Bros Before Hos: Tales From The Wedding-Band Front Lines
Allen Hill (left) would rather not play "Take a Letter, Maria" at weddings, but he will.
Courtesy Allen Hill Entertainment
Sting once stated in an interview about The Police's trademark song "Every Breath You Take" that he was bewildered by the tune's popularity at weddings. It is, after all, a song about stalking, and not the exactly the sweetest sentiment to start off a committed relationship. Rocks Off wondered what other inappropriate songs people have played at their wedding, and furthermore, what it's like to be a wedding singer, so we called up Allen Hill of Allen Hill Entertainment and numerous party bands including the El Orbits, Allen Oldies Band, Banana Blender Surprise and more. He gave us pointers on how to make sure all aspects of the wedding reception - from the band to the budget - turn out right, and shared some of his favorite wedding horror stories. Hill has more than 20 years' experience as a party performer. But he started out in a bar band. "Our fans started getting married and wanted us to play," he said. "We quickly figured out that playing a wedding is quite a bit different than playing a bar. In a bar, the band is the star. At a wedding, you're in a support role for the first half of the party. Only after folks have what I call 'nourishment' and 'hydration' do people wanna party." Hill compared playing a wedding to "boiling water for crawfish." You've got to let the water heat up before things really start rolling, he said. As for hiring a band for your own wedding, Hill said having an idea of what you want to hear helps. It's a good idea to do some research, but don't be too restrictive with the band either - let them do their own thing. "Bridal magazines don't help with that. They all say 'tell the band what you don't want to hear.' But any more than 10 songs on the 'play' list or 'do not play' list -- there are too many limits," he said. The Allen Oldies Band is also willing to play special requests, within reason. "Given enough time, we're happy to learn any songs the bride and groom want," Hill said. "We've played Nick Lowe, the MC5, The Kinks' 'She's Got Everything.'"
Hill said "At Last" is probably his most requested first dance song. "'Can't Help Falling in Love'" is also a frequent request. "Any song with 'love' in the title, though not all those songs are appropriate," he said, offering this advice - it helps to pay attention to the lyrics, and know what the song is really about. "The wedding where the Oldies Band played the MC5 song was kind of awkward," he said. Hill couldn't remember the specific song, but pointed to its explicitly sexual lyrics. "Since I started working as an agent, I'm now kinda seeing weddings from all sides," Hill said. He said many brides stress over the music at their weddings, when often it's other professionals who screw things up. "All the people I work with are good entertainers and people who show up on time. But I've been at several weddings where the cakes didn't show up." He's got other horror stories. "I had a videographer once who missed the first dance because he was outside smoking a cigarette," Hill recalled. "So he asked me to play the first song over again. I said 'No.' There's no way to recreate that moment. There's no born-again first dances!" He also said to beware of wedding hijackers. At one wedding, the couple requested "California Sun" as their first dance song. "Then we were gonna do the father-daughter song," Hill says. "It was awesome. The bride and groom were dancing, they were rockin' good." Before the second dance, the couple opened up the mike for toasts. Up comes the best man with what Hill called an eight-page speech. After that, the party's momentum was gone. "It turns into an open-mic night," he said. At another wedding the El Orbits played, the best man, who had only recently met the bride, took the stage to deliver an impassioned bros before hos speech. "You gotta really know someone and trust them to give them the microphone at your wedding," he said. Hill admitted he was nervous at the first wedding he was ever asked to perform. "I certainly made doubly sure that they wanted to give it a try. It's very intimate, and you give a piece of yourself every time you perform." Since then, he's grown more comfortable making judgment calls on the stage. While there are certain songs Hill would steer people away from playing at their wedding, he's also had to take a few gambles.
"'Take A Letter, Maria' is one we try not to play," he said. The song is about a man who finds out his wife is cheating on him. He dictates a letter to her through his secretary, and at the end of the song he ends up taking the secretary out on a date. But Hill was at one wedding reception that needed a little pick-me-up, so they played R.B. Greaves' 1969 hit. "I thought, something's gotta get this party started," Hill said. "That was the tune that broke the night open." Hill's goal as an agent, he said, is "always to make sure the wedding party has the same goal as the band." And a couple's budgeting, whether big or small, can make all the difference. Hill has played weddings where the couple spent a little money on a lot of things - like personalized TicTacs - to weddings where the couple spent a lot of money on just a few things. "I always tell people, 'I've never seen anyone dance to an ice sculpture.'" Hill said one family saved and saved to hire the Allen Oldies Band. Towards the end of the reception, he looked out at the dance floor. "It just hit me," he said. "Everybody at the party was on the dance floor, and it ended with a big group of the bride and groom. I said to the band, 'We gotta get out of here!'" Hill's own wedding featured Grady Gaines and the Texas Upsetters. Gaines was the bandleader for Little Richard and Sam Cooke. "He's a Houston treasure," Hill said. As for Hill's last piece of advice for engaged couples: "It's a giant job to put a wedding together," he said. "Number one, it's a party, so you should try to have some fun."
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