4 Tips to Get Your Party Started
Photo: Adam Nyholt
Here’s the thing about wedding entertainment: It’s not just music. It’s not just announcements and introductions. It’s not just props and lights and special effects. It is, in fact, an intoxicating blend of all of these elements—mixed with a savvy sense of crowd emotion and event flow. A sharp outfit doesn’t hurt, either. The best entertainers bring all these elements to the party, and bring the party energy up when it’s time to dance, and back down, when the moment calls for…mellow. The entertainers featured in this story are some of the very best in the business, and they’ve got the tools, talent, technology and tips to ensure your celebration is one guests won’t ever forget.
Good vs. Great
Lewis Grell, founder of in-demand event entertainment and production firm LG Event Entertainment & Production, reminds wedding couples, “If you have a good DJ, guests will not remember the music experience much. They will comment more on the decor or food.” But, he adds, with a “great DJ,” guests will actually be disappointed when the last song of the evening is announced. Hire a truly talented DJ and MC for your wedding, and you should “be prepared for a flood of social media comments and text messages on how fantastic of a time they had on your wedding day.”
“What separates a good wedding entertainer from a great wedding entertainer is experience,” notes Philip Morgan of DJU Entertainment, which provides music, professional lighting and photo booths, and ensures that every one of its DJs is also a trained, experienced master of ceremonies. “Being a wedding DJ and MC goes much further than just the music. It’s really understanding the flow of a wedding, the timing of all of the important moments. To be a great DJ/MC, you really have to put yourself in the couple’s position, and understand what the moment means to them.”
According to Michael Graham II, owner of Signature EvenTx, “The major differences come with the skill of the DJ to read your crowd and understand that even if a song is popular, it may not be the right song for your event.” He notes that, along with a skilled DJ to handle the music, Signature EvenTx provides professional MCs, who “never take the spotlight off the couple, but enhance the overall experience of the night for everyone.” He adds: “If your DJ is reading the crowd to keep the flow of the night moving, then your MC is reading that same crowd for reactions and making sure your guests maintain that overall ‘thrill’ the entire night.”
And don’t forget: If you opt for a live band, as many couples are doing, your bandleader should be just as capable of communicating with the crowd as any expert DJ. Deno Taglioli, who founded the Dallas-based (and Houston-available) Emerald City Band—the award-winning group has played the weddings of such luminaries as Dallas Cowboys Hall-of-Famer Emmitt Smith and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban—says, “A great wedding bandleader has a certain instinct—the ability to think one step ahead of the audience. A great bandleader has the ability to look at the different age groups, and knows how to interact with the audience and have everybody dancing.” Also a manager of event bands, through sister company Emerald City Management, Taglioli notes: “We measure our success by the dance floor. If only half the people are dancing, I’m not doing the full job I was hired to do.”
Danny Osterwisch, of top Houston event band Danny Ray & The Acoustic Production, notes, “I vividly remember every reception I’ve been to as a guest over the past 15 years where there was a band—even before I was in the industry—and I remember the things I thought worked…and what didn’t.” The performer and MC, whose band expertly handles everything from classical cello to cocktail jazz to high-energy pop and rock covers that have the crowd wild for more, adds, “Two things are essential to a great reception: first, finding some way to engage with the room and guests; it should always feel like everything a band is doing is unique to that crowd and moment. This can be done through stage presence and performance, song choices, or off-the-cuff moments. The other is not to stop. The second a song ends, get right into the next one to keep the energy up!”
While most people don’t think “rager” when they envision a wedding ceremony—let’s be real, all eyes will be on you and your beloved for this portion of the event—the moments leading up to, and following, the exchange of vows, are sure to set a certain mood that will continue into the rest of your evening. The last thing you want is to walk down the aisle to music that puts your guests to sleep or, even worse, distracts from the enchantment of the occasion.
Of course, you are the main focus here, so make sure to choose a form of entertainment that complements your personality and goes with the theme of your wedding. “Music can set the tone for an event and create a certain vibe,” says Scott Graham of Scott Graham Piano. “For a unique event, try to match the music with the theme.” Have your heart set on a 1920’s Gatsby-themed wedding? Let Scott set the tone with vintage jazz melodies. If you have a soft spot for the old-school crooners, Houston wedding singer Dino John might be your man. Paying homage to the likes of Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, Dino sings smooth classics in a timeless romantic style, which perfectly sets the scene for wedding ceremonies, cocktail hours and receptions that appeal to younger and older generations alike.
The cocktail hour is a chance for your guests to sip those signature cocktails you and your spouse have created, taste some delicious hors d’oeuvre, and mingle with old friends, before you and your new spouse once again become the center of attention. While some will be anxious to get the show started, the point is not to overwhelm their senses, but to allow each person to ease into the evening at their own pace. Grell recommends slower-tempo music to start, although “the most important thing is the volume of the music,” which shouldn’t disrupt the conversations circulating through the room. And remember, you can’t go wrong with mellow instrumentals of classic standards such as “Sentimental Reasons” or “Lush Life,” which create a relaxing and comfortable environment for your guests.
After drinks, dinner, speeches, toasts and first dances, it’s time to kick it up a notch. “To pick up the energy, you want to get a solid group of dancers out on that dance floor,” Morgan says. A great way to do this, he notes, is “either with a line dance or a very high-energy song—it doesn’t necessarily have to be the newest song out there, but a classic dance tune, to get everyone involved.”
Filling the dance floor often is about “finding the right song, the song that works,” Taglioli says. But sometimes, he adds, it’s not about a song at all: “There are times when my band will vamp before beginning a song, not even play music, but just talk to the crowd. I’ll let them know, ‘What we’re gonna do is party and bring two families together, and we’re gonna do that on this dance floor.’ Sometimes our horn section will go out into the crowd, our singers will get out there with the guests, we’ll get people up and moving, and then we’ll move into the song.”
Grell suggests having your band or DJ play music attached to happy memories from your childhood. Chances are, those feel-good songs will mean something to your guests as well. When it’s finally time to bust a move, there should be a noticeable “build-up leading into the party,” he adds, with music that gets people on their feet—and keeps them there. While you and your new spouse are the evening’s honorees, and no part of the entertainment should compromise your happiness in any way, the key to keeping guests entertained is knowing—and catering to—the audience. “I often take a look at the crowd, to get a feel for how they are responding to the songs I play, and go from there,” says Scott Graham, who tends to provide a variety of popular hits and classic songs for every generation to enjoy.
And don’t forget to talk to your entertainment company about those extra-special details and entertainment options that can transform your reception into a fully immersive sensory experience that allows even non-dancers to take part in the fun. Signature EvenTx’s Michael Graham recommends “uplights, custom monograms, karaoke, lasers…and even a little something we call Party Central.”
Lastly, no matter what kind of entertainment you choose for your once-in-a-lifetime party, make sure that all your guests are able to enjoy your celebration. If your guest list includes older family members and friends—or very young ones—have special areas, seating (or snoozing) space, and entertainment that will make them feel comfortable and cared-for, while the festivities rage on. They’ll love you for it, as much as you love them for being there, with you, to share your special day.