Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Stephen & Juliette at Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn with Bijoux Events, Camelot Party Rentals & La Tavola Fine Linens

If you have read previous blog posts of mine, you know that I absolutely love what I do, where I get to do it, and above all, whom I get to do it for.  Every wedding seems to be the best one yet- I thrive on all that enthusiasm and excitement, and my phenomenal brides and grooms just shine on their day. Such was the case this past weekend up at Squaw Valley with Stephen and Juliette.

When I met with Stephen & Juliette I knew immediately I wanted to be a part of their wedding. They are fun, easy to get to know, and the love that they have for one another is always apparent, even in a conversation with their DJ. It is an easy fluidity with which they speak, always mindful of the other,-that loving glow of happiness tangibly there. They were funny, full of life, and had some definite ideas on how they wanted their day and evening to look, feel, and sound. I am 100% all about that. I love to tweak the music, events, and the general vibe to match that vision that they have in their minds, hopefully surpassing their expectations. You don't want your wedding and reception to be ordinary- you want it to be the one that others want to emulate, and this one was extraordinary.

First off, they chose Plumpjack as their venue. Plumpjack Squaw Valley Inn is a special place near the tramway at the edge of the Village up in Squaw Valley. It is its own complete venue and the general Squaw Valley visitors, even numbering in the thousands as they did that day (it was Squaw Valley's Earth Day celebration) seem miles away. There is a outdoor creekside spot for ceremonies, an intimate pool area with outdoor bar, grill and lights strung between trees and cool granite stones for cocktails, and two stories of available reception space. The food is always delicious, the servers friendly and efficient, and all my parties there have rocked the upstairs dance floor to the point that I am thankful I don't run turntables and vinyl anymore :)  Spectacular venue, and it was a beautiful April day that seemed more like a day in June or July.

To further differentiate & accentuate their day, there were countless decor and style touches put in place by Jessica from Bijoux Events out of Santa Barbara. Jessica, who is also Juliette's big sister, really went above and beyond in so many ways. There were fantastic chairs from Camelot Party Rentals and spectacular coverings from La Tavola Fine Linen. There were flowers everywhere & lots of chalkboard signs around the property to guide guests to the various events. There was a very unique setup upstairs for both dinner and dancing. So many small touches that just multiplied the special feeling of the evening. And her organizational skills were top-notch. Her communication with Bonnie and the rest of the Plumpjack staff left nothing to chance, and she was always ahead of the events, making sure that the next one was already coordinated and set to go off perfectly. She was a true professional to work with and made my job so much easier. Yet she was also able to enjoy the wedding & reception as a member of the bridal party and sister to the bride. And late that night, when I was finally packed up and leaving, there was Jessica taking care of umpteen details of cleanup and takedown. Fantastic job Jessica!

The ceremony was in that outdoor spot that seems to have the mountains surrounding it in all directions and a brook busily babbling beside it. I played "First Breath After a Coma" by Explosions in the Sky for the bridal party entrance and then the Piano Guys' version of "1000 Years" for Juliette's walk down the aisle. Officiating was PJ, Jessica's husband, and his friendly voice almost cracked a few times as he presided over his sister-in-law's nuptials. It was his first time doing a wedding, but it did not show. He did a great job and it added yet another personal touch to the day.  Stephen & Juliette read vows to one another that had everyone smiling & sniffling a bit, and then they were kissing and being pronounced husband & wife. Juliette had me keep the recessional song a secret from Stephen, and when it played it seemed to perfectly punctuate the moment: Taylor Swift's "Love Story".
DJ in training :)
I had set up a small system for cocktails and soon everyone was enjoying drinks and appetizers around the pool. Juliette & Stephen had some specific artists in mind for the mood they were trying to achieve, and I got many compliments about their choices and my expanding on that vibe. The newlyweds only took about 30-40 minutes for the after ceremony pictures, so they were able to enjoy the cocktail reception as well. I couldn't resist though... Stephen is an IRS agent so I had to play "Taxman" by the Beatles which got a lot of smiles and people singing along. Very fun!
First Dance!
Soon we all were headed upstairs for dinner and the rest of the reception. When everyone was seated, I introduced Juliette & Stephen and they danced their first dance to "Drunk on You" by Luke Bryan. When they had finished and the cheering had subsided, I handed the mic to Juliette's dad Tom and played a couple of curious requests- first an EFX track featuring cows mooing and cowboys calling. Then I mixed in a snippet of the William Tell Overture (the theme from the Lone Ranger) and that surprised and got a big smile from Tom. He then proceeded to tell the guests in his welcome speech that the song has a special meaning to his family at their summer secret camping spot. Another fantastic way that a moment was made even more unique and poignant.

