Dempsey & Carroll’s event curator Austin Ackles sat down with Alicia Caldecott to learn about her work as an event designer.
AA: By now, you’ve done just about everything imaginable lakeside but what was one of the biggest technical challenges?
AC: This summer we designed and produced a destination wedding for over 300 guests and for the wedding reception, we built a dock over the water at the client’s cottage! We have been very fortunate to work at some truly remarkable and beautiful locations around Michigan’s Gold Coast however this was a chart topper! The lawn of the cottage was not deep enough to host the reception and the only solution was to select another venue or venture out into the water. After surveying we discovered that the lake bed was not solid enough (too much decaying matter and clay) to lay footings and have the flooring rest on the lake bed- we needed to jettison the supports of the flooring into the lake bed just like you’d do to the pylons of your dock. 330 guests plus a stage, dance floor, lounge area and ample gathering areas require an abundance of space and the resulting platform that was constructed from timber and hand painted was just shy of 16,000 square feet.
Building the dock wasn’t the hard part, but it was a challenge. The length of time required for the build meant strict schedules and when Mother Nature wasn’t playing nice either with thunderstorms or small craft wind advisories we had to push through. The biggest challenge was the painting of the dock in the bride’s signature colors, Lilly Pulitzer Pink and white stripe, on the bias of course! The weather pushed our painting schedule back and we had to install the main tent structure while priming and painting were taking place under the canvas. Being on the water meant working in a constant humid environment on top of the humid summers we have in Northern Michigan. Large thunderstorms the week before the wedding meant warping wood and veneer had to be replaced and restained.
When the sun finally came to stay on Wednesday before the wedding we were blessed with great weather, the kind you dream of on the lake, and our teams kicked into gear putting the final touches on our happy couple’s special venue!
AA: What’s your secret weapon for a buggy August evening?
AC: We have a “layered” strategy for helping make our guests comfortable when insects can be a nuisance. First, start with the welcome bags or gifts. Include a few bug wipes for their convenience. Next make sure to have on hand additional towellettes in the restrooms. If it’s a particularly challenging case of bugs, keep some spray on hand behind the bars. Citronella works like a charm and a quick and easy remedy is to swap out your standard votive candles with citronella scents. Also, around the inland lakes “up north” we have mosquitos and they are not particularly fond of garlic. Now, I don’t recommend having an entire meal of garlic or over seasoning, however it’s amazing the difference even the slightest bit of garlic in one’s diet makes in the resistance to those pesky bites!
AA: Has there ever been wildlife making a surprise appearance at one of your events?
AC: Working around state and national parks there are abundant amounts of wildlife. Thankfully we have not had anything “large” crash a party but we did have a very interested and rather sizable, momma raccoon make her way into a tent the night before the wedding while we were running and lighting and rehearsal. She was hanging onto the tent pole behind the drape and when I turned to adjust the uplight I was greeted with a gnarly hiss and growl!
AA: What’s the hardest thing to make happen in a remote location?
AC: With enough time and resources there isn’t much that is that hard or too difficult to happen. I will say that one repeated challenge is lack of modern conveniences. You have to know your resources before you arrive on location and most importantly, their hours of operation! The mom and pop hardware store may have everything you need to McGuyver the problem you need to solve but if they close at 4:30pm and don’t open until 10am no amount of duct tape or zip strips will make them open for you! Knowing your resources can result in more work for our team but it’s not an unsolvable challenge. The biggest challenge and hardest thing to work with in many remote locations we work with is the lack of total or reliable cell phone services. Short of getting a satellite phone, which those have even been a challenge at one particular “remote” destination we have produced two events at, there isn’t much you can do. In today’s day and age, it’s amazing how dependent we are on our mobile devices and when you don’t have them, or a way to make them work, you best hope that the team you have assembled is sharp and on point!
AA: When you’re doing an event out west, what do you miss the most about working back home?
AC: Aside from working around Lake Michigan, we have been fortunate to travel to California, Colorado and Texas to name a few, to produce events for clients. Working at “home” is never really “home” for us. We are always traveling to our venues so operating in a mobile capacity is something we are very comfortable with. With that being said, I don’t know that I really “miss” working at home when we are in a new state or across country. New locations, challenges and venues are inspiring just like the families we serve and although we may not be able to bring our exact tool kits, team of vendors or families we sometimes have more fun learning the new and reinventing what we do on the road!
AA: What can you get in northern Michigan that you can’t find anywhere else?
AC: For those that are fortunate enough to have spent time around Northern Michigan I think you would agree with me in saying that there is a certain sense of self and wholeness here that resonates in one’s soul. Our clients may not reside up north year round but it’s their favorite address and they want to share the magic of what we have here with the ones they love. The natural beauty found along our shores, crystal clear waters and intoxicating sunsets provide the back drop for the effortlessly perfect summer day. Now, if you are a four seasons lover like I am, you’ll have no problem swapping your swim fins for snowshoes and your fresh roadside fruit for campfire chili!