I call what I do for a living work, but it certainly doesn’t look like it. In fact, it’s not supposed to.
My job description... well it certainly sounds more exciting than most. I am William Elijah, also known as Big Will, I’m a professional party-starter. Over the last two decades, first as the front man for The Sun Messengers (formerly the Detroit Pistons House Band) and now with my own group, Big Will and The 360 Degrees Band, I get hired because I know what to say and play to blowup a dancefloor.
I’m a musician, singer and an entertainer. It’s my job to be the life of the party, to deliver a playlist to match the crowd’s energy, to get people up on the dance floor and, more importantly, keep them there.
Over the last 20 years, I have played at over a thousand wedding receptions in and around the Metro area. A thousand weddings! At an average of six hours for each gig that amounts to starting a show in January and playing the last encore in July. It means hundreds upon hundreds of first dances, bouquet and garter tosses, and cake cuttings.
I’ve played The Chicken Dance, The Macarena, The Detroit Hustle and Thriller more times than I can count. And in the last year, I have driven home from gigs with a hard to shake Gangnam-style earworm. I‘ve played everywhere from upscale venues to banquet halls, clubs and private homes. Since most brides and grooms get married on Friday or Saturday night, I can’t remember the last time I had a weekend off.
You might think that after all this time my job might get boring or routine. Far from it. It’s not the case at all. I love performing live on stage. Love everything about it. It’s a challenge for a musician like me because you learn to play everything from Latin to jazz to Motown, classic rock to current hits making sure the vibe for the party is just right. It’s a new crowd every time, so every wedding is a new and different adventure for me and my band. Now, that’s not to say that the adventures aren’t sometimes weird or crazy. But they are never dull.
In all of my years as a band leader, I’ve witnessed some over the top wedding wackiness. Brides and grooms covered in cake, single ladies actually tackling each other during the bridal bouquet toss and guests getting overly amorous in the middle of the dance floor. Probably one of the most jaw dropping moments involved a best man’s curse toast and storm off. The wedding was on New Year’s Eve (the perfect storm of alcohol consumption) and the groom’s brother stood up to give a toast. The speech was all about the major fights they had as kids. As the speech went on, recalling the memories made him madder and madder. Finally, he looked over at his mortified brother’s face and yelled for all to hear “See, that’s the look that ticks me off!” Adding a few expletives, he dropped the mic and fumed out the door. The reception came to a screeching halt and everyone just stood there with their mouths open.
There have been other times when tipsy guests sometimes get out of hand. But, my goal is to treat people with the utmost respect, tipsy or not. When they get to be too much to handle, I excuse myself by pretending someone’s calling him from across the room. Works every time. Every once in a while, guests who have overindulged insist on sitting in with the band, sometimes with surprising results. We’ve actually been had some really great experiences with people who could really carry a tune. You never know what to expect.
But with the crazy, also comes the sweet. The band and I have played some of the most upscale parties in town. Gorgeous settings, great food, beautiful flowers. But what really makes any event special to me is all the love I see. It’s everywhere in that room. I’m not overly sentimental as a rule. But even after all these years, I sometimes can’t help but tear up when the bride and groom put their arms around each other and dance for the first time as husband and wife. I am honored to provide the music for that moment. The moment when a dad dances with his daughter; or a mom with her son is so full of emotion. As a dad myself, I sometimes picture and feel what that moment would be like. Confession…don’t let the rock star persona fool ya’…I’m a big mushball.
As a wedding singer, I am often asked for my advice when it comes to “the big day.” The best advice I give to brides and grooms would be to relax and let us serve you and your family. All your planning for this day is happening around you. Look at the smiles. Enjoy your friends and family. And don’t sweat the small stuff. Twenty years from now, no one will care that the florist delivered carnations instead of roses or that the cake was the wrong flavor. What matters is the memories you make and the joy you share. In the years ahead, make sure this is the day that you look back on with a smile.
And one final piece of advice…for heaven’s sake…DANCE!!!! The dinner will be over in a hour, but the experience a live band will bring for you and your guests will last a lifetime. As far as I’m concerned, if you don’t leave the reception with your shoes in your hands, I haven’t done my job!
Read more on Patch: 5 Questions for Big Will and 360 Degrees Band
Big Will and The 360 Degrees Band play private parties, corporate events, festivals and , of course, weddings. We are also at The Motor City Casino Chromatics Lounge and have a new CD "Under The Influence" set to be released later this year.
If you’d like to learn more about Big Will and The 360 Degrees Band Follow us on Facebook or visit us online at bigwillonline.com.