Exploring Nantucket’s booming wedding industry.
Few events are more enchanting than a wedding on Nantucket. From picturesque settings, to intimate venues, to bountiful catering and star-studded entertainment, tying the knot on Nantucket can feel torn from the pages of a fairytale. Perhaps not surprisingly, the wedding industry on the island is a booming segment of the local economy. Each year, Nantucket hosts well over two hundred weddings, netting an estimated $50 million for the local businesses.
Nantucket’s wedding industry defies the seasonal economic swing, peaking in the shoulder months of June, September and October, and extending business for restaurants, hotels, shops and many other vendors. By one event planner’s estimate, the average wedding on Nantucket costs between $800 to a $1,000 per guest. How that money is spent — on the venues, photographers, caterers and a slew of other vendors — takes all shapes and sizes, from as small as a three-person wedding to as large as five hundred.
While there might be a recipe for throwing an iconic “Nantucket wedding” — think Nantucket Reds, St. Mary’s Chapel and Brant Point wedding photos — many couples have put their own unique twists on is- land matrimony over the years. For instance, when Jamie Moran and Chris Warnecke were married last September, they were determined to think outside the box when it came to their reception. “We knew that we wanted to do something different that was unique to Chris and me as a couple,” Jamie said. “We both work in the music industry in Nashville and music played a huge role in our relationship.” The couple’s love of music ended up landing them inside the box for their wedding — the Chicken Box that is.
For the first time in its sixty-year history, the island’s legendary dive bar was transformed into an elegant wedding venue. Collaborating with Box owner Packy Norton and Susan Warner Catering, the Chicken Box was dolled up with neatly appointed table settings, flowers and votives. “They temporarily carpeted the entire floor, decorated the place like crazy and used the shuffle board for the bride and groom’s head table,” says Packy Norton. “It was the first and last time we’ll ever have a wedding at the Chicken Box.”
Very often couples fall in love with a venue on the island, but the space might already be booked out for months or even years in advance. The other obstacle can be that the venue simply can’t accommodate their number of guests. Such was the case for Madelyn Korengold and Jon Terbell. Madelyn’s family had been summering in ‘Sconset since she was a little girl, and she always dreamt of having her reception in the ‘Sconset Casino. But with their 325-person guest list, the couple realized that the Casino simply didn’t have enough capacity. Undeterred, Madelyn and Jon improvised by having the incredibly ornate woodworking of the Casino painstaking recreated in a custom tent set on the lawn of the Great Harbor Yacht Club.
“We started talking about the gorgeous trellises in the Casino and the unique history of the association on Nantucket,” Madelyn says. “When we showed our event designer Nick Watts at Amaryllis pictures of the Casino’s interiors, he sketched out exactly how the trellises could fit into the shape of the tent and camouflage the metal beams. It perfectly captured the feel of historic Nantucket and that green patina hue of the island we love so much.”
Of course, what takes place inside the venue is the most crucial component. Musician and entertainment provider Billy Voss has seen several major acts perform at intimate Nantucket wedding venues over the years. One unique challenge these bands face, however, is the town’s stringent noise ordinances, which restrict loud music past 10 PM. But as the saying goes, creativity thrives under constraints. Enter the Silent Disco, one of the newest fads in island weddings. Voss hands out hundreds of noise-cancelling headsets to the guests, with each synched up to the same sound system. When he presses play, a giant dance party erupt in complete silence.
Sometimes couples go to ever more dramatic lengths with their wedding entertainment. When Bruce Percelay wed his Dutch bride Elisabeth Shadae at their home on Nantucket six years ago, they celebrated their international union with an elaborate theatrical production. The inside of a jumbo jet was projected on to one of the far walls of the tent and four local actresses came to center stage dressed as airline stewardesses. After the preflight messages were announced — in English and Dutch — the four actresses broke out in a stirring rendition of Frank Sinatra’s “Come Fly With Me.”
Of course, weddings on Nantucket can hit turbulence. Even with every detail planned, accidents (and weather) happen. From a towering Sankaty Head Lighthouse cake falling on the bride and groom as they cut it, to sprinkler systems going off in the tent during the reception, Michael Molinar of Flowers on Chestnut has seen his fair share of catastrophes. As was the case when one bridesmaid fell headfirst into the center of the bride’s dress, leaving behind a full face print of makeup on the pristine white gown right before the ceremony. Thinking on his feet, Molinar jumped into action, shooting back to his shop to create a bigger bouquet that the bride could hold in front of the stain for the duration of the wedding.
Other mishaps have happened before the big day. A few years ago, a couple arrived at the Unitarian Church the day before their wedding for their rehearsal. Greeting them at the door, Reverend Ted Anderson asked why they were there. Hadn’t they canceled the wedding? he asked. The couple looked back at him confused and flabbergasted. Rev. Anderson went on to explain that he had received a call from the bride a few weeks earlier, saying that the wedding was off. As it turned out, it wasn’t the bride who had called — but the groom’s jealous ex-girlfriend!
Regardless of the venue, menu, mishaps and weather, a wedding on Nantucket is nothing if not memorable. For many islanders, the wedding industry keeps the lights on in their homes. At press time there were at least 113 weddings booked for the rest of the year, and that number will undoubtedly grow. Because no matter what your budget, the romance you’ll find on Nantucket is truly priceless.