When it comes to choosing a song for your first dance as a married couple, it can be hard to know where to start. There’s so much great music out there! How can you possibly choose?

Jeff Stitely, our fearless leader here at Stitely Entertainment and an expert in the field for 25 years, has a few recommendations to help the process along.

First, he says, when considering a song, pay attention to how it makes you feel. Does it give you chills? Make you smile? Do you love the feeling you get when you hear it? If so, those are sure signs of a great song choice!

Second, pay attention to the lyrics. Do they resonate with you? Do they reflect your outlook on life, love, and/or relationships? If so, great! Looks like you’ve got a contender.

On the other hand, what if the song makes you feel great, and you love what the song has to say about life/love/relationships in the first two verses and the chorus… but then the third verse takes a left turn into darker territory? (What if the people who were so in love at the beginning of the song break up? Or what if the person’s love is unrequited? etc.)

Don’t give up on that song just yet – there are ways we can make it work!

If you’ve booked a live band, it can be as simple as changing a few words – past tense can become present tense, for example – or even omitting that last verse entirely. It’s as easy as that! If you’ve booked a DJ, it’s possible to fade the song out before that troublesome verse comes up. Either way, you have options that will help to make your first dance extra special.

Here’s a great example of how someone chose their perfect first dance song. Consider Jeff Stitely’s story:

“When I got married, I was a jazz drummer and loved all the old classic ballads. My favorite song was called “My One and Only Love”. The lyric starts with “The very thought of you makes my heart sing” and the whole song is that scrumptious in addition to being one of the most beautiful melodies ever written from that era. Maybe two other people in the country chose that song but we didn’t care about that. It is a personal choice. Check it out.”

Still need inspiration? Here’s a list of the top 10 most popular first dance songs of 2016 according to the music streaming service, Spotify:

 

  1. Thinking Out Loud (Ed Sheeran)
  2. At Last (Etta James)
  3. You Are the Best Thing (Ray LaMontagne)
  4. All of Me (John Legend)
  5. A Thousand Years (Christina Perri)
  6. Make You Feel My Love (Adele)
  7. I Won’t Give Up (Jason Mraz)
  8. Everything (Michael Buble)
  9. Better Together (Jack Johnson)
  10. Amazed (Lonestar)

 

If there ever was a wedding to recount and remember, this one takes the cake.

After having a secret wedding ceremony in the 1980s, Ann & Susan were finally able to legally tie the knot this past summer—and what a joyous occasion it was! The couple wanted their day to be focused on family and celebrating the many loved-ones in their lives. The music was also a really important factor in their entire day. From special music sung by their son during the ceremony, to a dance to “Happy” down the aisle, to a slew of musical memories made during the reception, their music really tied their whole day together.

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The ceremony took place on July 26, 2014 at the Hotel Allegro in Chicago. Their ceremony featured At Last by Etta James, A Thousand Years by Christina Perri, Your Song by Elton John and Happy by Pharrell. Their reception dancing was kicked off with Sweet Love by Anita Baker for their First Dance, and the dance floor was packed all night.

We had a chance to catch up with Ann & Susan and reflect on the planning process leading up to the big day, as well as to remember their favorite moments of the ceremony and reception. The following post is made up of notes from our phone conversation.

Ballard-WarnerCeremonyWhat kind of style or vibe did you want for your wedding? What role did music play in your vision?

Overall, Ann & Susan just wanted it to be a huge celebration and for everyone to have a good time during their ceremony and reception. They wanted their music choices to be enjoyable for everyone, but also wanted it to reflect their time together over the years. They chose music spanning from jazz and soul to contemporary. Since they were getting married later in life, they had a lot of memories to reflect on and to include in their celebration. They really wanted the music to set the tone for ceremony and reception, and truly believed that without music there would be no real wedding celebration feel—it was that integral.

Ballard-WarnerFamilyTreeWhy did you choose the Stitely Orchestra for your wedding?

Ann says that their confidence with Stitely really began after personal interview with Jeff. It was a lengthy one-on-one meeting to go over all the details of the day. Shortly after that, they made a decision to go with Stitely, and wedding planners at hotels in downtown Chicago confirmed that decision as they were looking for venues.

