Love itself might be the most meaningful of all the reasons to love the Hudson Valley region. Tying the knot here, that is. What’s not to love about getting married amidst magnificent mountains, voluptuous views and stunning settings? Bridal parties have a variety of choices for really special wedding locations in our region. There are hundreds, conservatively speaking, including all the resorts, historic sites, parks and renovated or restored or repurposed structures in upstate New York.
How does any hopeful couple hope to choose? There are numerous sources of information online, veritable clearing houses of all-things-nuptial, including venues. Yet, without a recommendation from a trusted friend, it can feel like you’re looking in the Yellow Pages for a place to get married. I decided to consult the pros — people in the wedding business, people in the know about what works and what doesn’t, people who have their own favorite places with their own special memories of working there. I turned to a wedding officiant, florists, musicians, photographers and caterers to tell me where they’ve really enjoyed doing their jobs.
Providing drop-dead-gorgeous, fresh floral arrangements for someone’s all-important day may be the most challenging issue. Flowers are so perishable. Does the venue offer a cooling place to deliver them to? If the ceremony is outdoors, is there shade and protection from the elements before the wedding commences? What other considerations are vital to providing a bride and groom the spectacular array of nature’s glory they’ve paid for?
Consummate florist Dennis Nutley of The Green Cottage in High Falls says that every venue has its own feel and personality. “I try to reflect that in flowers. I love Red Maple Vineyard in West Park and Buttermilk Falls in Milton. Also, the Full Moon Resort in Big Indian. All are wonderful and extraordinary in the service they provide.”
This seems a crucial theme. Whether wedding logistics are being handled by a professional planner or someone in the bridal party, a relationship with venue owners and managers must be established. “You need to ask open-ended questions,” says reverend Judith Johnson, author of The Wedding Ceremony Planner and How to Write Meaningful Wedding Vows. “Get an education about your options. For example, what is the venue’s Plan B for an outdoor wedding if the weather turns bad? When is a final decision made to move the wedding inside, and who will handle the move? How will unexpected delays be handled? Make sure you get all these details and get what you want.”
Pressed to share some of her favorite Hudson Valley venues, Johnson names Onteora Mountain House in Boiceville and The Emerson Resort and Spa in Mount Tremper. Each books only one wedding per weekend. She acknowledges the heavy competition venue owners are under, along with the high cost of making themselves visible in the marketplace — which can force them into multiple bookings.
“But at locations that do three or four weddings in a weekend, the caring of the couple is drastically diminished by the end of the weekend,” she says. Staff are exhausted.
“At Onteora Mountain House, which is private and secluded, they take supremely beautiful care of you. It becomes your home for the weekend. There’s an elegance about this place, a stillness there. It’s not just a view; it’s being in that view, in the silence of nature. They’ve built a new room, so in case of rain, you get almost the exact same view as you would if you were outside.”
“At The Emerson, the wedding coordinator, Marci Smith, is as cool as a cucumber and attentive to every detail, which is important because when a couple is shopping, they’re clueless as to what to look for. A couple has to rely on the information they get from venue owners. And the #1 thing they need to look for is the sense that the ones they’re choosing are sensitive to them. You want to get a sense of commitment.”
Johnson notes how pleasing it is for her to officiate weddings when there’s a shared goal between her and the venue owners to do a wonderful job for the couple getting married. “At Onteora, we know that we can count on each other,” she says. “They have their own sound system that we plug into. I always bring my own mic if I’m doing a wedding that requires one. But I’ve had the sound people in other venues want to charge an extra $500 to plug my mic into their system.”
A good sound system and good acoustics are considerations for musicians who perform during the ceremony, dinner, and dancing afterwards. Joe Kaczorowski, saxophonist and leader of The Kazz Music Orchestra, says his band’s favorite places to perform are the ones that have the best people working there. “You can perform at the same venue two weeks in a row, and it can be a totally different experience, depending on who the vendors are, what the couple is like, and what the guests are like. Put me in a parking lot behind a dilapidated building with a couple that’s fun and all about enjoying the celebration with family and friends, where the guests love to dance, and where the vendors are able to communicate openly with each other about how the flow of the reception is going, while keeping a sense of humor and having as much fun as the guests even though we’re ‘working’, and as far as I’m concerned, the venue is great!”
Kaczorowski has a favorite wedding venue person to work with, John Wall of the Larchmont Yacht Club in Westchester. “John has an amazing sense of humor and is super fun to work with. He and his whole team consistently do incredible work in running events,” says Kaczorowski. “We played for a wedding there, and the bride stepped off the dance floor for a minute because she was getting hot. Before she even had time to tell anyone, John Wall was behind her with a cold washcloth on her neck. When you have people that good at a setting that is so beautiful, it’s the kind of venue we want to perform at as much as possible.”
