The Music and the Night

Choosing a band that’s right for your reception

hen my best friend got married in the New Hampshire countryside a couple of years ago, it was a lavish affair by any standards. Never mind that there was a private lake on the groom’s family’s estate or that they’d cut down several trees to make a clearing for the massive, chandeliered tent. What impressed me most was the music at the reception. Guests were welcomed onto the property with champagne, passed canapés and a string quartet on the deck of the two-story boathouse. During dinner under the tent, we were serenaded by a talented and mild-mannered guitarist playing familiar love songs. Later, as the party got going, one of the best wedding bands I’ve ever heard – complete with a horn section – took the stage and had almost everyone on their feet before the night was over. And when the old folks went home, the younger set headed back to the boathouse for a little late-night karaoke.
Now, such musical extravagance is hardly the norm, but the variety represented does outline some of the options available to you for the big day. When choosing the music for your reception, it’s important to consider your guests, says Cheryl Carpenter, wedding coordinator at the Hotel Monteleone.
“Take into consideration the average age and general disposition of the guests,” says Carpenter. For instance, an older, more conservative crowd might enjoy classical music from a small ensemble, while a younger, livelier crowd wants a band that will make them want to dance all night.
“Some brides like the idea of having a jazz band,” Carpenter adds. “And while jazz is very popular in New Orleans, I have to remind my brides that it’s not usually what people at a reception will get up and dance to.”
To find a crowd-pleasing band, think back to a reception where you were a guest and there were more people on the dance floor than off. If you don’t remember the name of the band, make a few calls and find out. Or if the venue you’ve chosen hosts a lot of wedding receptions, they should be able to make some recommendations and/or provide a list of bands and contact numbers. These days, many bands also have Web sites that may provide additional information that will help you make a decision.
Choosing a band from a list can be tricky. Look for familiar names and ask a few trusted friends for their input. If you’ve never heard a certain band, first ask for a list of songs in their repertoire. If the list looks good, ask for a demo tape. If you like what you hear, go to one of their gigs and get a feel for the kind of energy and presence they have onstage.
“I often advise my clients to consider booking a band that has at least one male and one female vocalist,” Carpenter says. “That way they can add more songs and variety for their guests.”
But some couples already know exactly what they want, and they will accept no substitutes.
“I’ve had several couples actually move the date of their wedding in order to book the band they want,” Carpenter says.
There are a handful of local bands in high demand for weddings – the Bucktown All-Stars, the Boogie Men, Bobby Cure and the Summertime Blues, to name a few.
While some of the more popular bands might come with a bigger price tag, those rates may vary at certain times of the year, says Carpenter.
“A band you hire to play at your reception in July or August – typically a slow season for weddings in New Orleans – might charge a good deal more at the end of the year, when they are also in demand for holiday parties,” she explains.
And exactly how much money are we talking about? In general, Carpenter says, decent to excellent wedding bands usually charge between $1,800 and $3,500.
And a handshake won’t do; get it in writing. Most wedding bands will provide their own contract.
“Contracts are getting more and more specific,” says Carpenter. “They cover everything from set-up and tear-down time, to parking, meals and drinks for the band members. Just be sure to read the fine print.”

• How many years of professional experience do you have?
• Approximately how many weddings have you played?
• Can you provide references?
• What will the band wear onstage?
• Does your band have liability insurance?
• What is your payment/cancellation policy?
• Can someone in the band act as a master of ceremonies?
• Do you take requests?
• How many breaks do you take and how long is each break?

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