The guests take their golden seats surrounded by pink plastic penguins, golden glitter, and avant-garde artwork. Those clad in tailored tuxedos, twirled mustaches, and la haute société fascinator hats fit for royalty rub elbows with others sporting thrift store threads—rainbow slit dresses, bolero ties, silver oxfords.
Inside the 21c Museum Hotel ballroom, a hush falls over the audience as they await the newlyweds, who are set to take the stage for the first time.
"Ladies and gentlemen," the DJ bellows beneath neon lights. "Introducing the Elvises."
With a flash, two caped crusaders emerge from the shadows and into the spotlight, dressed in white, rhinestone-spangle jumpsuits fit for Graceland, the Ed Sullivan stage, a motorcycle stunt, or, it's now clear, their nascent act as a married couple. The gathered guests use one hand to cover their awestruck mouths and the other to reach for their phones to film this first dance—a choreographed medley of The King's greatest hits.
The room is all abuzz, and not because of surprise but because the couple has crystalized all of themselves in this moment. Everyone they love is assembled, there to celebrate the shared idiosyncrasies that make them a perfect match.
With apologies to Tevye, at weddings across the Triangle, there's a new take on tradition.
As we cycle from song to song with levity, a moment for reflection arrives. I recall an hour earlier the formality of the kilted bagpiper serenading the bride down the aisle. I remember our heads bowed in prayer, both Christian and Apache.
I squeeze my bride's hand tightly, and we're transported to six months ago and our own celebration. Like today's honored couple, we developed a script from scratch.
Within thirty minutes of our engagement atop a hill at a Tuscan vineyard, the questions began to flow along with the the wine: Have you picked a date? Where will the wedding be? How many will you invite?
Soon we decided that, since we were brought together by a love of music, food, and the creativity of Durham, our wedding would honor and share those very things with everyone gracious enough to join us. Six years earlier, Sara Waters and I met while I was on assignment for the INDY. Well, "assignment" is a charitable term.
Actually, I wanted a free pass to see Roman Candle play the Meadow Stage at the Shakori Hills Grassroots Festival. I convinced the paper's music editor that he could use a few words on the event, and with one phone call I was on the press list.
As the band played on in a bath of stage lights and a subtle shower from the skies, I scribbled in my reporter's pad. Sara, the festival cocoordinator, spotted me and introduced herself.
Six years later, just a few yards from that same field, poet laureate, naturalist, activist, and western-shift aficionado Gary Phillips would introduce us to our family and friends as husband and wife. Shakori Hills—with its seventy-three acres of trees and rolling beauty and its blessings of music and culture—was the only wedding venue we ever considered. We likened it to eating strawberries from the garden; they are at their peak of sweetness when they are natural and directly from the source.
Every choice we made took on that theme. For Schwatersfest—the three-day celebration that surrounded our vows—nothing was picked from the shelf or bound by outside expectation.
No Vistaprint. We called on friend Gabe Eng-Goetz, founder of Runaway, to design our invite, complete with Sara's cowgirl boots, my Air Jordans, Mason jars, peacocks, lanterns, and the lush plant life of North Carolina. He also created the JS wedding logo that we used to stamp invitations and hands on Thursday night at The Pinhook.
There, at the venue where we'd taken in so many special shows, in a polka-dotted vintage dress and a crushed velvet smoking jacket, we presented two artists whose music fills our home: Sarah Potenza and Jim Lauderdale.
No Jack Daniels. The cocktails came from Fair Game Beverage Co. in Pittsboro, where distiller and pal Chris Jude created a signature drink for each event—Friday's Dirty Schwaters Martini and Saturday's spiked apple cider made with brandy born from orchards of Sara's hometown of Hendersonville.
No set menu. We called on our favorite food trucks. Chirba Chirba showed they are more than just Juicy Buns by serving up black-tea-smoked duck and curried goat at The Cookery for our Friday rehearsal dinner.