What was your favorite wedding memory?

Ann & Susan had plenty of memories to share from their big day, as did everyone I’ve spent with who was in attendance that day. It is fondly remembered as a day full of joy and love.

Susan & Ann’s first favorite memory one is the ceremony. It included Happy by Pharrell playing during the recessional, with their kids and family dancing down the aisle with them. It was a beautiful visual representation of the joy that they wanted to portray during their wedding, and the music really helped. A related memory is that people never stopped dancing during the reception—the dance floor was really never empty!

Another favorite memory was their son singing At Last during the ceremony and some Frank Sinatra and Jackie Wilson tunes with the band during the reception. That was really special, and Ann said it was so cool that Stitely made it happen for their son to sing with the band.

BAllard-WarnerDancing1Please share any stories or special significance behind your song selections for the special dances.

Happy by Pharrell was one that Ann & Susan wanted to integrate early on. It was really the inspiration for the heartfelt atmosphere we wanted to create. Having it played during the ceremony was very special and reflected them as a couple well—people still talk about it all the time!

Ann also said that having Stitely work with them prior to the wedding and helping their kids get songs and ideas together was a dream. She says “we couldn’t have made our vision of intertwining the music with our friends, family and guests come true if they hadn’t worked with us in the months and weeks leading up to our day. Without all those elements it really wouldn’t have been the dream day that it ended up being!”

Thanks again to Ann & Susan for being such a joy!

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After all the planning and preparing is done, sometimes we forget that a successful event isn’t about how well it went as planned, but rather, its impact lies in how much our guests enjoyed it. The following are some tips for you bride-to-be’s on how to give yourself the space and freedom to enjoy your wedding day!

Newlyweds walk down aisle to a blizzard of flower petals

1. Delegate someone—your best man, maid of honor, a family member—that will be responsible for communication between you and the bandleader/emcee throughout the night. They can let the band know if they’re too loud, too fast, too slow, etc. so you don’t have to deal with any awkward tensions. They can also help you both remember things like eating your dinner! On such a crazy night with so many people to say hello to, it’s easy to forget these major things. Make sure you’ve chosen one person as your right-hand man to watch your back throughout the night.

2. Hire a great bandleader/emcee. The best bandleaders take responsibility for the success of your evening. They should notice important details like confirming the photographer is in the room before making any introductions for toasts, or ensuring silverware is on the cake table before announcing the cake cutting. The bandleader should also be in communication with the catering manager and other vendors to help with the flow of the evening.

3. When creating your seating chart, seat the older guests farther away from the band, and younger guests closer. Some older guests may appreciate being away from the loud noises, and the younger guests will most likely add the energy to the dance floor that every good party needs.

4. If you can, have the bar near the dance floor. If you put the bar outside the main room, it will be much harder to keep the dance floor filled. People will go out to get a drink, get involved in conversation and not make it back to the dance floor for quite a while. If the drinks and dancing are side-by-side, you’ve set yourself up for a consistently filled dance floor

5. Have a good time! This is the day you’ve been dreaming about and working so hard for—enjoy it! Instead of wondering, “are things going as planned?” the whole night, forget the itinerary and soak up all the little moments—even and especially the unplanned ones! Leave the double-checking to the professionals and have yourself a joy-filled and memorable night.

During wedding season 2014 we were able to work with a ton of talented vendors–Robb Davidson Photography being one of our favorites. His high energy and big personality are palpable through his photos, and we were ecstatic to get the chance to contact him and ask a few questions about his experience as a wedding photographer. Check out our conversation below and his super-rad website here.

Chicago wedding rooftop

How and why did you get started in the photography business?

