By KJ Philp, August 2016 Issue.
It wasn’t long ago that SWAY Events was throwing the Valley’s poshest parties and the swankiest soirees. Those days might be over, but Gary Guerin and fiancé Benjamyn Gorsky are still hard at work planning their biggest event yet – their wedding weekend, of course.
Echo Magazine caught up with the future grooms, who will tie the knot Feb. 18, 2017, at The Croft Downtown in Phoenix, to find out what advice these experts had to say about their experience thus far.
Echo: Let’s start all the way back with where, when and how you met.
Gary Guerin: Ben was a regular for karaoke which I hosted at Kobalt for years. He'd always come in and was a great singer. I remember he always used to order champagne with cherries (all the bartenders were annoyed, I'm sure). After years, he eventually filled in some of my hosting duties while I was away for events and we sang duets of RENT together often.
Benjamyn Gorsky: We actually knew each other for quite a while before we started dating. I guess you could say Martini and a Microphone started it all... #karaokelovers
Echo: Of course, we all want to hear your engagement story –who proposed and how?
Gorsky: Gary! We were staying at the Valley Ho for the Annual SWAY Pool Party, and Gary was working (out of state) and managed to fly back early. We had this amazing suite at the hotel and I walked into a room stocked with Strawberries and Champagne. I honestly didn't think anything of it, I just thought it was a gift for him from the hotel, like "Thanks for your annual business!" Anyways, when he got to the hotel, all of our friends that were also staying the weekend were about to hit the town. We stayed back. Gary came into the bathroom rocking a hotel robe, pulled the beautiful ring out of one of those big pockets, and popped the question. I was so shocked. So shocked that I forgot to even answer... obviously I eventually got there. Tears and hugs all over the bathroom floor after that - then we both called our Moms.
Guerin: It was actually supposed to go down the next day at a surprise brunch I had planned, but my nerves got the best of me. I was so scared the secret was going to slip out that I just had to do it. It was not very elegant and I remember showering right before to just try and calm down - I decided in the shower it needed to happen then. The brunch plus some special appearances by family still happened despite the change of plans.
Echo: In what ways has planning some of the community's best events influenced your wedding planning?
Guerin: I've been a professional event planner for over 15 years now and almost every event is different. Usually there's some[thing] creative from each project that sticks with me. I think our wedding will be made up of some of our favorite ideas along the way. Some choices more conscious than others, while a few will just instinctually happen. I'm all about reinventing good ideas, which is why I think I'm successful as an event planner and what will help make our wedding special as well. The challenge is that there are just too many ideas floating around in the archives of my brain.
Echo: Similarly, how has your professional experience and expertise shaped your big day?
Guerin: I'd say I have a knack for being resourceful and (mostly) realistic. Clients often times come to me with a concept or idea that is just way blown out of proportion. I'm usually great at finding a way to make it happen within realistic means and budget. Editing myself for something so personal isn't as easy. Of course there's contacts and general know how too – what might take someone a while to research or figure out is just second nature to me.
Gorsky: So, what Gary is really saying is that we can't have the Aerial Dancers that I wanted so badly!
Echo: What are your top secrets to a successful event (of any kind)?
Guerin: This is a great question and surprisingly no one's ever asked!
• Do a little crowd sourcing. My friends know that you're bound to have an idea or two run past you if you're in my company. I like to hear what others think and mold ideas that way.
• Be resourceful. Sometimes the best ideas are right in front of you and what you already have access to. There's something unique about almost everything – play off of that and highlight it versus starting from scratch.
• Make it interactive. People want to feel like they are part of an event, not just watching. Events are meant to be emotional. Make people feel something.
• Make a budget and build a buffer. This one is tough, but something is bound to always pop up.
• Break at least one rule. Some of my most memorable events were when I did something I wasn't supposed to, that didn't fit, or was just plain weird.
Echo: When it comes to budgeting for your big day, what five cost priorities would you say are the most important? And why?
5. Swag. Our wedding will have a lot of special touches with our stamp on them.
4. Décor. Our venue has a lot to offer when it comes to the different spaces within it. We want to make sure that each space has that "special something" that makes it stand out and creates lasting memories. Lighting is everything – lots and lots of candles!
3. Great cocktails. We are creating a signature drink after each of our dogs (we call them the "16 Paws"). You wont find any dixie cups at our wedding, but the garnishes will be on point.
2. Entertainment. We've always said we wanted our wedding to be something special for our friends and family so we're giving them a couple really special performances (I can't give it all away here, but should be pretty magical).
1. Venue. This was huge for us, and the most important. We went through a ton of literature and looked online, but when we saw our venue in person we just knew. It felt like us.
Echo: What is the most overlooked touch/necessity when it comes to events (in general) and weddings?
