible not to make comparisons and to acknowledge a few things that could have been handled differently.

I saw homespun decorations that truly spoke of the couples’ interests, gilded walls and ceilings that oozed luxury, and pure tackiness that still held some charm. I ate great home-cooked food and horrible catered meals. Some venues lent themselves to my set-up better than others, and I would have altered my set-up and program for a couple occasions had I better understood how everything else would flow. I witnessed responsible alcohol consumption indicative of family and friends simply having a good time, and I saw excessive drinking that adversely affected the fun that others were having.

During the course of May and June, my patent line on such affairs evolved slightly from “every wedding is different” to “every wedding is remembered for something.”

On the theme of variance, I’m seeing traditions that were part of every wedding I did in the 1980s and ’90s pushed to the wayside as new activities become standards. I’ve also learned – and do my best to impress on the bride and groom – that, despite their best efforts to control what can and cannot happen during their reception, somebody will challenge their intentions and convince me to make changes to their plans.

For example, the once standard “Chicken Dance” is often on the “do-not-play” lists given to me by the couples. But if Grandma comes up to me with three kids in tow and requests the song – and action on the dance floor is at a lull – I will play it. I have yet to have a couple complain to me for doing so, especially when they see the dance floor fill up and multiple generations squealing with delight.

On that note, my favorite new feature, presented to me last year and now utilized as often as I can convince a couple to let me do it, is the “Generational Dance.” I’m fond of starting with “Love Can Build a Bridge” by the Judds and inviting all married couples to the dance floor, including the bride and groom. Ironically, it’s the one activity that is not focused on the newlyweds, as evidenced when I say “If you’ve been married for at least 24 hours, you can stay on the dance floor.” After the bride and groom leave the floor, I continue the game in increments of six months, a year, three years, five years, 10 and so on until I am down to a handful of couples. Sometimes, the bride and groom are able to provide me with what they believe is the “magic number” representing the longest amount of time that anyone on the dance floor has been married. At one wedding, that number was 63, which was so touching when they found themselves to be alone and getting a heart-felt round of applause.

Falling from favor over the years is the bouquet and garter toss. I make this a point of discussion during my on-site consultation with the couple and caution them that it quite often doesn’t go as well as hoped. Unless you are trying to put a couple together and they are in on the plan, fewer wedding guests over time are even willing to partake in this activity because it can lead to some very awkward moments. Far too often, the widowed aunt catches the bouquet and the 16-year-old boy pulled onto the floor at the last minute catches the garter. Or, worse yet, the 40-something guy who probably has a good reason for not being married catches the garter, and has to push it up the leg of the pretty and shy teenage girl who giddily caught the bouquet. Awkward!

Most importantly, I encourage every bride and groom to make the wedding and reception their own, and more couples are automatically doing so these days. Parents may recommend that certain elements be included because so-and-so will expect it, but it’s still your day. If it really doesn’t suit you or feel comfortable, don’t do it. Many couples feel uncomfortable about my acknowledgments of parents and grandparents in attendance, especially if their folks are remarried. I assure them that such is the case at least 40 percent of the time and that it’s now appropriate to also acknowledge unmarried life partners and same-sex couples. Likewise, it is very common to involve children in the ceremony that were either conceived together or brought into the relationship.

Plan for somebody to do the blessing, even if you are not particularly religious. If the person who officiated the ceremony is staying for dinner, they are often willing to perform this function for you. If not, there’s often a church lay leader among your extended family who is comfortable praying in public. If you are decidedly agnostic, find someone who can thank the guests for being there and bless the food in a secular manner. There will always be people among your guests who will not feel comfortable eating without this simple and poignant act.

As I mentioned earlier in this piece, almost every wedding I’ve done so far had a glitch or two. Food was late more than once and/or cold. At one wedding, the caterers allowed people to serve themselves from only one side of the tables, which took 100 people forever to get their meals and eat. Either the caterers, who merely stood on the opposite side of the table doing almost nothing, should have dished out the food or gotten out of the way to allow for double access. (You can still easily change out trays with this method of serving.)

One venue had great service so far as getting the dinners out, but nobody seemed to have a concept of clearing plates as they were emptied. The entire room was cleared at one time, which slowed down the reception. My average crowd size was 125 people, with as few as 75 and as many as 200. That many people have a variety of diet needs and preferences. Two weddings had no fruit or vegetables among the hors d’oeuvres, and one had no fruit or vegetables as part of the meal at all. Thank God I had a bag of trail mix with raisins and craisins in it when my sugar level began to tank!