I got started in photography when I was a junior at Judson College/university. I actually had to replace a point and shoot camera, and so with my “go big or go home” mentality, I bought an SLR camera. Cause that takes better pictures, right? Yeah no it doesn’t when you don’t know anything, but really I wanted to learn about it more. I started practicing on friends, posting online…and the college saw that. We didn’t really have any photography programs, so I was the only “in house” resource. They asked me to start covering events, save money for lenses…etc…and shot my first wedding for a friend. HOOKED instantly. I kept booking more, got more organized, grew into a nice small business. I WAS originally gonna just shoot on the weekends and have some 9-5 job during the week. Ha, never could make the interviews cause I was shooting the whole time. Sooooo, I decided to stop bothering with it and do it full time. All the while working full time at Wheaton Sport Center and had a great client base start from there. What an amazing place.

What are some of the main services you offer and how do they set you apart from other competitors?

I shoot people. With my canon. Main ordeal for me is weddings of course, but also looooove any kind of family shoot, headshot, corporate event, pranks needing documentation….whatever. Love people. Creating a place where people can be themselves within SECONDS is key. Otherwise you’re just stuck putting people in a pose that may not be who they are. So the sooner I can get people relaxed and their goofy selves, the better the shots I can get. You can only do so much with your photography side if the subject isn’t their natural self. :)

Chicago wedding band

What key qualities should couples look for when choosing a photographer?

When it comes to weddings, or anything lifestyle related…both sides of the camera is important. I think personalities have to gel at least a little bit. Otherwise, you won’t be on the same page, things won’t go as smooth, or just get straight up weird. Like, not awesome weird. Lame weird.

What part of your job do you find the most satisfying and the most challenging?

I’m glad this is paired because it’s usually the case…finding obstacles that you have to overcome become the most satisfying at the end of the day. How to make indoor locations for a wedding look real pretty when it’s pouring outside, we only have ten minutes to shoot EVERYTHING and make it seem like this is the way it SHOULD be, someone in the bridal party has a cast and you gotta creatively tuck that sucker away.

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What is the craziest event story you can share?

Gosh, ones that I’m actually allowed to share? Haha, well I would say that it’s just crazy how it all happened. March of 2013 I was at the gym when I got a call from a buddy of mine. Basically let me know that he was a guest at a wedding that didn’t have a photographer, bride was 20-30 minutes from walking down the aisle. I BOLTED out of the gym, threw on a suit, and met her before that going down the aisle to introduce myself. I said I was a full time professional wedding photographer, ready to shoot the rest of the night and figure out details later. Great night, awesome people, so glad I was able to help. I guess they never heard from their original photographer….hope they’re okay? Still crazy.

Why do you love photographing in the Chicago area?

There’s something so homey and family oriented in the midwest that I can’t get enough of. I guess an awesome hybrid of homey white picket fence, and the get after it mentality. Everyone loves incorporating family traditions, their relationship history, or just something to make it so unique for the shoot. Really doesn’t feel like there’s “competition” or anything like it, so I teach people anything and everything I may know…cause there’s so much awesomeness to go around! They really don’t suck out here.

couple dancing at Chicago weddingflower girls dancing at Chicago weddingCouple on Hellenic Museum rooftop at Chicago wedding cocktail hourman dancing at Chicago wedding flower girls dancing at Chicago wedding

Being a part of a wedding party is always an exciting thing. Dressing up, taking pictures and being up there with the happy couple on their special day is a real thrill. But what do you do with that beautiful (or not-so-beautiful) dress after the big day? Even though your bride-to-be friend has assured you that it was so cute that you will surely wear it again, oftentimes these garments end up in the back of our closets, then donated to Goodwill during spring cleaning.

Let’s change that cycle! The following are a few ideas that you can use for your bridesmaid dress (or even your wedding dress!) after you’re done with the event.

Bouquet toss at wedding

1. Sell It.

If your aim is to get a little of your fashion investment back in cold hard cash, try a few of these websites who will buy your used clothes: Tradesy, BridemaidTrade, & PreownedWeddingDresses.com

2. Donate It.

If your aim is just to get it out of your closet and you want to do some good, there are a ton of organization that take used formal gowns for girls who may not be able to afford that gorgeous prom dress they’ve been dreaming about. If making a small difference in a young girl’s life is something that interests you, then try these sites: GlassSlipperProject, BeccasCloset, & FairyGodMothersInc.

