When Wedding DJ Nightmares Become Reality

As an event professional, I periodically suffer from bad dreams about gigs gone bad, particularly weddings. Weddings are once in a lifetime events, and the stakes are high. The worst dreams are torturous nightmares, played out in slow motion as I arrive late to events, suffer equipment failure, botch grand entrance announcements or get yelled at by angry brides and grooms. Fortunately, other than a video slideshow mishap, I've never suffered any real life wedding disasters. Bad dreams are my sub-conscious playing tricks on me, and probably benefiting me as I do all that I can during waking hours to prevent these mishaps. However, this past Sunday, one of my worst wedding nightmares became a reality.

I was driving from New Jersey to Bensalem PA for a wedding. It was mid-afternoon, and the trip had been uneventful with light traffic. I was proceeding on Route 95 South towards Philadelphia, and noticed a woman driving erratically. I observed that she was hovered over her cellphone that was placed on the steering wheel. I passed her safely while thinking to myself 'what an idiot!' and reflecting on this crazy age of distracted driving that we live in. By now I was in the final five minutes of the trip to Penn Ryn Mansion to celebrate with Chelsea and Andrew on their wedding day. Today I would be DJing and Emceeing, but joined by our lighting technician Chris who was traveling in separately.

I exited off the highway, and stopped at the traffic light situated at the overpass. As the light turned green, I began to enter the intersection to make a lefthand turn. Out of my peripheral vision, I watched in horror as a vehicle came barreling through the intersection towards me. I knew at that moment that I was going to get hit.

The impact was hard and fast. Some items from the back seat had been thrown into the front seat and hit my shoulder. My car was still running, and I completed my lefthand turn, put on the hazard lights and parked. It was at this moment that I yelled an expletive and started panicking about a wedding scheduled to start in less than two hours. I called 911, and then took the opportunity to survey the damage to the vehicle. The entire front bumper had been ripped off. If my car had been just a second faster into that intersection, the damage to myself, vehicle and gear would have been much worse. I was particularly spooked out about how badly I could have been hurt due to no fault of my own. Hell, I could have even been killed in a broadside collision. The driver of the other vehicle, a middle aged woman in a Lexus SUV, claimed to not have seen the traffic light.

The police processed the accident quickly, and my car able to limp into the Pen Ryn Estate, with still adequate time. The bride and groom who were on the lawn doing portraits noticed the damage, and I told them the story but said that I was fine and ready to DJ their wedding. To make a long story short, Sunday night was one of the best weddings of my career with a rocking dance floor and a technically flawless event. While inside I was very unsettled, I was able to focus on the task at hand and perform my job well.

I realize that I was very blessed and lucky to have been able to DJ the wedding at all, and it really got me thinking. I am comforted by the fact that I had numerous DJs from the Ambient DJ staff and even other companies step forward and offer to help me. I would especially like to acknowledge Christopher Smith aka DJ Spinz and DJ Larry Sargent who were both available at the time and ready to step in to perform in my absence. "Chris the Greek" (lighting tech) did a great job of assisting onsite and also settling me down. During a slower moment of the reception, he cleaned up the damage on my vehicle so that I could drive it home. After the wedding, my colleague DJ Greg Nice did a great job of calming me down and putting the accident into proper perspective.

I have some takeaways and reflections from this incident. First, even with the best contingency plans, time buffers and backup equipment, event pros can still find themselves in bad situations that jeopardize a performance and a client's "once in a lifetime celebration." To my credit, the large time buffer that I build into weddings (2 hours) helped, as did the fact that I work at a multi-op DJ company with other DJ professionals. I also had the phone #'s of the venue and bride and groom at my fingertips so that I could communicate and problem solve quickly if needed.

Second, the roadways are dangerous places. As mobile entertainers, we are more at risk because by definition we are on the roads more than the average person. Even with careful, responsible driving, the law of averages can often come to victimize a DJ. In my deepest fears, I've always worried most about a high speed wreck late at night on the NJ Turnpike (like what happened to comic Tracy Morgan). The reality is that twice in the past five years, I have narrowly avoided high speed accidents that occurred during the daytime. One driver ran a red light. The other stopped on a highway to make an illegal turn because she was too lazy to take the jughandle. The risks seem higher than ever with the smartphone revolution and widespread practice of "texting and driving." In my future vehicle purchases, I'll continue to place a high ranking on a car's safety features. And you'll never see me riding a motorcycle - at least not in New Jersey!

Finally, listen to your bad dreams and realize that they could someday become reality. Take as many precautions as you can to mitigate these potential outcomes. Drive defensively. Bring backup equipment. Surround yourself with a great team. Network with other DJs who may step up the plate to help in your hour of need. You can never have too many friends or DJ friends. Be grateful for each and every day here on this Earth.

Drive safe people!