There were several different approaches to alcohol. Most events allowed access to and consumption of some alcohol before the reception, but most guests were reticent to imbibe too heavily, which I thought was awesome. I’ve said many times that, despite the consumption of alcohol, I’d rather provide my services for a wedding than a bar because everyone is drinking for a common cause. In a bar, I have no idea why people are drinking or what direction it may take them. At a wedding, there’s usually more than a few people looking out for those who might drink too much or veer off the beaten path.

At one event, however, the wedding party itself was trashed before the ceremony even started. I heard that they were as well during the rehearsal the night before, and the minister was understandably at his wits end with them by Saturday afternoon. “I want shock collars on all of them!” he stammered to me as we and the venue manager tried to pull them together for the ceremony. I felt his pain again an hour later. Trying to coordinate them for their return to the hall after taking photos was like herding cats. They proceeded to make rambling, distasteful toasts, request vulgar music, and fall down and break more glassware on the dance floor than at any other wedding.

One of the most important lessons that I learned this season, however, was that, if you give the guests and wedding party too much space, they will spread out and fill it. This makes it very challenging to bring together the people needed for special moments and makes it especially difficult to keep the dance floor full. In addition to resorts, where people tend to migrate back to areas where they were held for a any period of time, LazyBrook Park provided way to much space to roam, especially because the weather was nice. Ask the venue manager or me ahead of time what can be done to help keep the party together.

I’ll spare any one venue or vendor the indignity of singling them out for what I feel were “no pass” grades, but I will happily share with you what I thought were the best of the best experiences I’ve had so far this year.

Best venue: Pine Barn Inn in Danville. I was actually surprised that they were planning a rebranding campaign and remodeling because it is already beautiful.

Best food: Jess & Jennifer’s wedding at the Scranton Country Club. Incredible hors d’oeuvres, dinner, and dessert.

Best service: Pine Barn Inn again. These people didn’t miss a beat. They would come out of nowhere to remove an empty glass or plate. Scranton Country Club did a fine job, but it bothered me that the roles of their staff were so clearly defined by sex.

Most interesting venue: The Inn on Quarry Glen in Sheshequin, Bradford County. A former Victorian gentleman’s club with a wooded grotto and two bridges spanning a charming stream.

Best coordination of guest movements: a tie between the Scranton Country Club and Shadowbrook Resort. Erica at Shadowbrook insisted to Colin and Sabrina, “People like to be moved around.”

Luckiest couple: Ryan and Kristine booked the pavilion by the creek at LazyBrook Park for an outdoor May 5 wedding. It was still snowing in late April and very cold the day we met there. Spring rains took a break the a day before their wedding, and it was 75 degrees and sunny throughout their event.

Most unique reception: Matt and Dani’s on June 2. They met as managers of Reaper’s Revenge, a haunted attraction that still keeps them busy every fall. Many of their co-workers were in attendance, which led to Halloween-themed decorations, including carved melon-o-lanterns on each table. Dan and Michele’s biker-themed wedding certainly provided it’s unique moments as well.

Best combination of families: Though several of the six couples were uniting more than themselves this year, Ryan and Kristine brought five children together who were already clearly bonded. They even asked me to sing an altered version of the Brady Bunch theme as their entrance music. Matt and Dani brought a similar number of kids together, providing me with one of several cute sidekicks I had for events.

Best dancers: Not only was the dance floor full from the first song at Bill and Patricia’s wedding on May 9, these people knew how to dance. Even the older couples would stay on the floor when I mixed into a newer song, tap out a few beats and break into some wonderful swing or fox trot and keep on going.

Most elegant affair: a tie between Bill and Patricia’s reception, which offered modern glitz and Jess and Jennifer’s, which was truly luxurious due to the age of the well-kept venue.

Coldest wedding: Colin and Sabrina’s wedding on May 12 at Shadowbrook. Though the rain finally let up by the start of the ceremony, which was supposed to be held on a golf green, the pavilion was cool and damp, and the dampness caused my hard drive to reboot at a crucial moment. Jess and Jennifer’s wedding on May 19 was a close second, but the Scranton Country Club was better equipped to deal with it.

Hottest wedding: Dan and Michele on June 30 in Sheshequin. Despite the tall trees that shaded us for most of the event, temperatures hovered in the low 90s, and the humidity off the river actually made things more oppressive as the sun set. The bride almost passed out twice due to the heat, but we all survived. Like I mentioned earlier, every wedding is remembered for something, and the record heat of that day will surely be reflected in every memory and photo taken.

Though I am doing less DJing as my weekday career as a freelance write and project coordinator expands, I still want to do weddings. I find them to be so satisfying for the amount of planning and relationship building that goes into them. Feel free to call me for your wedding or family or class reunion in 2019 at 570-833-8056.

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