He compliments Marci Smith at The Emerson for being super-efficient with the food-service process and great about communicating with the band in terms of what’s going on.
Acoustics are critical to producing the best sounds. Kaczorowski finds it fun to play in Hudson Valley’s non-typical historic places and rustic barns. “Barns are awesome acoustically, such as the Stone Tavern Farm in Roxbury.”
He mentions issues such as the load-in logistics for dealing with all of their gear. “We’ll typically provide one or two musicians for the ceremony and cocktail hour, but the rest of the group doesn’t have a role until the reception begins. Sometimes the entire band has to be there and be completely set up in the reception area prior to the guests arriving for the reception, because there’s no other way for the band to load their gear in. I like it when I can tell my guitar player that he’s fine arriving during the cocktail hour, because there’s a side entrance that will let him sneak right into the reception area without interfering with the guests at all.”
Wini Baldwin of the Catskill Quartet in Palenville offers another approach. “We’re acoustic, so we don’t have to plug into anything,” she says. “We could perform at the top of a field for the ceremony, then go back into the event room to entertain for the rest of the evening.”
Baldwin and group provide processional and recessional accompaniment, and as well offering a repertoire of music throughout the cocktail hour, which can include a wide variety of styles: rags, jazz from the Thirties and Forties, classics, Broadway, pop, tangos and rock. “We like The Roxbury Barn — it’s incredible — and the Full Moon Resort. And Birch Hill in Castleton-on-Hudson. The Senate Garage in Kingston is a very cool place, too.”
In the past 20 years, photographer Cynthia DelConte at Day for Night Productions has shot thousands of weddings. She mentions a long list of the pros and cons of various locations. “A place like The Garrison on the Hudson River offers amazing scenery with indoor possibilities as well. The Grandview in Poughkeepsie is easy to shoot in, and the ceremony spot is nice. Barns — very popular these days — can be very dark and hard, with little comfort or convenience,” she says. “Basilica in Hudson is very popular if you like the industrial aesthetics, but there’s no AC or heating. From my vantage point, standing around on a hot day in black clothes for ten hours is a challenge. The Ballroom in Helsinki Hudson is another great space that’s a little challenging to shoot in. But it’s our job is to make anything work. It’s not the couple’s job. Their job is to find a photographer who knows how to deal with such circumstances.”
DelConte emphasizes how important the professionalism of the venue owners and managers is to making the location enjoyable for all concerned. “Red Maple Vineyard offers 20 different great areas for photographing. The owner once took me for a ride in the golf cart and showed me new areas and gave me new ideas. And they give vendors a community meal, so we’re not waiting until 11 at night to get a dinner. Typically, we get no break from noon until after guests are finished eating, which can be well after 10 p.m. It can be a long day, so when a venue takes care of us like that, it’s unusual and special.”
The catering service…
At Blue Mountain Bistro to Go between Kingston and West Hurley, chef Richard Erickson and co-owner (and wife) Mary Anne Erickson have also worked thousands of events, including many spectacular weddings. Since they are the exclusive caterers at Onteora Mountain House, it’s no surprise the venue is one of Mary Anne’s favorites. “It’s a gorgeous spot with incredible views. The wedding site, nestled amongst very tall pine trees, looks out on pristine wooded mountains with no building in sight. They have an Adirondack-style pavilion for the reception.”
Catered foods typically are prepared before arriving at the venue location, so considerations about a venue’s facilities primarily have to do with ample space and convenience. “We’ve catered lots of other places, too. We love the Slingerland Pavilion at Mohonk Preserve, just down the hill from the big resort, that holds about 80 people. Stunning views at sunset. And another for the view, Opus 40 has a nice site and easy set up for the caterer, as well. And The Belltower in Rosendale, an old church that’s been renovated. And Locust Grove has a big beautiful room for the party and a lovely huge kitchen for the caterer.”
Good questions to ask…
After diving into online research and narrowing it down to a few possibilities, your best bet is to ask scads of questions: What is the venue’s capacity? Is there ample parking or valet service? Heat and air-conditioning? Handicapped access? What about in-house accommodations for the wedding party and proximity to hotels for guests?
And one last point, made by Judith Johnson: buy wedding insurance. Most reputable and desirable venues are here to stay — but in an uncertain economy, your fantasy wedding spot could disappear overnight. Do your homework, then protect your dreams.