Infamous Gigs: The Billy Joel Wedding

Today I am starting a new Throwback Thursday feature called “Infamous Gigs,” in which I will attempt to tell the stories from some of my more bizarre and memorable musical jobs. Today I will tell you the tale of: “The Billy Joel Wedding.”

Back when I was directing an a cappella group called Passing Notes, so this was about 10 years ago now, I received a call from a wedding planner who was looking to hire a backup vocal group for this one particular wedding. Now, we had never done anything like this before, but it sounded interesting and they had lots of money with which to pay us, so I gladly accepted the offer. I had sung at countless weddings myself anyway, so how hard could it be to do-wop a little “Here Comes the Bride,” or “Pachelbel’s Canon.”

What was different about this wedding was the fact that the bride and groom really, really loved Billy Joel.  In fact, their meeting and relationship was somewhat related to the musical “Movin’ Out: The Music of Billy Joel.” Every song at the wedding was going to be a Billy Joel song. They had hired the actual band and lead singer from the Broadway musical to come down to Maryland for the day to perform at their wedding. Our job was to provide backup vocals. To the actual cast of Movin’ Out. At a wedding.

So we learned the music. “In the middle uddah… I go walkin’ in mah…In the middle uddah… I go walkin’ in mah…” We got the official Movin’ Out songbook and For the Longest Time’d our way through our own rehearsals, until the big day finally arrived. Having never rehearsed with the band before, this day was key. We needed to go over everything with them at least a few times in order to be ready to perform. But there were a few complications, not the least of which was the fact that apparently we were supposed to be a big surprise.

Squirreled away in the bride’s parents’ basement (which included a large indoor swimming pool and a few locker rooms for us to hang out in – I mentioned there was a lot of money, right?), we sat and waited as the stressed out bride shouted at the poor floral woman who was trying to pin flowers onto things. The bride was upset because this outdoor wedding in her backyard was being threatened by the fact that it was pouring rain out. Clearly they should have purchased some better weather. Now, okay, the rain was technically slowing down and projected to stop by the afternoon, but the grounds were soaked. Puddles, slick grass, and mud did not make for a fun and fancy wedding, so they were bringing in giant emergency tents.

What was finally decided was that the wedding would be held outside as planned, and the reception, to which we were most definitely not invited, was to be held inside the palatial tents that were being erected. This put one small obstacle in our way as backup singers, because we were sitting in that aforementioned basement at the top of a very steep hill, and the wedding was at the bottom. We were instructed to pop out of the basement door at a certain musical cue, and then run at top speed down to the wedding, singing all the way. I hope you are remembering the word I used to describe the grass earlier.

We honestly tried. We made a good attempt, but our efforts were in vain. I tried to explain to the bride and her wedding planner that there was no way we were going to be able to run down what was basically a slip ‘n’ slide without killing ourselves, and that we were not going to be able to sing very well if we were running at top speed regardless of the ground conditions. My pleas fell onto deaf ears. We had better do it, or else. I would have tried to get the maid of honor on my side, except that the maid of honor was the bride’s dog. Yes, she looked very cute in her fancy doggy dress, but she refused to speak to me about our concerns.

So the wedding began, the worried bride walking verrrrrry slowly down the slippery aisle to “She’s Got a Way,” while we stood hidden in the basement pool area, our noses pressed up against the glass, waiting for our cue to self-destruct. And then, there it was. The signal. “Uptown Girl” was starting, and so we ran out of that door singing “Ohhh ohhh ohhh OHHHH ohhh ohhh ohhh,” and trying not to kill ourselves. And then I slipped. We all slipped. I don’t think anyone actually fell into the mud, but our poor sopranos and altos in their fancy shoes were tiptoeing at top speed and losing their footing at every step, and by the time we hit the bottom of the hill we sounded more like “Ohh ohh ohhh OHHHH ohhh….AHHHHHH!” Needless to say, everyone at the wedding was surprised.

They did not give us any food afterwards, but many people thanked us and told us how great we were, and what a big surprise it was to see a ball of a cappella singers careening down the hill towards them, and we even got another gig out of it. We’ll call that one “The Elevators Gig,” but that, my friends, is a story for another day.

Posted in A Cappella, Billy Joel, Broadway, Music, Musicals, Singing, Throwback Thursday, Wedding.


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