Keep the party going with our best tips.
four person wedding band The Strikes
Credit: Laura Gordon

No couple wants their wedding reception to feel like it ended too early, but you also don't want guests to think that it's been dragging on for too long, either. That begs the question: How many hours should you book your band for? "The iron-clad reception rule is four hours," says Jerry Bennett, owner of Jerry Bennett Entertainment and The Sultans. "Five hours is plenty—it's rare that we go past that." Four hours is also the standard reception length at most venues, says Susan Norcross, owner of The Styled Bride, "so bands follow suit." But that doesn't mean you can't extend the party on the big day: Bennett encourages his clients to book the band for a four-hour block that ends before the venue closes (or before noise ordinances kick in, usually at 10 p.m.), which allows time for a last-minute extension if the dance floor is still packed. "There's generally only about two hours or so left after dinner for the party," he says, "and when it's a great band and it's raging, it's great to have the possibility that you could do another half hour or an hour—which you can call at the time." You may not have to pay an upcharge for deciding to keep the party going on the spot, but you can expect a bill for extending the band's night, keeping the venue staffed, and allowing guests to keep hitting the open bar.

Many couples choose to increase the band's booking by having the same group provide music for their cocktail hour; Bennet often has The Sultans create a Gatsby-era atmosphere by playing tunes from the 1920s and 1930s during hors d'oeuvres in a mansion, or set the mood at a beach wedding with reggae selections during the post-ceremony festivities. There's no "right" length for a cocktail hour, he says: Some couples limit it to an hour, some take a leisurely approach by letting guests mingle for closer to two hours before the reception starts.

You may also have the opportunity to streamline your wedding plans by asking the reception band—or a few key musicians from it—to perform your ceremony music, whether it's enlisting the pianist to provide classical music for your walk down the aisle before switching to Top 40 at the reception, or choosing a band with a guitarist who's also classically trained to perform before your vows. Even if your ceremony is only 15 or 20 minutes, says Bennett, expect to reserve the musicians for at least an hour so they have time to play while guests are taking their seats and after your recessional. But if you prefer three completely different styles, it can also make sense to diversify your options, says Norcross. "Having the band perform for ceremony, cocktails, and reception can be a cost effective option," she says. "However, if you are looking to change things up and have strings for ceremony, bluegrass trio for cocktails, and big band for dinner, while more expensive, it can be a nice change throughout the night to give your guests a different experience."

The same applies for the after-party: "I like to see either a DJ or a smaller version of the band—something to switch it up and create another level of excitement," says Norcross. One couple she worked with brought in a "high-energy, crowd-friendly" wedding band for their reception, but finished the night with their favorite college bar band. "Late night they knew it was going to be mostly friends," she says. "Much different vibe, but the after-party was a huge hit as all their friends stayed to party with the band!"


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