3. Craft It.

Quilts, Pillows, Jewelry —anything your heart desires! Don’t let the pricy fabric your dress is made of go to waste, use is as an inspiration to create something completely new!

4. Tailor It.

If getting rid of or completely cutting up your dress would upset you or your friend that wanted you to wear it in the first place, consider taking it to a tailor who can create something that’s more your style. For a few extra bucks you get a dress you know you’ll wear, and your friend will be honored you cared enough to keep the dress in your wardrobe. It’s a win-win!

Chicago printed bridesmaid dress

This year we had the pleasure of working with Paper Antler Photography at a wedding in Madison, WI. After getting a peek at the photos from the event, they quickly became some of our favorites of the season. The way they captured the moments of the party conveyed more than just the events that occurred, but also the emotion and energy that represented the couple and our band very well. We had a chance to correspond with Jonny, one of the photographers at Paper Antler, about how he and Michelle got started in the business and what they love about photographing weddings. Check out their answers below, and I would also recommend checking out their stellar website here.

Paper Antler How and why did you get started in the photography  business?

I (Jonny) studied philosophy and photography in college.  Right after graduating, I started creating a portfolio and shadowing photographers in Minneapolis while Michelle – with her natural eye for space and design – started assisting me on my solo assignments.  That was back in 2007.  We knew that we loved working together so we set out to find a career that a.) valued creativity and artistry, b.) would have intrinsic meaning, and c.) allow us to have some flexibility in our schedule as neither of us are 9-5 people.  Once we had enough weddings and other gigs booked, we quit our jobs and set out full steam ahead as photographers.

 What are some of the main services you offer and how do  they set you apart from other competitors?

Our wheelhouse is photographing weddings and have traveled all over the country and some of the globe to do so.  We want to be the best photographers we can be and thus we keep our focus on photography and don’t offer many services otherwise.  The fact that we are a husband + wife duo does allow us to be in two places at once at a wedding, and because we have worked together and now have been married for almost seven years, we can communicate with hand signals and facial expressions, much like the secret service but not as fancy.

What key qualities should couples look for when choosing a photographer?paper antler fun - 0018

Couples should choose a creative, artistic photographer for sure, but more importantly a photographer that makes them feel comfortable and who is also a nice person.  It doesn’t do much good to have a technically great photographer who man-handles your bridal party and is rude to your Uncle Jim.  When photographing weddings, you need to be ultra patient at times, and there’s really no room for ego.

What part of your job do you find the most satisfying and the most challenging?

One of the most satisfying parts of photographing a wedding is that as the photographer, you are giving the couple a tangible artifact and vestige of one of the most important and celebratory days of their life.  At that point, it becomes about something way bigger than photography and those photographs now serve as reminders for the rest of your lives and also for your family now and in the future.

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The most challenging part of our job is keeping up with correspondence and editing photos, though it’s hard to complain.  Also, it can be a little obnoxious when dozens of people with iPads cut in front of us at weddings to take a photo that we set up.

What is the craziest event story you can share?

A wedding that we photographed last year featured none other than Ric Flair (wwf world champion) as a surprise guest for the groom.  He walked the bride down the aisle and the expression on the groom’s face was priceless.  We later got a picture with Ric Flair, with Michelle and myself flexing.  That one made the scrapbook.

Where in the world do you enjoy photographing the most?

We’ve photographed weddings from Carmel Valley, CA to the Lakes District in England, and honestly there is so much beauty every place we’ve been to photograph a wedding.  A place like California offers a few more options than the Chicago suburbs but so much about wedding photography is finding beauty regardless of the location.

 

 

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Here at Stitely Entertainment, we don’t just play music for weddings but we love to revel in the musical roots of Chicago’s blues and jazz scenes. This week’s Music Monday will be featuring 2 Chicago jazz staples: The Bobby Lewis Quintet & the Jazz Showcase venue, founded by Joe Segal.

