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One More Song! One More Song!

a part-time wedding DJ considers - and reconsiders - hanging up the microphone

Ken Szymanski

This wedding dance was supposed to end almost an hour ago, but nobody wants to go home. As the DJ, however, I have to wonder how many encores are too many. The bride and groom instructed me to end the evening, back at midnight, with Neil Diamond’s “Sweet Caroline.” It was a great group sing-along – the perfect closer. But the crowd got the “one more song” chant going, and we couldn’t stop there.

At this northern Wisconsin resort, there’s no other civilization for miles. Here, there is music, free beer, and a major life event. No one wants this night to end.

After several more dance songs, we bring it to a landing with Billy Joel’s “Piano Man,” by request. With everyone arm-in-arm and singing along, it feels like it an appropriate ending. Then more chanting, more dance music and, finally, the apparent marathon closer: all seven minutes and eleven seconds of “Hey Jude.”

The groom says to cut it off after this one. As the crowd sings the never ending “nana-na-na’s,” the groomsmen ask what I’m playing next. I apologize and tell them that the groom wants to shut it down. “We’ll take care of him,” they say. The song ends. The chanting begins. The groom stays strong for maybe ten seconds before caving to the pressure, giving me the hand signal to keep it going. I want the night to end with a grand finale, but it’s like predicting the stock market: no one knows when the peak hits until it’s too late.

At this point, there aren’t any top-tier dance songs left. Somebody asks for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” This isn’t even dance music, but I play it anyway. With the push of a button, the crowd is full of air keyboards, air guitars … and with raised fists, raised drinks, they’re singing themselves hoarse.

Those in refined social circles are instructed to “always leave a party at its peak.” Well, those people have long since left the reception. The ones remaining are my kind of people. As a wedding DJ, I’ve struggled to stay retired. I’d swear it off, only to come back for “just one more” a year later. Now I’m 43, married with children, and it’s probably past time to leave the profession with dignity. But here I am again, out of retirement after five years gone, “just one last time,” as a favor for friends.

It’s being in the eye of the storm on the biggest party of someone’s life. It’s the constant pressure of picking the next song – how every four minutes, the momentum of the night seems to hang in the balance. And it’s watching a crowd evolve from polite dinner party guests into staggering Super Bowl champions.

No ice breakers required for this group – they dance all-out from the first song onward. And what a strange twist to see my wife and sons on the dance floor, my boys amped up on kiddie cocktails, cupcake frosting, and a huge assortment of glow sticks. But by 11:30, my seven-year-old was laid out flat on the floor next to the DJ table. He could barely lift his head off the ground to assure us that he was not tired and wanted to stay longer.

His little brother, three years old, was – like my sound system’s amplifier – past the max and heading for a meltdown. By midnight, they were back at the hotel, leaving me with the one-more-song crowd.

One groomsman slaps a twenty on the sound system. “Keep it going! Only the really, really good stuff from here on out!”

During another series of encores, the mother of the bride apologizes. “You don’t have to do this anymore,” she says. “You probably want to get back to your family.”

“Don’t worry,” I say. “They’re all asleep. I’m in no hurry. I have the rest of my life to sleep.”

I know that this may be the last time I do this, and the finality of it, plus the time off, has made me realize how much I love the gig. It’s being in the eye of the storm on the biggest party of someone’s life. It’s the constant pressure of picking the next song – how every four minutes, the momentum of the night seems to hang in the balance. And it’s watching a crowd evolve from polite dinner party guests into staggering Super Bowl champions.

But it’s all coming to an end.

Finally, an hour after the official end of the dance, the bartender notifies me that the facility is shutting down. Fulfilling one last desperate drunken request, I play “Sweet Caroline” … again. Their memories drenched with alcohol, the families and friends sing along like they haven’t heard this song in a decade. Last call comes and goes. The bar closes. I reluctantly shut down the system. Everyone else starts planning after-parties. One guy, well past his limit, needs to be propped up by friends. “I’m fine … I’m fine,” he reassures them, even as it takes two people to keep him from falling.

After packing up, I walk through the parking lot, thinking about how this gig was one of the all-time best. And how, maybe, that would be the one to end on – for good this time.

Then a guy with a crooked tie points at me and shouts, “Hey, microphone guy!” He pauses to focus, then slurs, “You’re good at that.” That parking lot compliment might be the capstone of my career – a sincere, albeit intoxicated, epitaph.

I get back to the hotel room, and my family has all crashed. It’s completely dark, except for my three-year-old son’s illuminated face. Clutching a green glow stick, he sleeps – still unwilling, or unable, to let it go.

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