Friday, June 19, 2009

Wedding Wonders, Blunders and Woe - Part 1

Today I played a wedding - my 7th in the last 30 days - at the Empire Club in Little Ferry, NJ. In general, contracting and playing weddings can be tricky and stressful, especially in NYC. Sure, it seems easy enough. But if you happen to do it for a living (and those of you out there who do, know), you realize there are just so many variables. Variables that can, in the best case scenario, be annoying, and in the worst, add up to failure.

First, we have the wedding party. By wedding party, I mean the BRIDE. Now, I would like to start by saying there are some brides that are okay. Several, in fact. But by-and-large, brides are crazy. This usually involves some sort of uber-high-strung behavior, like calling or emailing every few hours to work out some detail no one else seems to care or even know about, selecting music that is only available in Hungary (or not at all) and then freaking out when it doesn't arrive a week before the ceremony, or demanding the full resume and bio of each quartet member along with a list of every venue we've ever played. Brides come in a wide variety. You have your anal brides, your cool brides, your anal brides who think they're cool brides, your cheap brides, your extravagant brides, your clueless brides, your snooty brides...the list goes on and on.

Next, we have the venue. This involves a series of questions: Is the wedding outside? What if it rains? Does the fancy club demand proof of liability insurance? Do they need the papers faxed over or can we bring it on the day of the ceremony? How fancy is it? Do the men need to wear tuxes? What about the ladies? Those types of things. Then we have the issue of equipment. We need to remember music stands, the correct sheet music, the contract (in case of disputes), directions to the venue, a checkbook (to pay the other members) and our instruments (duh).

Next comes the most stressful variable of all - transportation. Usually, if the venue is in Manhattan, we take the train. This is always a little risky, because the train can be unreliable (especially on the weekends) and most of the people I play with happen to live way far away in the butt-fuck of Brooklyn. (Specifically Brighton Beach, which is lovely, unless you want to get somewhere on the train). So we strap our instruments, music stands and volumes of string quartets to our backs and leave really early. If the ceremony is outside the city - Long Island, Upstate, NJ or CT - we usually take a car (on a rare occasion we'll take one of the regional trains that service the area like the Long Island Rail Road or Metro North and then take a cab from the train station- but this is usually quite daunting and more expensive).

Driving is always a complete and utter crap shoot. You may leave 20 minutes late and wind up arriving at your destination two hours early, or more often, you might leave an hour early just to find every major artery out of the city totally clogged, with nothing you can do but sit and listen to the traffic report. So far, I find when the traffic report guy says there's a 20-minute delay at the George Washington Bridge, what he really means is that you'll be inching along like a snail for an hour. A '45-minute wait at the Lincoln Tunnel' is secret code for stand-still traffic for two hours. Once, on a Saturday, we took the Lincoln Tunnel to Red Bank, NJ and literally moved one block every 30-minutes before even getting to the Tunnel. We were supposed to be an hour early. Instead, we ended up having to sneak onstage halfway through Handel's Messiah.

Then, once you have dealt with the bride, figured out where you're going, have the right stuff and have gotten there, you have the wedding itself. This used to stress me out a lot more than it does now, but there are still variables at play here. You have to make sure you have the cues correct: How many bridesmaids are there? Is there a flower girl? Ring Bearer? Are they rolling out a carpet or anything before the bride comes out? What are the final words before the recessional? Is that hand signal you are giving me the 'Let's begin in 5 minutes' wave or the 'We're beginning now, I'm sorry that you have to finish the piece you are currently in the middle of playing and flip the page to the correct song, we've started without you' gesture? All in all, the possibilities are endless.

