This dance, as well as my wedding DJ career, was supposed to end an hour ago. I started this job 17 years ago, as a way to make spare money on weekends. I quit “for good” several times—and have stayed retired for most of the 10 years I’ve been married. But now I’m back again, at a rustic northern Wisconsin resort, “one last time” as a favor for friends. There’s no other civilization for miles. Here, there is music, free beer, and a major life event. They’re not going anywhere.
How many encores are too many? We tried to end back at midnight with “Sweet Caroline,” but the crowd got the “one more song” chant going, and we couldn’t stop there.
Later, I tried to end it again after “Piano Man.” Then more chanting, more dance music, and, finally, the apparent closing group sing-along: “Hey Jude.”
The groom says to cut it off after this one, but when confronted by chanting crowd—and his own groomsmen—he gives me the sign to keep going. I want the night to end with a grand finale, but it’s like predicting the stock market: no one knows when the peak hits until it’s too late.
At this point, there aren’t any top-tier dance songs left. Somebody asks for Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin’.” This isn’t even dance music, but I play it anyway. With the push of a button, the crowd is full of air keyboards, air guitars … and with raised fists, raised drinks, they’re singing themselves hoarse.
My wife has taken my two sons, amped up on kiddie cocktails and glow sticks, back to the hotel room. My seven-year old begged to stay longer, but his little brother was – like my sound system’s amplifier – past the max and heading for a meltdown.
One groomsman slaps a twenty on the sound system. “Keep it going!” he says. “Only the really, really good stuff from here on out!”
Finally, an hour after the official end of the dance, the bartender notifies me that the facility is shutting down. Fulfilling one last desperate drunken request, I play “Sweet Caroline” … again. The families and friends sing along like they haven’t heard this song in a decade. Last call comes and goes. The bar closes. I reluctantly shut down the system. People who can hardly stand up start planning after-parties.
After packing up, I walk through the parking lot, thinking about how this gig was one of the all-time best. And how, maybe, that would be the one to end on – for good this time.
Then a guy with a crooked tie points at me and shouts, “Hey, microphone guy!” He pauses to focus, then slurs, “You’re good at that.” That parking lot compliment might be the capstone of my career – a sincere, intoxicated, epitaph.
I get back to the hotel room, and my family has all crashed. It’s completely dark, except for my three-year-old son’s illuminated face. Clutching a green glow stick, he sleeps – still unwilling, or unable, to let it go.