Dinner was a buffet and was delicious- Plumpjack always does such a great job. Soon Bonnie and her team were bringing champagne around to the tables for the toasts which were lead off by Stephen's dad Mike, followed by his brothers Danny & Brian and ended by our coordinator/MoH Jessica. Tom had kept the next song, "Sunrise/Sunset" a secret from his daughter, and everyone loved their father daughter dance. Next Nina, Stephen's mom, came up and took the mic for a moment. She wanted everyone to know that the Mother/Son song she had picked out was perfect except for one thing- the word "friend". She said the song said everything she wanted to relay to Stephen, but she wanted everyone to replace "friend" with "Mom" when they sang along.  So I started up their song, "That's What Friends Are For" by Dionne Warwick and everyone sang along, emphasizing "Mom" every time. Just another magical moment amongst many. Did I tell you I love what I do?

Dancing started up with "Bang! Bang!" which Stephen & Juliette knew would get everyone up in a hurry. It then continued non-stop the rest of the evening. It was an enthusiastic crowd and every song seemed to get them more fired up. Juliette & Stephen had picked a few songs but most of the rest of the evening I was inundated by great requests and was able to craft some very fun mixes. I liked the fact the the newlyweds had specific "no plays"- after all, it is their day and they should be able to hear  what they love or not hear what they don't. They did not want any organized or line dances such as Cupid Shuffle, YMCA, Cotton-Eye Joe etc. For some DJs this can be a problem. Many DJs have sets they rely one no matter the crowd, and those songs tend to get people up onto the floor. They are fun, but kind of cliche so many brides & grooms are nixing them for their reception. I personally like the challenge of not using those songs to fuel dance floor participation. It makes my choices and mixing much more important and the mix becomes a living, breathing, dancing entity that everyone responds to. Matter of fact I did not have one request for a song on their "no play" list. To me, that means I was hitting on all cylinders :)

An Anniversary Dance highlighted the first slow break- I was cool that there were multiple couples still up after I reached 40 years. Just a great feeling and inspiration to Stephen & Juliette and to all of us. I also loved the fact that right afterwards I played a request for "Moon River" by Andy Williams and the dance floor remained packed- even the younger couples were feeling the vibe. After a great oldies set, Brian and Danny, Stephen's brothers, led everyone singing a Sto-Lat, a traditional Polish song celebrating happy moments. It apparently means 100 years of happiness, and though I am part Polish I hadn't seen this before. Very cool moment!

The rest of the evening was spent on the dance floor playing everything from the Gap Band to Bruno Mars; from Sweet Caroline to Gold Digger; and from Sam Smith to Garth Brooks. I loved that Juliette & Stephen had sneakily found out some of their family's and friends' favorite songs and had me dedicate and play them. Jason Mraz serenaded Brian & Shawn. Linda (Juliette's mom) rocked to Bob Seger with Tom, and our officiant/coordinator duo PJ & Jessica had a moment of their own amidst all that they had helped bring together that day with a little Coldplay.  When at last the clock conspired against us, I played a last song request of Juliette, "Ain't No Sunshine" by Bill Withers. Everyone went crazy though when I mixed in and reprised "Love Story" right at the end. Stephen & Juliette had one more perfect moment in a day & evening full of perfect moments.
If I was a better photog, this pic would be spectacular- even so it is my fav :)
Thanks to Plumpjack for everything. Thanks x 1000 to Jessica at Bijoux Events for all of her hard work and artistry- a true labor of love. Thanks to PJ for a fantastic ceremony. Finally, thanks to Stephen & Juliette for allowing me to be a part of your amazing day and evening. So much fun! Congrats you two!
Last song... "Baby just say Yes"

