Look for me on a Saturday night and chances are you’ll find me in front of the band at a wedding. And it’s not just Saturdays; thanks to Covid postponements people are booking their big day any time their dream venue can fit them in: Sundays, Fridays, even Tuesdays.
Yep, you can call me Adam Sandler because I am a wedding singer.
It’s a job that people think they know but rarely understand. For example, the most common question I’m asked is: “How long has the band all played together?” But many wedding bands aren’t bands as you might think of them. We are essentially a collection of independent contractors, pulled together by a booking agent like a fantasy sports team. I have my favourites – I like to be booked with my emotional support keyboard player – but it’s not that unusual to meet members of the band for the first time when you arrive at the venue. And we generally don’t rehearse either because, spoiler alert, pop songs are not difficult to play. And what really counts in a job like this is stagecraft, which you can only learn by doing.
The most important piece of stagecraft is to override your automatic facial reactions and learn to smile through anything. Things don’t go wrong very often but when they do you should be smiling. If there’s a weird noise coming out of the speaker, if you’ve forgotten the second verse, if the saxophone player has started their solo in the wrong key: keep smiling. Smiling maniacally is the key to bluffing through mistakes and smoothing things over; if you look like you’re having fun you can get away with almost anything!
Crafting a setlist that will get people on to the dancefloor and simultaneously please 70-year-old Auntie Cheryl and 17-year-old cousin Jason is a tricky tightrope to walk. Weddings are one of the few occasions you see an intergenerational mix on the dancefloor and you have to learn to read the room while bouncing between Taylor Swift, Stevie Wonder, INXS and Bruno Mars. If the groom gets up to dance for the first time just as we’re about to take a break, we’ll give the happy couple a few extra choruses to walk (or dance) on sunshine before we finish up. Or we’ll keep things rolling when the crowd gets invested in a competitive round of “ride Sally ride” singalongs.
You can’t please everyone all the time, but despite the stereotypes I’ve rarely seen the infamous bridezilla on the loose. By the time the reception is under way even the most stressed bride is usually floating on post-marital bliss. It’s the bridesmaids you’ve got to watch out for. There’s nothing quite like an absolutely sozzled grown woman stealing your tambourine (yes, I am a multi-instrumentalist) before getting into a tug-o-war with the best man, cutting herself on the cymbals and leaving a trail of blood on the dancefloor – keep smiling – before holding the biohazardous percussion hostage while she tries to convince you that we should “give her a go” on the microphone because her little sister just got married and she wants to dedicate some Céline Dion to her. For the sake of everyone’s eardrums we generally refuse these requests, and recommend tambourines are best left to the professionals.
Ahh requests. People sure love to make them, usually via mid-song, alcohol-scented hollering (keep smiling). Or they occasionally sidle up to the bass player to try to get a word in; people seem to think that bass players don’t actually do very much and are therefore available for a conversation. They became a bass player so they wouldn’t have to talk to people. Leave them alone.
The only requests that really matter come from the bride and groom ahead of time: a TikTok trending Tangled tune to serenade a Disney-loving bride down the aisle, a romantic first dance to The Vengabus (which resulted in the most joyous conga line I’ve ever seen), and, inevitably, quite a lot of Ed Sheeran. Aside from Ed Sheeran the only thing I can almost guarantee we will play every time is Daryl Braithwaite’s The Horses. So, you really don’t need to shout “PLAY HORSES” at regular intervals throughout the evening. It’s the universal closing number for wedding bands around Australia so hold your own damn horses and wait for us to get there.
I realise it sounds like I am at some risk of an Adam Sandler-esque love stinks breakdown: so let me assure you that this job is genuinely very good fun. I was a kid who obsessively learned all the words to my favourite songs by copy-pasting them from the internet into Word documents, and somehow this database of lyrics that was just living rent-free in my head is actually paying my rent. An honest to god dream come true for 11-year-old Lucy.
And like most musicians in wedding bands I have my own creative projects, but there’s just not good money for independent nine-piece bands playing original, soul-inspired, horn-driven tunes about feminism and climate change. Fortunately a gig as a wedding singer pays OK and making a living in music is a privilege, no matter how you do it. So if that’s the way it’s gonna be little darlin’, then I’m pretty damn lucky to have this job.
Just keep your hands off my tambourine.
• Lucy Ridge is a writer and musician living on Ngunnawal and Ngambri country. She mostly writes about food unless she’s writing songs for her nine-piece band playing tunes about feminism and climate change