Tennessee Williams once wrote, “In memory, everything seems to happen to music.” That romantic, poetic sentiment undoubtedly applies to one of the most memorable days of your life: your wedding. The music you choose for your reception expresses your love, personality as a couple and perhaps even your sense of humor. It’s also a way to lightheartedly get your guests to mingle, celebrate, let loose and dance.
The most common ways to go about this are either to hire a DJ or hire a live musician or band. If you’ve already made an indecisive, eclectic 10-hour playlist for a three-hour party, you’ll probably want to hire a DJ, make some request, and leave the rest up to the entertainer you’ve hired. If you’re more of a live music fan, hire a wedding band. Fortunately for New Orleans brides, there are multitudes of options to choose from and with plenty of experience to boot.
Kevin Diggs sings with 5 Finger Discount, a high-energy group that can play “any type of music,” and he strives to engage everyone in the crowd, ranging from the flower girl to the great-grandmother of the bride. The group, which has been together for 11 years, has played for at least 200 weddings over the years. “Generally, we pick the set,” he says. “However, the style and taste of our couple does determine what songs we choose to play that night and what we might decide to leave out.”
Rick Gardache of Decades Music Entertainment, a professional entertainment service, says he has developed a simple but effective way to approach the subject of wedding reception music. He likes to sit down with the bride and groom, who will provide a short list of songs that they want to be played, as well as a short list of songs they definitely do not want on the list. He also matches the wedding style to the musical entertainment that will best suit it, whether it’s a DJ, cover band, second line brass band – or all of the above.
Because he’s been at it for a long time, Gardache has the ability to “read” the audience, and adjust the music based on the vibe and feel of the room, taking into account the majority age group, style of wedding, lighting, ambiance and other factors that may come into play. He even considers whether or not the bar opened early to gauge how wild the dance party will get. “There are so many songs out there that can create an impact,” Gardache says. “We want your wedding to be unique but fun.”
Gardache also has a warning for soon-to-be brides: “Don’t let entertainment fall as the last thing on the to-do list. Remember, your entertainment will set the mood; your guests will talk about how much fun they had. Also, shop for quality, not for price. This is an important day; remember to make good decisions.”
Steve Alfonso of the Bucktown All-Stars has been playing at weddings and special events with the popular cover band for more than 20 years. It’s common that his band must be booked up 10 to 14 months in advance, so brides should keep in mind that it’s wise to start planning the wedding music early on, right after the engagement. Alfonso encourages brides to pick a band that represents the type of reception they want. While he and his band accept requests and perform wedding standards, he says that it “makes sense to let the band do their thing.” “This is what we do,” he says. “You go to a restaurant because you want to eat their food. This is a form of entertainment that you want to buy. Certain songs don’t jive with our identity.” His band, he says, is exceptionally good at getting crowds on their feet, engaging those of all ages and starting a dance party. “It can be a euphoric experience,” he says, and the bride doesn’t have to micro-manage the set list.
Karen Wall of The Twilight Band says her band has been playing at wedding receptions for more than 20 years, and they play everything from Big Band to swing and hip hop, plus New Orleans jazz and R&B. She echoes the sentiment of Alfonso that the bride and groom normally leave the set list up to the band. However, most have their first dance song picked out, of course. “It’s an honor to be a part of it,” she says.
The classics, disco and current hip hop songs are among her repertoire. “Nothing is too bizarre when it comes to music.”
Without a doubt, there’s one thing to keep in mind. Diggs of 5-Finger Discount puts it perfectly: “Have fun,” he says. “It’s one night, and your guests are only going to go as far as you take them. Remember that it’s your big day and they are waiting for you to lead. Think of us as your partner, helping you to make the event the best it can be.”
Where to take Dance Lessons
You need some basic dancing moves for your wedding reception. These three places offer dance lessons for you and your husband-to-be.
Ballroom Dancing by Janis
(504) 712-9924, ballroomneworleans.com
If you’re not into dancing in front of others yet, dance instructor Janis Hornsby offers private lessons to brides and grooms. Hornsby has been a ballroom dancer for 35 years, and has a packed resume, including when she was finalist in the U.S. Ballroom Championship.
1719 Toledano St., (504) 897-0327, dancequarter.com
Dance Quarter can help you get ready for your first dance as husband and wife with private lessons. Dance Quarter also offers a bachelorette party package, which includes a dance instructor, a welcoming cocktail and more.
5150 Hwy. 22, Suite A-5, Mandeville, (985) 966-0178, mandevilleballroom.com
For brides on the fence about signing up for dance lessons, Mandeville Ballroom offers a free 40-minute introductory lesson. If you want to teach all your friends to dance, Mandeville Ballroom offers a wedding party package for a minimum of six people.
The Experts’ Suggestions for Songs
“What a Wonderful World” by Louis Armstrong
“Love Shack” by the B-52’s
“Twist and Shout” by the Beatles
“Burning Down the House” by the Talking Heads
“When You Say Nothing At All” by Alison Krauss
“You Make My Dreams” by Hall & Oates
Bride & Groom’s first dance
“At Last” by Etta James
“Sideways” by Santana featuring Citizen Cope
“Always and Forever” by Luther Vandross
“So Happy Together” by the Turtles
Father & Daughter Dance
“Father and Daughter” by Paul Simon
“Unforgettable” by Nat King Cole and Natalie Cole
Mother & Son Dance
“Days Like This” by Van Morrison
“Get Down Tonight” by KC & The Sunshine Band
“Yeah” by Usher
Line Dance Favorites
“The Wobble” by V.I.C.
“The Cupid Shuffle” by Cupid
Song to Wrap up the Night
“Stay” by Jackson Browne
“Do Whatcha Wanna” by Rebirth Brass Band