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Jeremy & Stacey at Gar Woods Grill & Pier on Lake Tahoe with the String Beings, Petal to the Metal, and Kelly Gesick Photography

There could not have been a more glorious Spring day for Stacey & Jeremy's big day this past weekend up beside beautiful Lake Tahoe. They said their "I do's" at a church in what Van from the String Beings said was a very lovely ceremony. In case you are unfamiliar with the String Beings, they are a string group that has provided ceremony and cocktail music at many of my functions, and they do a first-class job. Their repertoire is immense and I had the pleasure of being set up behind them at the reception and watched them work their musical magic. It is neat to see two violinists and a cellist playing completely different melodies and notes but interweaving together into something that is more than the sum of the parts. They played classical pieces, Beatles songs, and beautiful standards that illuminated the ceremony and cocktail hour with musical light. I have tens of thousands of songs and plenty of great choices for cocktail hour but there is nothing quite like a competent string group to really set a sophisticated tone.
The String Beings
Jeremy and Stacey chose Gar Woods Grill & Pier on Lake Tahoe's North Shore as their reception site. It has the vibe of a barefoot bar in the Caribbean but with food, drinks, and service to match the loftiest restaurant in the state. Throw in the spectacular Lake views, and you really have a top-notch venue. When out-of-towners come in, we like to take them on a drive around the Lake and invariably we end up at Gar Woods for lunch and are never disappointed. Weddings there are special. The entire upstairs is reserved for the event, so you really feel as if you are in private club. I am always amazed at the friendliness and efficiency of the people working there. Monica was the banquet captain, and she was always in motion, making sure every guest was treated superbly. The wait staff are exceptional as well. I would rank them up there with the best in the area- neck in neck with such other stellar venues such as Edgewood and The Grove at Southcreek. All three venues deliver extraordinary service, and I think it is the high standards they set coupled with the longevity of their staff. Russell, one of the super friendly and helpful waiters that night is a great example. He took care of countless requests with friendly expediency. He told me that it is like a big family there at Gar Woods that he himself has been a part of for better than 16 years. And then there is the food and drinks. Stacey and Jeremy really took care of their guests. Not only were appetizers awaiting their arrival, as well as wine, beer and Wet Woodies, the guests each got to select their entree from a special menu Stacey and Jeremy had chosen, which were then cooked to order. Very impressive (and delicious!).

The guests arrived, enjoyed the appetizers and cocktails along with the String Beings' music, found their appointed tables and drank in the views. Some walked out to the dock, others out onto the balcony and a better setting that afternoon could not be imagined. Geese shared the almost windless Lake with paddle boarders and the occasional pleasure cruising boat. Soon I announced the arrival of the newly married couple accompanied by appropriate string music from the Beings and the reception  really began.

Two other hardworking professionals really contributed to Stacey & Jeremy's special day: Sandy from Petal to the Metal and Kelly from Kelly Gesick Photography

Sandy is a true floral artist whom I am always happy to work with. Her designs are gorgeous and her attention to detail is phenomenal. I have blogged about her work in the past and she is a wedding professional whom I wholeheartedly recommend. Her flowers for this occasion were various shades of white and simply but elegantly presented, and they really set the mood that Stacey wanted to establish. I think they complemented her dress and those of her bridesmaids perfectly. Sandy was at the venue even before I arrived, and that is saying something as I always arrive earlier than anyone. She worked hard to make sure that everything was perfect and, while I am no floral expert, I think it was. Petal to the Metal rocks.

