Chicago Cocktail Hour with African Drummers

Cutting our rainy photo shoot short was a wise decision, because we made it to cocktail hour at our reception venue, the Ravenswood Billboard Factory, right before Skinny Williams, the Chicago saxophonist we hired to greet people at the door, was finishing up his last set.  In addition to Skinny, our ushers and waiters greeted guests at the door with wine and champagne and escorted them to the “placecard” table, about a 3 minute walk from the front door of the building. Guests may have been perplexed as to why they were being lead through several brick-exposed hallways, but as they got closer to our escort card table, no one could deny there was a great party around somewhere, due to the deep sound of beating drums from above.

Our placecard table was simple but special. My aunt took a picture of my husband and I during our wedding ceremony and got it printed just minutes before cocktail hour started. It is framed in the middle of the table, along with both our parents’ wedding photos on each side. We added a few containers of wheatgrass, leftover from the dinner centerpieces, and voila!

chicago saxophonist skinny williamscocktail hour escort card table
{Image on left courtesy of my father; all other images in this post by Missy Photography}

We chose to frame table numbers, with guests names listed alphabetically since seats for dinner were assigned and tags were already hanging on each chair in the dining space. After signing our guestbook, guests entered an elevator next to the table and were taken up to level 3, the atrium.

ravenswood billboard factory

As soon as the elevator doors opened, this is what guests saw.

ravenswood billboard factory

…and this is what they heard.

african drummers chicago wedding reception

african drummers chicago wedding reception

african drummers chicago wedding reception

The beat of the drums permeated throughout the whole building and set the tone for the rest of the night….let’s party!  Our guests feet began dancing to the beat before dinner was ever served.

On top of all the incredible music we had, the food was just as personal and amazing.

My husband and I worked with our caterer Andy to identify some hors d’ouvres based on places we’ve lived.  We chose the following hors oeuvres blindly (without a tasting) but each one was beyond delicious.  Guests loved guessing which treat matched which place we lived in.  Another cute idea would be to have a collection of YOUR favorite foods.

foods from around the world

We realized later we forgot NYC (how could we!?) but NYC is pretty much a smorgasbord of the world, which essentially was the above.  At least that reasoning makes us feel a little bit better about leaving it out.

Our caterer Andy, from Ravenswood Billboard Factory, was wise and kind enough to send a plate filled with one of each hors d’oeuvres to the bridal suite so I could taste each one…which I did.  I’d highly recommend you ask your caterer to do this–I would have been devastated had I not tried them all.


In addition to passed hors ‘douvres, the saxophonist and the African drummers, we had a slideshow of pictures that I made on my Macbook, highlighting our families, friends and us playing on a plasma (on the left side of the photo above) throughout the entire night.  It was muted and wasn’t a distraction AT ALL, which I had been afraid of.  Guests LOVED watching this, mostly because we made sure that every single one of them was pictured at-least once; but also because they got to know us a little bit better as well.

Finally, I am going to share with you my husband’s contribution to cocktail hour.   Rewind a few months, right after we sent out wedding invites–we had about 10 extra.  My husband suggested we invite some famous people randomly because “you never know.”  Ha!  We invited five and were hoping for a 20% acceptance rate.  Just one right?  Alas, none could make it, but four of our five VIPs responded: Michael Jordan, The Pope, President Obama and the Queen of England (who RSVPed ON TIME, what a classy dame).  The responses we received were probably Dave’s favorite keepsakes from the wedding process and he INSISTED (I mean insisted!  This may or may not have caused a small fight between us) that we tape them up with scotch tape in our very classy wedding….Ahem.  In the end, I agreed with his suggestion, of course, and it turned out great.  Guests LOVED the “wall of rejection” as we called it, and enjoyed reading the responses.


Can you guess which of our five VIPs did not respond?  Clues:  Famous, female, Chicago talk show host, who is leaving our great city next year. The Queen responded yet she didn’t… Just sayin.

How are you personalizing your cocktail hour?

Next up: Our Intimate Dinner Party