Jeff Stitely has been playing with the Bobby Lewis Quintet for about 15 years, but Bobby Lewis’ legacy started much earlier. Moving to Chicago in 1961, Bobby quickly became the top studio call for recording on albums, commercials and films. As a studio recording musician he has logged over 7500 recording sessions and has recorded with names like Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan, Sammy Davis Jr., Joe Williams, Mel Torme, Judy Garland, Rosemary Clooney, Al Jarreau & Frank Sinatra, Ramsey Lewis, Natalie Cole, Jack Teagarden—the list goes on. He also accompanied Tony Bennett for 15 years in all his Chicago appearances. Lewis not only plays with the greats, but is one himself. He has recorded 11 albums and acted as executive and musical producer on all of them.

This week, his Quintet will be playing at the Jazz Showcase, Chicago’s oldest jazz club. Established in 1947 by Joe Segal, and now owned and operated by his son Wayne, the Jazz Showcase is a cultural icon in Chicago. Joe has been called the “ambassador of jazz” to Chicago and is constantly doing whatever he needs to do to keep jazz alive in the city. The Jazz Showcase features live jazz 7 nights a week and continues to be a space where jazz thrives.

With two pillars of Chicago jazz being represented this weekend, there is no excuse not to come out and take a listen! The performances will take place Feb. 5-8, at 8 PM & 10 PM, with an additional 4 PM matinee on Sunday. For more information and tickets go to jazzshowcase.com.

Stage at Jazz Showcase featuring another great group, the Roy Hargrove Quintet

Stage at Jazz Showcase featuring another great group, the Roy Hargrove Quintet

When many people think about karaoke, there are usually a few things that come to mind. For some it’s a fun night out at a bar with friends, gladly making a fool of yourself. For others it’s disco balls, flashing lights and the cheesy bouncing balls that hops from word to word on a screen, accompanied by computerized melodies of your mom’s favorite songs. These were my ideas about karaoke before I started working at Stitely Entertainment and learned how cool karaoke can be when accompanied with a live band.

So, how does it work? To successfully channel your inner rock star via live band karaoke there are a few things one should know. First, even people who are a little on the shyer side can fully participate in this activity. To make people feel more comfortable we provide sunglasses, boas, hats and fun costumes to break the ice a bit and bring them out of their shell—so don’t let stage fright keep you from participating!

Secondly, we have a huge selection of songs just waiting to be chosen. Not only do we play the top pop hits of today, but you can also choose from classic rock, Motown, classic standards, country, indie music—anything that floats your boat, we’ve got it covered. Although we don’t have the fun bouncing ball to keep you in time, we do provide the lyrics on stage, as well as a top-notch professional band to keep you on track. The singers adjust to your comfort level—if you’re feeling confident they let you lead the way adding background and harmonies, or if you’re a little more nervous they help you start each line on time. Either way, having professional singer backing you up and joining in on the fun is an experience unique to Live Band Karaoke.

Finally, there are even options to sit in on percussion instruments, or even guitar if you’re really talented!

At what kind of events does live band karaoke work the best?

We’ve found that LBK works well for any group that wants to be interactive and have a great time showing off their talent and having a moment being a rock star. Corporate events—where people are gathered to have a good time and bond as coworkers—are a great example. We’ve have companies split guests into teams and have them perform together. This breaks the ice and creates great camaraderie!

LBK also works well at bar and bat mitzvahs, especially if the boy or girl is into singing and music. We’ve even done LBK at a wedding! A couple that met singing karaoke decided they wanted to incorporate it into their celebration, so a karaoke wedding was born. The bride and groom sang 4 or 5 songs each and were really talented! Many of the guests regularly sang karaoke as well so it was a blast.

In the end, Live Band Karaoke is really a major step up from the regular karaoke with a machine. The quality of the backing music, the personalization that is available, and the energy that is created in the room when a live band is performing cannot be matched. When the lights are shining on you and all your friends are clapping and yelling and supporting you, it really is like being a rock star—it’s exhilarating!

For companies who want to do something extra special, we can also bring in a video team and project the performers onto a live screen in real time. Check out our star cam in action in the video below!

Chicago skyline

Getting married in Chicago comes with so many benefits and opportunities. One of the best is being able to incorporate the city’s architecture and rich history into your wedding day. From photo shoots to reception décor, you can Chicago-fy your wedding easily with these tips.

