Once the afterglow of our engagement faded, Janeen and I faced the task of putting together our wedding weekend. Like any sensible man, I dealt myself out of most of the planning, leaving the big decisions in the capable hands of my fiancee and her mother. As they began their work, the picture that slowly emerged was of an upscale November affair in a fancy Chicago hotel. Fine by me.
Although I was thrilled to let Janeen and her mom do most of the planning, I did want to somehow put a personal stamp on the weekend (without any cheeseball poker references). I’ve been to enough weddings to know that the guests are there at least partially because they’re expected to be there. At best, they attend because they are somewhat obliged to “share in your happiness.” At worst, being at the wedding is a outright drag. So when I learned that I’d be asking my friends and family to travel a long way and spend a lot of money, I resolved to make my wedding fun, specifically for my friends. Your great aunt is probably going to have a nice time at your wedding regardless of what the party’s like, but the people you hang out with on a weekend-to-weekend basis are going to be a bit more discerning. Notwithstanding the limitations any wedding planner faces, I wanted a party that they’d enjoy.
Everyone has a different idea of what is fun, and frankly I wasn’t about to speculate on or really accomodate anyone else’s concept. I’m lucky to have a big network of close friends who are familiar with and share in my version of big city fun: late nights at bars, concerts and clubs, with music always playing a central role. And the kind of music that moves me is the kind of music you can lose yourself in; preferably something funky, raw and improvised. Something a wedding band is incapable of producing. While a band that makes you say “Oh, ‘Living on a Prayer!!’ I LOVE this song!” has some merit, my version of a good band makes you say “Jesus, these guys are killing it!” instead. So with Janeen’s blessing, I decided to ask my favorite band to play my wedding.
I discovered Milo Z in 1995 or 1996 when I went to see the Meters at Tramps. Per usual, the Meters tore the place up, but it was the opening act that really blew me away. They did funk music the right way, with a big sound driven by tight horn arrangements. During the solos, the bandleader had a James Brown-esque control of the rhythm section, instructing them how many times to play their vamps (“two times!”). Their songs were funny in the same way old school hip hop was funny: songs about sex, songs with dirty nursery rhymes, plays on words, crowd participation with the vocals. It all amounted to a convenient excuse to bounce to the bass and let the horn riffs fill your earholes. I was smitten. I became a Milo Z devotee, attending countless shows around the city for many years and introducing the band to everyone I knew, including Janeen. If you hung out with me sometime between 1996 and 2003, chances are you and I caught a Milo Z show together. And most everyone agreed with me: it was a guaranteed good time; Milo Z brings it. My friend Steve does Milo Z some justice in this entry on his blog, check it out.
In early 2008 Tramps was long gone (replaced by a dance club that I often frequented–that club is also now closed), but Milo Z was still working the NYC circuit. I contacted the band’s manager and ever-so-slickly dropped the names of many discarded songs and ex-band members to prove that I was a legit old school fanboy. She must have been suitably impressed, because after she conferred with Milo, we struck a deal. She said they didn’t normally play weddings, but would make an exception for me. Milo Z at my wedding. Sweeet!
Unfortunately, my first ever concert booking set off a chain reaction of events and expenses for which I was woefully unprepared. I had booked a New York band to play a Chicago wedding. The band needed to be flown out to Chicago, needed transportation in Chicago, needed hotel rooms in Chicago, needed instruments and sound equipment in Chicago and needed a sound guy in Chicago. All these issues were my responsibility and many turned out to be way more difficult than anticipated. I also had to account for Milo Z’s shortcomings as a wedding band: namely, I had to find a long recording of a Jewish Hora, recordings of songs for the traditional dances Janeen would have with her father and I with my mother and grandmother, and Janeen and I had to personally program the music that would be played at the ceremony, as there is no harp player in Milo Z’s crew. It was a ton of work. Overnight, I had gone from your basic groom-to-be to a club promoter. So much for my detached indifference with respect to the wedding planning.
Milo Z’s gig at my wedding was a closely guarded secret. I wanted to surprise my friends, many of whom were at the introductory show at Tramps and many shows thereafter, and would surely appreciate the surprise guests. In the end, although some of the older guests might have preferred a band that played “Unchained Melody,” I’m happy to say that Milo Z was a huge hit, although the surprise was ruined for many when the band was spotted at the hotel’s front desk. The band was kind enough to learn and play “Sunny” (originally Bobby Hebb, but oft-covered), which they played for our first dance. From that point forward it was a typical Milo Z show, and they even played 20 minutes of overtime when we didn’t want to leave the dancefloor. By the end of the night, I had achieved exactly what I wanted: my new bride and I dancing with our friends to that real live funky getdown on the getdown.
Milo doin’ werrrk.
White man’s overbite + happy bride
The entire wedding weekend was a success, I think. All the planning done by Janeen and her mother was evident: during the whirlwind of activity, I was still able to appreciate how good everything (including Janeen!) looked, how tasty the food was and how happy our guests were. Everyone thinks their own wedding was the bees knees, so take that commentary with a grain of salt. Only the guests are really qualified to rate the party, so you’ll have to talk to someone who was there.
I do know this: Janeen and I are blessed to have so many people in our lives that love us and support us. That statement is eye roll-worthy boilerplate post-wedding blabbering, but I have special reason to believe that it’s the truth. During our wedding weekend there were a number of speeches given on our behalf. It was quite a speechy wedding–in fact, Milo Z’s second set was delayed because all of the speeches ran long. But the speeches were neither boring nor repetitive. Some of the speakers were invited, some were not. Each person had something different to convey, and each speech came from a different angle: some took a comedic or sarcastic approach and some were tender and heartfelt. Some were throughly planned, and one person even employed visual aids. Others were completely improvised on the spot. The sentiment was nevertheless the same throughout, and it was obvious that each speaker held Janeen and I in high esteem. I remain touched and grateful after listening to them and I’m likely to remember each of them forever.
And now here are some more pics. I’ve lifted these from other people’s facebook accounts, so thanks guys.
bustle dat ‘ish, mom.
Janeen & her dad.
I have a lot of good, old friends.