They Rock All Night Long

Michael Avenella & His Dreamland OrchestraPhoto: Gregory Costanzo

Soul Street Band featuring Reggie Woods
Total Entertainment: 201-894-0055;
Just past midnight at one of Soul Street Band’s recent gigs, 300 people crowded the dance floor, kicking their feet up and singing—screaming, really. This wasn’t Soul Street’s wildest wedding, but it was a victory for bandleader and sax player Reggie Woods. The couple had warned him that their friends would be a “subdued crowd: they were older, sophisticated; they weren’t the dancing types.” And yet they were jiving to “Boogie Wonderland.” Soul Street, which played Billy Joel’s and Robert DeNiro’s nuptials, covers many genres, but “our Motown is authentic,” Woods says. Band members have opened for Diana Ross and Stevie Wonder, and performed with Ben E. King. Soul Street’s five singers do superb renditions of Motown classics—just pick one (from $18,500; book at least six months in advance).

Old-School Hip-hop
Grandwizzard Theodore
Premiere Artist Group: 561-792-2177
GrandWizzard Theodore’s on the turntables doing backspins and needle-dropping blindfolded. This is what they did when hip-hop was still a revolution. Growing up in the Bronx in the early seventies, Theodore was part of rap’s inception and he has performed with Run-DMC. He did his first wedding in 1983 and has since done too many to count. You’d be hard-pressed to request something he doesn’t have—in his 30-plus years in music, he’s accumulated hundreds of thousands of records. His prices are unbelievably old-school, too (from $1,500; book at least one month in advance).

Richard “Cookie” Thomas
John Ragusa Music: 212-706-7227;
This past summer, at Blue Hill at Stone Barns, Richard “Cookie” Thomas sang Ben Folds’ “The Luckiest” as newlyweds danced. “I kept noticing a few of the bride’s relatives looking at me,” he says. “I asked, ‘Am I doing okay?’ They said, ‘We want some rumba music.’” Staying true to his Great American Songbook M.O., Thomas had his band speed up Rosemary Clooney’s ballad “Hey There” to rumba tempo. “The moment they heard that, they were out of their chairs dancing,” he says. Thomas can be booked with bands big or small, or as an accompaniment to any band (from $4,000 with piano, bass, and drums; book at least six months in advance).

Jazz and Standards
Michael Arenella & His Dreamland Orchestra
Wearing three-piece wool suits with fedoras in the winter, straw hats and spectator shoes in the summer, this dapper ensemble takes the retro spirit to a whole other level. Led by Michael Arenella, it plays toe-tapping Tin Pan Alley and swing-era tunes, along with songs by jazz greats like Chet Baker, Billie Holiday, and Duke Ellington. “A lot of times at weddings older folks end up feeling alienated, but all generations respond to the music we play,” says Arenella. The group can play as a trio or sextet (from $4,750; book at least six months in advance).

John Kirk and Quickstep
“It’s the banjo strumming, mandolin picking, and harmony singing that gets people so excited,” explains Trish Miller about her and husband John Kirk’s bluegrass band, Quickstep. So does her dance calling. “She can always rally the crowd,” says Mary Burdette, of New York’s Grey Fox Bluegrass Festival. Miller says, “Just put the bride and the groom at the head and have them sashay down the middle while everybody claps.” The band’s repertoire also includes “Hava Nagila” (from $2,000; book at least six months in advance).

The Bronx Horns
212-243-4940 ext. 135;
The Bronx Horns’ bandleader and saxophonist Mitch Frohman is Latin-music royalty by association: He was a member of Tito Puente’s band for nearly 25 years. “We do ‘Oye Como Va’ the way Tito originally wrote it,” Frohman says, “with the flute playing the melody instead of the electric guitar, which is Santana’s version. As soon as the flute drops the room literally quivers.” The seven-to-ten-member orchestra can do mambo, salsa, merengue, cha-cha, rumba, and Latin jazz. Check them out in person at S.O.B.’s Salsa Groove (from $5,000; book at least four months in advance).

All-Night Dance Party
D.J. Choimatic
“It’s easy getting young kids going,” says D.J. Choimatic. “But to get older people dancing, that’s the art”—one he’s mastered. At one low-key, slightly stuffy wedding, some well-timed Bell Biv DeVoe had, he says, “60-year-old women on top of tables going crazy.” Before he started spinning weddings for friends, he played clubs like Irving Plaza and Stereo. Now, most of his gigs are nuptials or private events (from $2,500; book at least three months in advance).

Pop Cover Band
The Harris Lane Band
The Harris Lane Band has a ridiculously vast repertoire, from Little Richard to Lil’ Wayne. “Our brides and grooms are usually in their mid-twenties to early thirties, so they listen to Rihanna and the Black Eyed Peas,” says bandleader Harris Lane. “And the median age of their parents is between 55 and 65, so they’re more into the Beatles and Madonna.” Steve Rice, who manages events at the Plaza, says,“They’re the hottest musical act for high-end social events.” Case in point: Sean Combs hired them for his 35th birthday. The band is composed of a rhythm section, four main vocalists, and two horns (from $25,000 for ten pieces; book at least nine months in advance).

Whether they’re blasting out something classic from Count Basie or some new-school swing by Brian Setzer, the fourteen members don’t phone it in. “When they’re performing, you can tell they’re having a good time,” says Seth Abramson, artistic director for the Jazz Standard, who hired the band for his own wedding. The band’s been honing its craft for the past decade, playing dance festivals all over the East Coast, and appearing at the Big Apple BBQ as well as at a regular gig at the Hoboken jazz spot Maxwell’s. If your Lindy Hop is shaky, the group can set couples up with a dance instructor (starting at $250) for private, pre-wedding lessons (from $550 per musician, up to fourteen available; book six months in advance).

String Quartet
The Attacca Quartet;
The members of Attacca Quartet might be young—they met at The Juilliard School five years ago—but their musical tastes lean to the very, very old. “We play a lot of Hayden, Mozart, and Ravel,” says cellist Andrew Yee. “We do have modern composers in our repertoire, but they use a lot of experimental techniques that don’t quite have a celebratory feel the way those from the classical and romantic periods do.” Of course, they’ll take requests. The quartet recently did a wedding for a bride who wanted to surprise her groom with his favorite operatic arias. “Since it was impractical for her to book an opera orchestra,” says Lee, “we found string quartet arrangements for the pieces. The groom was completely taken aback.” (from $175 for the first hour per musician; $100 for each additional hour; book three months in advance)

They Rock All Night Long