New England DJ proves that even without electricity, there can be entertainmentI woke up on Friday, December 12, 2008 to a cold house and no power. A freak ice storm had hit overnight and an incredible 800,000 homes in Massachusetts and New Hampshire were without any power, heat or telephone service. The heavy rains all night had left a build-up of ice that had toppled hundreds of trees, telephone poles and power lines, and both states declared a full state of emergency. It was still raining sleet and ice as I squinted in the early morning half-light to check my wrist watch for the time. I had a rare Friday “double” booked to play for two corporate holiday parties that day. I was scheduled to start the first one, for a brand new client, at 11:30 AM about 30 miles away, and then play again elsewhere from 7:00 to 11:00 PM for an established annual client.
I called both the venues by cell phone. The evening venue had full power and was good to go, but the morning venue’s phones were out. I tried that AM client as well, but their line was out too. I had no choice but to get ready and drive to the venue.
Luckily, I have a cordless shaver at home and a battery back-up for my electric garage door openers, so I was able to clean up, dress and get the van out without any problem. I left for the first gig at 8:30 AM, allowing a whopping three hours for travel and set up, just in case the storm got worse or a sudden detour was needed.
Interestingly, the human resources director for that morning’s client had called earlier in the week to ask for suggestions on how to give away some prizes to the employees. I told her I could make it fun with various contests and interactive games that would not only help award the gifts, but make the event more fun and memorable. “Knowing our group, they won’t participate,” she replied icily, “so we’d prefer it if you just play the music and pick employee names from a hat every half hour and give the gifts out that way.”
“Great,” I thought at the time, “Another ‘people expert’ who pays for entertainment and then doesn’t want to use it.” To all those HR directors out there who have to plan company parties: Please don’t ever assume something cannot be accomplished just because you personally do not have the skills needed to accomplish it. That’s what I wanted to say to this particular party planner, but I just politely said “yes” to her.
Breaking the Ice
When I arrived (very early), there was no power at the venue. No lights and no heat, but luckily, they cooked by gas, so there would be hot food. The client had no way to cancel or even reach all the employees and they were told by the manager of the venue that the food had to be paid for, even if they rescheduled. They decided to go ahead with the party. The power company had said it would be “days,” not hours, before the power would be restored.
Even if I had brought a gas-powered generator, the second floor location and safety regulations regarding required distance from the building due to carbon monoxide (CO) fumes would have made it nearly impossible to power my sound system. Undaunted, I left my DJ gear in the van and brought in only my prop cases. Guests arrived on time as the rain ended.
The first hour (cocktails) passed quickly with the help of 50 lottery scratch tickets that the client provided for me to award with roving trivia questions and humorous comments out amongst the mingling guests. I didn’t have the luxury of a microphone, but years of public speaking has helped to teach me to project my voice as needed. This hour broke down the social walls very nicely. Free drink tickets also helped warm things up a bit.
Next came the buffet, where I used the old “stand up and sing a Christmas song” routine for the next table to be called. Once the guests were all back and seated with their hot food, I passed out paper and pens (adorned with my company name, logo and phone number, of course) and initiated a table challenge trivia contest that requires multiple answers (example: Tom Hanks Movie Titles). For fairness, I banned the use of Blackberries or iPhones for online cheating.
After the meal, I led some group games on the “dance” floor, starting with the balloon/union suit stuffer, then a scavenger hunt, a battle of the sexes improv game and a game where teams from different departments had to huddle up and then “Name That Movie” when given a popular quotation from it.
By the time the 3:30 ending time rolled around, the room was still packed, but getting pretty cold. Since guests already had their coats on, the CEO thanked everyone and made the usual “drive carefully” announcement, then turned and extended his arm toward me (now behind the DJ table which was still filled with props, but no equipment). Before he said a word, the audience stood and started applauding. Even the human resources director who thought her employees wouldn’t participate came up and said that it had been the “best holiday party we’ve ever had.” Now I can say I did a complete four-hour gig where I didn’t play one wrong song.
Michael Edwards is the owner of AllStar Entertainment, www.getadj.com , www.djslastminute.com and www.djbids.com. Full-time since 1979, Mike is one of 24 AllStar DJs at his agency in Andover, Massachusetts. A member of the Mobile Beat Advisory Board and the American Disc Jockey Association, Mike can be contacted at his office at 978-470-4700 or emailed at email@example.com.
Filed Under: Issues from 2009, Performing
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