By Ben Olson
I’ve played music at some interesting places in the dozen years I’ve been in a band. Once I played atop the freezers in Winter Ridge, my head just feet from the roof of the store. As people searched for their favorite yogurts and dips, they’d occasionally look up and flinch at the unexpected sight of a bearded idiot in flip-flops with a guitar in his hands.
Another time on tour, we played a bistro in Oregon where every television set was tuned to an apparently important basketball game. Not one customer paid any attention to us or our music, except for brief annoyed looks during loud commercial breaks.
In what might be my most embarrassing gig to date, I actually played at my 20th high school reunion. Talk about lame. We don’t mention that gig in our family.
Then there are weddings. For those who know me well, it’s no secret that I sort of loathe attending weddings. There’s something I dislike about the forced togetherness, the awkward interactions with people you half-know and the potential to rely too much on Dutch courage and make a fool of yourself.
Once or twice a year, my band gets asked to play a wedding, which we both love and hate at the same time. I enjoy playing weddings because they pay well, most people are in a good mood and you can trot out some guilty pleasure covers you wouldn’t normally play at the bars or venues.
“Paid practice,” one of us will say, which is funny because we don’t even practice anymore.
On the other hand, weddings are usually long, hot and a ton of pressure. The bride and groom have probably spent the past six months planning this event, and also likely have imagined the day for years prior. Everyone has this vision of the perfect wedding, as if that has some sway over the success of the relationship. It doesn’t.
Some of my favorite weddings have been ones where it rained buckets, or an uncle got so drunk he fell flat on his face during the reception. Our editor Zach Hagadone’s wedding was held at the Sandpoint City Beach, and right in the midst of his vows to Danielle, a gaggle of geese waddled right through the middle of the ceremony and honked so loudly he had to stand there and wait for them to pass. Wedding or not, geese don’t take any guff.
The perfect wedding just doesn’t exist. Even if it did, I still wouldn’t want to attend it.
That being said, I just played a wedding up in Moyie Springs a couple weeks ago that turned out to be one of our favorites. It was hosted at Ronnigers Organic Farm — along with being cool people, Simon and Marqui Ronniger are vendors at the Sandpoint Farmers’ Market — and was small, fun and unpretentious. We played on a simple stage of pallets and plywood built by the groom himself, ate a fantastic farm-to-table dinner from Cory and Molly at Local 41 Farms and finished our gig in time to put away the gear and drink in earnest with the wedding party. We ended up howling at the moon all night and sleeping in our hammocks on the farm before making the long drive home to recover.
Last year our friends Taran and Kara were married at Beyond Hope Resort and we spent the night dancing with silent disco headsets and slept on our sailboat. Recently our friends Kyle and Katelyn had a fun outdoor wedding and party that reminded me of old times.
Weddings that fun and seamless are far from usual, though. There are the horror stories, too. Once, we played a wedding outside of Seattle where the bride’s dad got so drunk he fell onto the stage and crashed into the drum set. Then the bride demanded we play a specific Journey song and I had to take a set break to learn it before returning to play it badly.
Another wedding took place at Forty One South, but the bride and groom obviously hadn’t thought through their choice of wedding music, because all they wanted to hear was shitkicker country and that’s not our bag.
The most difficult part of playing any wedding — aside from the heat, the duration and the crushing temptation to drink away the awkwardness — is fielding requests from the crowd. We’re not really a “take requests” kind of band, but we can usually land on something close from our 300+ song catalog. But I always feel bad when turning down a request for a song I probably should know if I’m playing weddings.
The bottom line is that no band really enjoys playing a wedding. It’s a subtle reminder that you never really made it as a musician. You’re often treated as the help and shuttled off to a table directly in the hot sun to eat a quick meal between sets. Instead of a two- or three-hour set like we play at local venues, wedding parties often want you to play during the ceremony, dinner and later through the reception. It can turn into upwards of five hours of continuous music. That’s a long time to be doing anything, let alone standing in one place and yelling into a microphone.
With wedding season still going strong, chances are you might have a couple more events before winter blows in and puts a stop to this madness for another year.
After playing one and attending four this year, I’m ready for it. See you in the nuptial trenches.
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