The Call of the Wild by Merlin Zimmet

November 20, 2008 by Mobile Beat Staff Writer

As DJs, throughout most of our careers we seldom stray from the usual settings: hotel ballrooms, banquet halls, gymnasiums, back yards, tents, and so on. Once in awhile, however, we may get a call to do something off the beaten path-way off.My “journey to adventure” began when a word-of-mouth referral came in one day that would prove to be somewhat “difficult.” The bride-to-be was in her early sixties and the groom of similar longevity. Nothing so unusual about that; it’s just proof that people can fall in love, regardless of time spent on the planet. But that’s pretty much where any normalcy associated with this pending event ended.

A pair of the bride’s close friends offered a location for the ceremony and reception. They just happened to own about 1,700 acres of remote, albeit breathtaking Western Colorado property known as the Ladder Canyon Ranch. That should be enough real estate to host a few thousand of your closest friends, I thought. “Off the grid” was not an accurate description of this location; the grid wasn’t even close. The final grade to the location was a six-mile uphill pull of dusty, one-lane gravel road. The wedding invitation read “4×4 not necessary but recommended…If you get stuck or lost, we’ll be back in the spring.”

I could see the real possibility of a recipe for disaster cooking up. Aside from the shear logistical problem, what if, heaven forbid, it should rain? Once the tenting companies we called found out about the location, they opted to rent all their equipment to other customers hosting events with better accessibility-for example, in the Amazon.

Nonetheless undaunted, the bride, groom, friends and I forged ahead with the planning of the details. Of course a “look see” was in order, just to get bearings and pick out a spot for the ceremony and subsequent party. Upon arrival, we found that the only 21st-century semi-permanent structure on the entire property was a yurt (see photo). Not nearly enough room for a group nearing 100. A yurt is a round tent, originally used by nomadic tribes of Asia. It’s a strong and relatively lightweight domicile, requiring only 30 or 40 yaks to move. The balance of the area’s topography was a combination of rolling high country beauty: pine trees, rock outcroppings, canyons, etc.-a great setting for a Hollywood Western…or a survival reality show.

The owners were the kind of folks who enjoy venturing up to their property and spending time just hanging out off the grid, away from the phone, communing with nature; and they were bound and determined to share their little slice of paradise and host this wedding. I warned them that we were dealing with the four P’s …People, Parking, Power, and Potties. But the plans continued to blossom. A date in September was selected, and we consulted with the Farmer’s Almanac to get an idea of what could be expected for weather. The almanac forecast was a little sketchy, only offering a “your guess is as good as ours”-type entry.

As the DJ/MC the only P that really concerned me was power. Between the hosts and myself, we owned four power generators of various capacities. We decided that we should have at least three at the event, since we were treading in unknown water with cooking, lighting and sound. (Reminds me of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms-which one doesn’t belong?” Between the three generators we selected, we had at our disposal just over 12,000 watts of power. Better too much, than not enough, as they say. We could have lit up a rodeo arena and simultaneously powered a Kid Rock concert.

Of course there was also the noise factor. In this pristine setting we didn’t want the guests to actually hear the big generators, so this required placing them (all but the little 2000-watt Honda that I used) over in Utah, and running heavy gauge extension cords up to their locations. (Note: Because of voltage drops on long runs, always use at least #12 gauge cords if you are running power over 100 feet) Let me tell ya, there is nothing that goes on in any aerobics class that quite matches the workout one can get traipsing around at an elevation of 7,500 ft, with coils of heavy duty power cords over your shoulders. If Michael Phelps did this on a regular basis, he might develop lungs that would allow him to swim from California to Hawaii, underwater.

I’ve always been impressed with the little Honda generators. I’ve used several over the years and they are quiet performers. For this event I dedicated a 2000-watt Honda for powering my sound and computer equipment. It worked flawlessly. I must say I was a little apprehensive about using a generator with my computer. I did opt to add a high-dollar surge protector to the mix, just in case. There was also concern about grounding the system and the potential 60-cycle hum problem. Some web research ensued on the subject, but there seemed to be no definitive conclusion amongst the experts. By NEC code, an 8′ long copper clad steel rod needs to be driven into the ground. I had no clue how to accomplish THAT, since they don’t call ’em the ROCKY Mountains for nothing, and renting a pile driver was out of the question. I opted to eschew the grounding rod. There was no hum, and there were no hiccups.

For those of you who have ever tried to view a laptop screen in bright daylight, you will be able to relate to this next hurdle. Put simply, on a bright sunny day, you can’t see a damn thing. One must improvise. I chose to employ a technique used by the famous photographer Ansel Adams. Primitive but effective (see photo). The other option would be to hire an assistant to stand over you with an umbrella (ella ella), but that can get costly if you’ve got several hours of daylight.

The wedding was stellar and the weather cooperated completely. The reception on the rocks couldn’t have been better. The owners of the ranch worked like slaves to prepare the area and the food for the 100-plus intrepid guests who braved the trek. After the event, we (those involved in coordinating everything) got together, evaluated the event and gave ourselves conservative 9.5s and 9.8s for a job well done.

For my professional brothers and sisters in the mobile DJ entertainment business I offer the following. If someone calls and tells you about their plans to host an event in a remote location, take a quick mental inventory of your experience, and then be honest about your ability to actually pull it off. These are not easy gigs. You can always opt out by telling them you are booked for Papua, New Guinea on that date.

Remember, the true success of the party is on your shoulders-not those of the cake decorators or the caterers or any other vendor. There can be mediocre food and a melted wedding cake but you can still pull off a great event-anywhere-if you are prepared. Some things you can’t control, like the weather, but if you have a back-up plan for everything else, you can usually still be the hero.

Merlin Zimmet runs Zentco Productions out of Grand Junction, Colorado.

Mobile Beat Staff Writer (371 Posts)

This is the general editors account for Mobile Beat Magazine and Website. Who reads Mobile Beat online and in print and attends Mobile Beat events? DJs, VJs and KJs to start with, especially those who own and operate mobile entertainment services. They provide music, video, lighting and a myriad other entertainment choices for corporate events, wedding receptions, dances and innumerable other gatherings.

Filed Under: 2009, Mobile DJ Profiles