Experts: The Music Makers

It's not a party without dancing—and that, of course, requires a killer lineup of tunes. The producer behind the Sultans of Swing dishes on how to ensure your playlist hits all the right notes.


Photograph by Jared Leeds

FOR THE PAST 17 years, the Sultans of Swing have shared the stage with Diana Ross and Maroon 5, performed for guests like Joe Biden and Sarah Jessica Parker, and crisscrossed the globe for gigs in Versailles, France, and Jackson Hole, Wyoming. But the Martha’s Vineyard–based ensemble has also imbued weddings with its fantastic full-band energy. As demand for their talent has grown, the Sultans of Swing have expanded their services to include DJs and celebrity guest appearances. We asked mastermind Katrina Delgadillo, the Sultans’ account executive and producer, how she keeps the groove going.

What should a couple keep in mind when thinking about wedding music?
If you’re looking for something unique, like salsa music or a Greek band, it’s important to put the call out as soon as you can, since there might be only a few of those bands out there. I would say definitely book early when it comes to music — a year or a year and a half in advance. Lock it in.

How can a couple get the most value for their money?

If you don’t have your wedding on a prime-time date, you can save money immediately. If you want bang for your buck, you can have a great six-piece band — I don’t think the big 15-piece band is necessarily for everyone. Another thing: I love it when clients design their own playlist of recorded tunes. That way, if the band needs to step away from the stage, you can still listen to the music you love.

What songs and styles are popular right now?
A lot of our clients are in their thirties, and they want songs by Bobby Brown, Salt-N-Pepa, 4 Non Blondes — people they remember from when they were younger. Now they’re at the age when they get together with all their friends and they sing along like it’s just yesterday. A lot of Montell Jordan [laughs]. It’s nice to throw in a few new songs at the end of the night. People have their guilty pleasures, like Lady Gaga, but at the end of the night, everyone’s dancing to it.

Sinatra’s still cool, right?
Everyone still loves him. The classics — they never get old. They make everyone smile and want to get up and dance. Those songs are timeless and can be appreciated by anyone, any age, any culture.

Is it difficult to translate pop songs to a live band?
People often want us to do songs that we have to adapt to a band. “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” — there’s a version that’s done with a ukulele, and it’s beautiful. But we don’t have a ukulele player at every event — that’s where our music director, Ryan Claunch, comes in. He can just hear a song and write the sheet music note by note — it’s amazing. He listens to it and transposes it, changing the sheet music to fit the key and instrumentation we have available.

How many songs can a couple request?
Every client we work with is allowed to request three songs not on our song list — usually that ends up being the first dance, the mother-son dance, and the father-daughter dance. We really want those to be what the bride and groom envision. We realize how personal those three songs are, and if they’re not on our song list, we’ll learn them. We give them a time frame, they send us the song, and the music director does his research and gets back to them.

What are your thoughts on DJs?

For people who don’t have a budget for a large band, it’s nice to hear an original recording. A DJ is great because you can play everything under the sun: oldies to pop music to jazz.

What are some common mistakes you see couples make?

It’s easy to want to orchestrate it all. But it’s most helpful for clients to give just their favorite songs to make sure we hit those. You want the band to respond to your crowd — they’re the professionals and they want to keep the dance floor going. It’s impossible to say which songs the guests are going to respond to until you’re actually in the moment. That’s probably the biggest mistake — to predetermine [the order of the playlist] ahead of time. Stressing about the tiny details ultimately doesn’t help the party.

Any words of wisdom from someone behind the scenes?
I like to reassure my clients that nothing is unfixable, no matter how close we get. We have an answer for everything. You can’t plan for every incident. If it’s Friday and there’s a hurricane warning for the weekend, we’re on the phone all day, making plans B, C, and D. Our focus is to make sure everything goes smoothly. No problem is too big; no request is too large.

Tips: Katrina Delgadillo’s party pointers guarantee a packed dance floor.

The Ceremony  Think outside the box. I love when brides and grooms take their current favorites and incorporate them into the ceremony. Some common songs I’ve seen over the past few years are “Lovers in Japan” by Coldplay and “Home” by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros.

The Cocktail Hour  Set the mood. If you’re at the beach, consider an acoustic or steel pan guitar player performing Jimmy Buffett or James Taylor. If you’re at a historical mansion, go for a jazz trio performing music from the ’20s.

The Reception  Give your band or DJ an idea of what you like. Everyone has their own opinion; some people, usually Red Sox fans, absolutely love songs like “Sweet Caroline,” while others, usually Yankees fans,do not want to hear that song ever again.

The Sultans of Swing, Edgartown, 508-627-3746,