That Time When… That Big Catastrophe Happened

I have the best clients. I really do. I even love the ones who drive me crazy. Only my clients would flip out about a snafu beyond anyone’s control, blame me for the whole thing, and end the conversation by telling me they love me. The bonds I form with my clients are imperative to the perceived success of the event. A bride who doesn’t like her planner can easily turn on her and blame her for anything. The other side of the coin is what I gladly experience on a regular basis. When the relationship is good, and the planner has proven in the long term her capabilities and earned the trust of the client, the most devastating snafus can occur, and the client will still be thanking their lucky stars they have their planner.

I am asked very frequently to tell a story of the most catastrophic thing that happened during one of my weddings. Everyone loves the dirt! For a very long time, my answer was short and sweet. I did a wedding during Hurricane Irene, and it went really well. We were prepared for the storm, and we made concessions for it. The band members, who traveled from several hours away, came into town early and planned to stay in a hotel rather than driving back in the storm. We also had a great back-up plan to move the outdoor parts of the event inside. My shoes got ruined from running around in the rain and mud, but that’s not the juicy stuff everyone wants to hear. Now I have a better story to share when people ask me that question.

More recently, I helped a bride and her mother plan a beautiful outdoor wedding. The entire event was hosted at an historic plantation in Virginia. The bride walked down the aisle from the front steps of the mansion to the chuppah that faced the rolling mountains. The cocktail hour was next to the mansion in a garden with a gorgeous, large water feature. It was whimsical and elegant at the same time. The reception with dinner and dancing was under a tent, adjacent to the garden. The bride had visions of having her reception under the open sky, but her mother and I convinced her that she needed to play it safe and get some cover. It was brutally hot that day, and the shade provided by the tent was imperative for everyone’s comfort.

A side note about tents in Virginia: The commonwealth is very strict about permits for tents. An inspector came out that day to ensure that the tent had the required fire-extinguishers in the proper locations, and two lighted exit signs. Exit signs? The whole tent is an exit! It has no walls. I balked at this rule, as I found it pointless and an unnecessary expense for my client. But, rules are rules, and we had the illuminated exit signs installed, as required.

Back to the story: As soon as the guests were under this Commonwealth-of-Virginia-approved tent, the heavens opened, and it began to pour. We knew a storm was coming, but we also knew the timing would be perfect, and the bride made an informed decision about how to deal with it. She opted not to get side walls for the tent. We were also advised that we would not need a generator, even though a storm was coming, because the outlet box by the tented area was more than sufficient for the amount of power we were drawing. (Is my foreshadowing obvious enough?)

The reception began. The wedding party was introduced by the DJ and the couple enjoyed their first dance. The parents of the bride made a lovely welcome speech, and the salad course was served. The storm got worse, and everything was starting to get wet… including the wiring that powered everything in the tent.
The soft amber light that washed the ceiling was no longer illuminating the white tent top. But more devastating than that, the DJ’s power was gone. We still had perimeter lights around the tent. As soon as salads were cleared, the sky was very dark. It was time for dinner to be served. At that moment, we lost the rest of the power to the tent. No perimeter lights and no lights in the catering tent. The caterer plated up the food while using headlamps, as though they were spelunking their way through the wedding. Every worker in the kitchen looked like Doozers from Fraggle Rock.

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Food service came to a grinding halt as we all frantically attempted to get the power back on. In the meantime, the bride and groom were joined by all their friends as they jumped around in the darkness and belted out Build Me Up Buttercup at the top of their lungs, a-capella.

We awaited the arrival of the property’s Preservationist, who knew all the ins and outs of the facility, and could help us test the breakers and hopefully restore the power. While we waited, the sky became even darker, and we added more candles to the tables. Thank goodness for those lighted exit signs! They stayed illuminated, even in the outage, and provided the only overhead light in the entire tent!

In the middle of all of this, someone asked if I had an in inhaler on me. Apparently, a guest was having some minor asthma issues and felt like she was going to pass out. So I left my assistant to guard the bar while I went table-to-table, asking if anyone had an inhaler. No dice. Ok, back to troubleshooting the big catastrophe now.

The best man, quite drunk at this point, offered to pull his car up to the tent and play music through his car’s speakers. It was an ingenious idea, but there was no way I was letting him pull his car up. I backed my SUV up to the side of the tent near the dance floor and lifted the hatch. We played the DJ’s CD’s through my car so we could continue with the festivities.

Ninety minutes after the first set of lights went out, the power was restored. Our team ran around, non-stop, in search of a solution. The bride, the groom, and both sets of parents were so grateful for our hard work. Had our working relationship not been so solid, they could have easily turned on us. We could have been blamed for not insisting on having a generator there. We could have been blamed for not insisting on side walls for the tent. (Now we always have both!) But it was only gratitude being shared that evening.

We thought all the troubles were over and the wedding could be thought of as a success.  All’s well that ends well.  Right? … Right???

A week after the wedding I received a phone call from the mother of the bride. “Are you sitting down?” she asked. I told her I was sitting. “You’re not driving, are you?” I let her know I was sitting at my desk and I was prepared for whatever bomb she needed to drop on me. “Jackie and Matt are not married!”

At first I was confused. I was right there when they got married. And I personally mailed their license to the courthouse so it would be filed on time. Had I done something wrong? The mother continued, “That woman (the Officiant) is not authorized to perform weddings in Virginia!” I did not know how to respond. It’s a good thing I wasn’t driving. Another thing that’s good to know for Virginia weddings: Officiants can be authorized for a single wedding, or for a lifetime. This particular Officiant had no idea there was an option. Unbeknownst to her, she was authorized years ago for only a one-time certification. So when I asked her in my initial inquiry if she was authorized to perform weddings in Virginia, she replied, “Of course!”

The couple went back to the courthouse thirteen days after their wedding and got legally married. They also arranged settlements with the tenting company for their faulty wiring and with the officiant. The irony of all of this: The couple never wanted a big wedding. They wanted to get married quietly in a courthouse. But the bride’s mother convinced them to have a big celebration with their family and friends. In the end, they had both.

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