BeckyBrown0173Wedding Photos:

Many of our couples use Chicago landmarks and scenery as the background for their wedding party shots. Work with your photographer to find some great shots downtown or by the lake. Whether you traipse through your favorite museum or find your favorite nature spot, the city can truly be your playground as you search for great spots! [Helpful hint: Trust your photographer! They will have scouted out great spots before will not let you down.]

 Venue:

Chicago wedding rooftop Choosing a venue with a killer view of Chicago gives your Chicago-fied wedding that added edge. There’s nothing better than sipping champagne and dancing the night away—especially when you can do it all with an amazing view of the city. Whether you’re right down town surrounded by the city, or in a nearby neighborhood on-looking the Loop, there are a ton of ways to incorporate the well-planned skyline into your wedding-scape.

 

Entertainment:

312 Chicago Wedding Band

When planning your wedding in Chicago, why not choose live entertainment that shares its roots with Chicago rich history of blues and jazz. With so much live music happening throughout the city, your bound to find a band that is right for you. Pictured here is one of our best Chicago wedding bands, 312 Chicago.

 Décor:

While the invites will give guests a sneak peek into your big day, the décor for your reception is where you can really show off your Chicago-fied wedding! [Find picture/specific example] Other finishing touches allow you to add elegant Chicago aspects to your reception. Centerpieces, place cards, napkins and gift bags are just some of things you can Chicago-fy. Your guests will love it!

This week we are excited to re-launch our vendor spotlight feature! In this feature, we catch up with some of our favorite vendors to find out more about what sets them apart, while also giving current and future clients a sneak-peek into the wonderful world of wedding planning and all that it entails.

This week we had a chance to talk things over with event planner Audrey Gordon. Having been in the biz over 30 years, we though Audrey would be a perfect vendor to start our re-launch of this blog. She is very personable with her clients, striving to get to know them personally and really make their day special and unique. See our conversation below!

How and why did you get started in the wedding planning business?

My love of entertaining and “hosting” people was the organic beginnings of my business that started over thirty years ago. When a friend of mine asked me to help her with her kid’s 10th anniversary party at her home in Glencoe, someone at the party asked me for my card—at the time, my business card was my name and my phone number on a napkin! That was the birth of Audrey Gordon Parties. Ltd.

Over your years in the industry, what are some of the major changes you’ve seen in wedding planning trends?

Major changes include the TYPE of Venue being chosen to house the ceremony and reception.

What are some things couples should consider when creating a design/style for their wedding?

I believe what couples should consider when creating a design/style for their wedding is to definitely incorporate elements that reflect the essence of who they are as individuals and as a couple. They should highlight their common interests so when guests walk into their environment it makes sense and the guests know that are in the right place!

How do you go about interpreting a couple’s vision and designing a unique look or style for an event?

My most favorite thing to do is to have the first face-to-face meeting at their place. I learn A LOT about the couple just by visiting them at home. I may ask them how they met, what hobbies they have, their favorite colors or definitely show me their Pinterest board. It’s also important to ask them what they really DON’T like.

What key qualities should couples look for when choosing a planner?

I believe a couple should choose a planner they are EXTREMELY comfortable with; to be able to say anything and everything because it’s all about THEM!

What part of your job do you find the most satisfying and the most challenging?

The most satisfying thing about my job is similar to having a baby…you plan…plan…plan…and then the day comes and you watch how all the pieces fall together to create the vision that they’ve shared. The ultimate best is when couples come up to me and hug me and say that it wouldn’t have been such a pleasant experience without me to allow them to “be present”  through the entire experience.

The most challenging times come when things happen outside of one’s control, i.e. unexpected weather conditions for an outside event. The trick is to keep your calm, take a deep breath and figure out a solution because there is always a solution to EVERY situation. The old motto is: “It’s not WHAT happens; it’s HOW you handle it.”

Thank you for taking the time to speak with us Audrey! For more information about Audrey Gordon Parties Ltd, check out her website here.