By Joe Stych
After the vows are read and the bride is kissed, there’s still the small matter of a reception to top things off. The ceremony was beautiful, really, but people are ready to jump up and celebrate.
So, your guests can remember the night in one of two ways: as that party where everyone laughed and danced until 2 a.m., or as that one time when they sat around nibbling on appetizers and awkwardly chatting with someone’s long-lost uncle (twice removed, whatever that means).
David Baer is here to help couples avoid the latter. As co-founder of the interactive entertainment company Level11, Baer taps more than 20 years of experience as a DJ and general party-starter to help the bride and groom craft a unique and an unforgettable night of fun.
We caught up with Baer to talk about new reception trends, hiring the right people, and amplifying that wedding-day cheer.
MPLS.ST.PAUL: Level11 isn’t a run-of-the-mill events company. Tell us a little bit about what makes you different.
DAVID BAER: Level11 is sort of a unique interactive entertainment company. We started out doing Bar and Bat Mitzvahs. We had D.J.’s, emcees and dancers, and the whole concept was kind of this East Coast-style of entertainment. It was just something that the Twin Cities had never seen. Before then it was just the dorky D.J. behind the D.J. booth playing music. Our emcees host the event, the D.J.’s are expert musicians, and our dancers are kind of the party starters.
MSP: That high-energy, hands-on approach seems to go against the classic reception formula.
DB: With weddings it’s a little different. It’s less in your face. The bride and groom are the center of attention; they are the event. But, there’s something I call “the curse of the Minnesota wedding.” People spend an hour drinking. Then they spend another hour and a half eating and listening to a bunch of speeches. About 3 hours into it, before the first note is played, people are drunk, stuffed, and tired; the last thing they want to do is dance for four more hours.
So, one of the things that we’ve introduced to the market is the idea of building the entertainment and the energy throughout the night, so the reception isn’t a final destination
MSP: How do you get the blood flowing?
DB: For example, right after the cocktail hour we like to do a grand march, where we introduce the bridal party, and we tend to be a little more interactive with it. The emcee gets on the microphone and asks everyone to stand up, everyone comes to the dance floor, and the next thing you know there’s a beat playing and people are clapping along, screaming and hollering as we introduce the bridal party. Then, say after they have the salad, we bring them back out to the dance floor and maybe do the first dance at that point.
At first people are kind of like “oh no, we can’t do that, no way.” But once they actually encounter it, they really love it.
MSP: It seems like you have a clear focus on getting people involved and creating a personalized experience. Why is that so crucial to producing a memorable event?
DB: Everything is different from beginning to end with us. One thing we do is called the first dance love story. This guarantees there’s not a dry eye in the room. We bring the bride and groom in and we interview them at our office. We interview them individually and record it. Through that interview we try to get them to explain to us the story of their love; how they met, what their first dance was like, how they describe each other. Then we mix that interview into their first dance.
It essentially tells the story of their love and their relationship, and they don’t get to hear that until they’re standing on the dance floor for their first dance together as husband and wife. It’s really powerful.
MSP: We’ve heard rumors that you also offer some sort of performance that combines a D.J. and a live band?
DB: That’s what we call “Union.” Union is the blend of live music and recorded music. The reason why I think it’s such an amazing mix is that a lot of people—especially some of the more traditional people—sort of feel that a band makes the wedding.
But what if the bride and groom and their friends want to hear Pitbull? They don’t want to hear some musician hack do Pitbull, they want to hear Pitbull.
The D.J. tends to lead the night, but the other musicians essentially highlight and play along with it. Sometimes the D.J. will fade out or scratch back in. These guys practice together all the time so they’re great at it.
The beauty of Union is that you have the sight and sound of live musicians with the music that everyone is accustomed to. I don’t know anybody else in the Twin Cities who’s doing this kind of fusion.
MSP: What other trends are getting big right now?
DB: The other trend that I’m seeing is the after-party. Whatever the case is, people want a live band, but at 10:30 or 11 the band stops, the D.J. starts and the after-party begins. We’ve even done them at different spaces. It provides a different feel, a different temperature to the room, and it gives the various generations something to enjoy.
Along with the concept of personalization, one of the hottest things that we’re doing right now is lighting. We’ve made a significant investment in lighting, and that’s something that really has the ability to change the whole feel of an event.
MSP: You’ve been to hundreds of weddings. What’s the best advice that you can give to our couples as they hire entertainment?
DB: With all wedding vendors—especially entertainment—shop based on value not price. There’s a big difference.
It’s strange because when you think about it, at the end of the night, people don’t remember the flowers, and they don’t remember what the linens looked like or if there were chair covers. To be honest they don’t even remember the songs that I played. They either remember “that was the most amazing reception I’ve ever been to. I can’t believe that I danced until midnight on a Sunday night,” or they say “wow, that D.J. sucked.”
We focus on how can we create a memory based on how people feel at that moment. Those are the things that stick with people, not the specifics.