So as a wedding DJ who also is the coordinator for the reception I am always on the lookout for the photographer. Their arrival is a sign the the bride & groom are not far behind and I like to work closely with him/her to make sure we are in unison for the events and that the pictures will turn out perfectly. I soon noticed a woman in a lovely red dress with a couple of cameras in her hands coming up the stairs- it was Kelly Gesick. Her husband Jeff was the Best Man, and instead of the usual photographer attire (nice but functional) she was decked out as beautifully as any other guest or bridal party member (excluding Stacey of course) and was furiously shooting away. Throughout the evening she was everywhere taking the usual shots but also taking candid photos of guests and family reacting to the wonderful evening around them. She really went above and beyond, was easy to coordinate everything with, and still was able to enjoy herself as a guest here and there. Just super to work with!

Getting back to the reason why we were all gathered there: Jeremy & Stacey...

They were able to mingle a bit before the waiters took orders for the entrees and then delivered the salads, but soon everyone was enjoying the fabulous Gar Woods deliciousness.  I have to say, the guests were really dinging their glasses all night, probably the most insistent crowd I can remember.
Stacey & Jeremy didn't seem to mind the command performances though :)

Soon the Best Man Jeff opened up the toasting with an articulate soliloquy that I thought one of the finest toasts I'd heard in a while. He was followed by the Maid of Honor and sister of the bride Stefanie who also hit it out of the park with her toast. Dads and other family and guests followed, ending with a heartfelt thank you from the newlyweds. Just as the last glass was tipped and drained, the sunset began to set and Kelly took Jeremy & Stacey out to the pier for some spectacular pictures. People began to congregate on the balcony to watch the newly married pair so I opened the door near me and pointed a speaker out so they could have a soundtrack while they posed. A little Bruno Mars and Dixie Cups punctuated Kelly's great picture taking :)

Sunset pix with Kelly Gesick
Soon they were back inside and cutting their cake accompanied by Norah Jones' "Come Away With Me", but Jeremy had a surprise for the onlookers. When they had sliced their first piece and were ready to feed it to one another, I mixed in the theme from Mortal Kombat- very fun! There were a lot of surprised but joyously vocal guests pumping their fists and urging them to mash each other. A very playful moment magnified by a little inspiration. Very fun!

Groovin slowly...
The First Dance was next, and the song they picked for it was exceptional: "Groovin Slowly" by the John Butler Trio. It captured their uniquely fun personalities, their love for one another, and the admiration of their guests like no other song in recent memory. Friends were holding on to one another singing it, swaying to the music just as Jeremy & Stacey were doing the same on the dance floor. I love it when couples choose songs that they identify with, that have special meanings to them and their loved ones, and are just different from the average choice. Whenever I play that song from now on, I will remember fondly that moment in time when the world revolved around them, and so will everyone else there that shared in that moment.

Stacey then danced with her father Steve to "Butterfly Kisses" and I passed on their gracious invitation for all of the other fathers & daughters to join them halfway through. Then Jackie danced with her son Jeremy to "In My Life" by the Beatles and more special moments were created. Some OAR led off the open dancing and the dance floor rocked all night long, with everything from Zeppelin to Garth Brooks and Journey to the No Doubt and everything in between. Lots of great requests and dedications all throughout the evening. My two favorites were a grandmother's dedication of Taylor Swift's "Never Grow Up" for her granddaughter and another guests Fountains of Wayne dedication for Stacey's mom :)  All the guys sang it to the mother of the bride and people were singing it to her late that night in the parking lot as I loaded up. So awesome!  That's the kind of crowd that a DJ like me loves- fun, involved, and ready to dance! Fortunately most of my crowds are like that. It is a direct reflection of the bride & groom, and as you can tell I get to play for the best brides and grooms :)

Last dance
As the night at Gar Woods ended, I played Semisonic's "Closing Time" and the friends and family of Jeremy & Stacey encircled them as they had one last dance. Such an amazing venue, crowd and couple!  Thanks to everyone at Gar Woods for going above and beyond. Thanks to Van and his String Beings for their artistry. Thanks to Sandy at Petal to the Metal for her beautiful handiwork. Thanks to Kelly Gesick for being both a great guest and a fantastic photographer. But thanks most of all to Stacey & Jeremy. I really enjoyed being a part of your fabulous evening and I wish you all the best in your new adventure as husband and wife. Congrats you two!