Today started out great. This bride happened to be really low-key, the music selections were standard, nothing weird. The only thing I had a little trepidation about was the traffic on a Friday afternoon. Even that began just fine. My violinist friend picked me up a full two hours before we were to begin playing and since both Mapquest and her GPS gave an estimated travel time of 45 minutes, we were in good shape. Traffic was moving well as we left Brooklyn, and we took the exit to the FDR. Everything was moving swiftly until we hit 155th street, where we became slow as slugs. This would have been no biggie - we still had almost and hour to get there and only 10 miles left. However, we were quickly running out of gas. Now I love my Russian friends - my quartet is from Moldova - and many of the other people I play with are from the former USSR. I love them as people and as musicians. They are excellent and passionate players. But they are stingy, stingy, stingy with the gasoline. We have almost run out of gas several times because they wanted to wait until we got to a gig in NJ to fill up the tank (NJ typically has cheaper gas then NYC). I mean, we've been close to being stuck in the middle of the FDR or Holland Tunnel because of this. That's a lot of anxiety for $0.40 a gallon.

So we're inching along bit by bit, watching the gas tank, listening to the traffic report and wondering if we should pull off and try to look for a gas station. The stress is starting to mount - we've been in traffic for about 30 minutes and only gone a 1/2 mile. At one point we pulled off the highway only to discover another standstill line leading straight back to where we'd come from. We're sweating because we had to turn off the AC to conserve milage and every time the car goes uphill the gas indicator dips down lower then we think it can possibly go. Finally, just as we have 15 minutes left until we have to start playing and we are just about 15 minutes away, traffic starts moving again. We make it over the bridge and are thinking we'll be just fine when we miss the exit and are sailing back in the direction of the Lincoln tunnel, which according to the last traffic reports we listened to, had a 45 minute wait in both directions.

Luckily, we spot a service area and pull in, thinking we can fill up on a little gas and hopefully turn around. Miraculously, there is a pump free and we pull in and wait for someone to fill the tank (it's illegal to pump your own gas in the state of NJ). We wait there for a few minutes to no avail and start yelling at the at the attendants who inform us that the pump is out of order. So we wait in line for the next available pump, only to get behind this huge SUV that takes like a half-hour to fill up. Eventually the monster SUV and his owner leave, and we pull up and the attendant meanders over to our car, takes our money and his sweet time filling it up, before sauntering over to another vehicle. The tank is full and we're ready to go, but we have to wait for Mr. Attendant to amble back our way and put our gas cap back on.

Once we're through with the gas, we peel out of the service area, back onto the highway and we're back on track. We make the correct exit and after a few more wrong turns and a scuffle with the valet, were at our final destination - a full 15 after we were supposed to start playing. We run into the venue, and are pointed in the direction of the wedding by a rather slow and pasty looking woman. We burst into the room, only to discover it's the reception room, not the room where the ceremony will be held. We go back out and are pointed in the correct direction and we race through the halls to the outside area. We are fully prepared to unpack all our stuff, throw it all in a corner and sit down and play immediately until we look out and see 100 chairs - with no one in them. Not a soul. The wedding was running late. So late in fact, that we had time to unpack our instruments and assemble our music stand leisurely, pose for some pictures for the photographer and still we sat there all alone for 10 minutes. This time we were lucky.


  1. Oh my god! That was so stressful just reading that!!!! I'm glad the wedding started late...sheesh! This is a reason you move back to Kansas City: The wedding is 15 minutes away and you get to leave 15 minutes before you're supposed to be there.

  2. Well, I agree that playing a wedding in KC isn't quite that stressful. But do you remember playing in the "tree house" with us out in Belton a few years ago? The wedding party was over an HOUR late getting there . . . and it was at THEIR HOUSE! I think you played that one; somehow I remember you had to rush from that wedding to another gig. And people think musicians have such an EASY job! -- Emily

  3. Oh yes!!! That treehouse gig will live on in infamy forever! I don't remember having to rush to another gig, but I certainly don't doubt it. I must have blocked it out.

  4. Lucky?!?! I guess you were!!!
    I too was getting stressed just reading that. Good grief. Sitting on the edge of my couch, munching my amaranth with big eyed jittery suspense :D