Today’s my dad’s birthday. My dad is pretty cool. I’ve talked about the neat woodworking stuff he does before. Today, I’d like to tell you about the life lessons my father imparted on me in his capacity as a part time wedding DJ. It’ll be fun.
Through high school I spent most summer weekends with strangers at their weddings. My dad had a “friends of friends” sort of disc jockey operation. He started it with his sister in the 80s I think, just playing weddings and school fundraisers having a good time. I joined him from time to time, but started regularly accompanying him in high school. My brother went with us once. He quite literally opted for war zones over weddings, so this was really a thing that my dad and I shared for years.
My job was carry the equipment, pull cds (we eventually went digital) and watch my dad provide a master’s course in crowd control.
Today I am very judgmental of DJs. From music selection to cheesy one liners, if I am at an event with a DJ I am just a miserable person to be standing by. That is all because of my dad’s complete dedication to being just cheesy enough, always knowing what a crowd wants to hear when they want to hear it, and leave the guests laughing and pleading for “one more song!” at the end of the night.
My dad has an impressive ability to be fully committed to whatever he is doing at that moment. The weddings we played typically lasted six or seven hours. A normal wedding was arrive at 3:00, an hour before the reception started, and leave around midnight. My dad would not stop moving, not stop telling jokes for the entire time span. It taught me that if anything is worth your time, give it your all.
As soon as he stepped into the reception hall he would introduce himself to the caterers, the site folks, the families of the bride and groom. He let them know that they had nothing to worry about, the night was going to go off smoothly and everyone would have fun. He never had to say those words though. A handshake, a smile, a sincere congratulations and you could see the whole room of people relax. He showed me that kindness and confidence can resolve pretty much any situation. Even calming down old people that for some reason sat right next to the speakers and are now complaining the music is too loud. Every. Single. Weekend.
The big issue was that most of the time we did not even like the music. Spending eight hours with fancy dressed strangers and listening to awful country music (Every. Single. Weekend.) takes its toll. As a coping mechanism, we kinda, sorta, made fun of guests. Only the party guests that had slighted us in some way though. Anytime someone said, “turn this off! I want to hear my song!” they were teased. Any abuser of the open bar that took the dance floor with their shirts untucked, laugh riot. We would count the “can you turn it down a little” requests and take bets on who would ask next. It was not nice, but it was needed.
Through this he taught me that even annoyances and road bumps are temporary. He always sees the good in the moment. Even when a drunk would get pushy about playing White Snake right now, Dad was able to the laugh at the guy until he drunkenly shame-spiral walked away. It was awesome.
He taught me how to read people at these weddings. As time went on I started setting the music line up. The key to picking music is to match it to the moment. Look at the crowd, see who is dancing. Look at the seated folks at the perimeter, see who is tapping their toes. The next song should keep the dancers going, but invite the toe tappers to the floor as well. Find a song from the toe-tapper crowds youth, something that will transport them to their own wedding days. The toe tappers are always a bit older than the constant dancers, just a fact of life. Bring down the tempo, but keep the fun. If you’re feeling especially daring, find a cute Motown hit that allows young and old to dance together. Everyone loves Motown. I learned how to scan a crowd, read it and nine time out of ten, play the right song.
My dad gave me that opportunity. He took me along on these adventures not to have a roadie, but to show me people. We had plenty of fun in the process too. From playing “I Like Big Butts” at an elementary school game night to watching a computer crash while drunk giants slammed danced their way through “Boot Scoot and Boogy”.
That’s what my dad taught me; be confident, be committed, be good and find the fun. That’s my dad.
Happy birthday, Dad. Thanks for all those years of lugging heavy records and cd cases. Thanks even more for upgrading to laptops, that was super cool of you.