The Slammin’ Band has performed for crowds of more than 50,000, opened for the likes of Macy Gray and played at a fundraiser for Al Gore. But their next event is — they hope — your wedding.
The Slammin’ Band is among an increasing number of performers turning to weddings and private parties between gigs and recording dates. It’s not as glamorous as pop stardom, but at least it’s a paycheck at the end of the night. And that counts for a lot in today’s economy, and in an industry struggling with steadily decreasing album sales (down almost 10 percent last year).
“We’re musicians, so we can execute anything necessary,” said Willie Moore, bassist for the Slammin’ Band. “But when you go from playing R&B and fusion to playing this other stuff, it’s kind of — different.” Different means all styles, from Sinatra, to country, to show tunes (“Sunrise, Sunset” from “Fiddler on the Roof”).
Like the musicians in the popular movie “The Wedding Singer” — which was transformed into a Broadway show whose touring version is at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through Sunday — versatility is the key to paying the bills while bands pursue other projects as well.
“The perception of a wedding singer is less-than-real or a step underneath, but we’re all songwriters as well … and we’re all in other projects,” said Jim Munson of the Out of Touch Band, based in Fairfield. “But we know what pays the bills, and we have no problem playing the ‘Brown-Eyed Girls’ and ‘Margaritavilles’ of the universe if it makes somebody happy.”
Gigmasters.com, based in Connecticut, is seeing unprecedented traffic, registering more bands than ever before. Kevin Kinyon, president and founder, said by far the largest portion — 40 percent — of its 1,500 monthly bookings are weddings. The site lists about 50 wedding performers in Connecticut and nearby.
Playing weddings comes with its own set of challenges, not the least of which is persuading brides to spend the money on bands when DJs are popular and cheaper. Munson says looking for work as a live band takes perseverance.
“It’s not easy if you sit back,” he said. “People can just look to the new generation of DJs. Or plug in your iPod, put it on shuffle and there’s your wedding.”
Getting booked for a wedding is just the start.
Moore says it’s harder than it looks because it can be difficult to surrender your band’s sound to the musical whims of the bridal party. And then there are the stereotypes, reinforced in part by Adam Sandler’s role in “The Wedding Singer” movie in 1998.
In the movie, a paean to ’80s camp, Sandler plays Robbie Hart, a lovable but hapless struggling musician with an unfortunate haircut. A decade later, regardless of the changing world of weddings, lots of people still remember the character — and the mullet — when they picture a wedding band.
“That’s the stereotype that guys like me fight so hard against,” said Jason Ebert, owner of CT Party Pros, an entertainment booking company in Orange. “They think we’re one of those guys.”
It’s not all fiction, though. Jerry Costanzo, who has recorded an album of Rat Pack-era classics, said he regularly plays at least one of the songs that appeared in the movie.
“Every time I play the song, ‘That’s All,’ I think of Adam Sandler,” he said. “Sometimes people come up to me and they say, ‘Hey, you’re the wedding singer!'”
“Weddings and parties pay the bills,” Costanzo said. “I have higher aspirations.”
Despite the frustrations of the business, Munson said he loves playing at weddings. He likes the movie (“I’ve seen it a hundred times”) and said that although his band just released a CD, he wouldn’t go back to playing concerts and clubs.
“The Wedding Singer” continues at the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts in Hartford through Sunday. Tickets: 860-987-5900.
Contact Anne VanderMey at email@example.com.
For more photos from the stage production of “The Wedding Singer,” go to connecticut.metromix.com/weddingsinger.