Guerin: I'd say staffing. It can make or break any event. And that's not just attributed to bodies doing a job; it's all about attitude. Our friends are always eager to help and we are taking them up on all their offers. Everyone is contributing their talents/personalities in their own special ways, which is what's going to make this so special.
Echo: What are some current trends you're seeing with events and/or weddings?
Guerin: Technology is playing a huge role in events across the board. It can be a fun way to share and allow guests to make it an interactive event.
Gorsky: I think having a few "photographic" elements is really important. Especially with social media's influence on society's communication. People want to share their experiences. I know that I want to make our special day one worth sharing!
Gorsky: The hashtag is essential! We definitely have one.
Echo: How do you two feel about the traditional aspects of weddings? Do you plan to incorporate any? Are there any you absolutely despise?
Guerin: I wouldn't say I despise any because tradition is important to people for different reasons. Our wedding will be a blend I suppose. One of our very best friends Angie is marrying us. She's the friend we both had in common and has always been part of our trio, even back in the karaoke days, and we all basically lived together at one point when we first started dating. Cutting the funky chicken dance and keeping dancing with our moms, but otherwise a lot is still up in the air and we haven't really got there yet.
Gorsky: One of the things that is most important to us is incorporating our friends and family throughout the whole process. We are both perfectionists, so it’s great to have such a strong support system to bounce ideas off of. I’m really excited to explore the non-traditional with our wedding. It's going to be a wild six months, but I definitely know that we both want to do some things differently than the traditional approach. We are also cutting the “Macarena,” so there's that.
Echo: Will there be any big surprises in store for guests or each other? What can you divulge?
Both: We are doing a weekend long affair. Sunday will be a brunch, which we are looking just as forward to as the wedding. We are doing a private engagement at Stacy's @ Melrose (Stacy is a dear friend and, his bar is one of our favorite places to go – many, MANY memories there, and maybe even a few we don't remember. We are planning a karaoke hour plus some other outrageous ideas. We couldn't fit it all in to just one day so all of the ideas that couldn't be part of the wedding day program are being executed the next day.
Echo: Are you groomzillas? Or have you had groomzilla moments you'd like to share?
Guerin: Not yet, but I'm saving up all my freak-out moments for one really epic meltdown.
Gorsky: Ditto, but I will probably have more than one.
Echo: What were some of the key resources you used when you began planning?
Gorsky: Our wedding planner, Angela, who is actually the owner of the venue, is absolutely fabulous. Initially, we weren't paired up with her, but it's been a blessing as she has a great sense of humor, which really helps ease the stress and we just laugh about how ridiculous it all can be. We attended the LGBT Wedding & Honeymoon Expo at the JW Marriott, it's actually how we found our venue. We downloaded a wedding planning template online, which basically was so much information it gave Gary a mini-anxiety attack so he created his own spreadsheet anyways. Everyone we've encountered so far has been extremely supportive and genuinely excited – no issues with acceptance whatsoever. It's been awesome to see how many people genuinely just love love. That's all that matters.
Guerin: I've realized the importance of a planner. When you have so many ideas and are too close to something it's important to have someone to reel you in, break it down, and make it a reality. I've found myself a bit overwhelmed at times, but now appreciate what I do for other people on a level I didn't quite understand before.
Echo: Most significant lesson learned during wedding planning?
Gorsky: Start early so you have more time to stress out about it. By planning sooner rather than later, you have the flexibility to wipe the slate clean a few times and incorporate new ideas. We can't make up our minds.
Guerin: Go with your gut. If you get hung up on every detail you'll never get through it.
Echo: What’s the best advice you received along the way?
Gorsky: Don't worry about everyone else. This is your day, so be selfish – this has taken some getting used to. Enjoy the process. Make as many memories as you can along the way.
Echo: Any advice you'd give newly engaged couples who are trying to figure out where to begin?
Guerin: Find one thing that's a nonnegotiable and start there. You'll always have that piece to hang on to and be proud of, and the rest will start to fall into place. Since it's really a matter of what comes first, take a stand on something. For us, it was the venue. If we hadn't chosen one, I'm not sure anything else would have happened.
Gorsky: I would also say, "don’t rush." I am thankful that we started planning as early as we did because it gave us the ability to change our minds and throw different ideas around. This is one of the most special days of a person's life, so it should be everything you've ever wanted (minus the aerial choreography). Take the time to make sure that it’s what you really want.
Echo: When your big day arrives, what is the one thing you are looking most forward to?
Guerin: Seeing all of our friends and family all in the same place.
Gorsky: Totally agree with Gary. I am also so excited to look into his eyes and say "I Do!" [Cue tears.]
Guerin: I just started crying.