Bronson van Wyck and the dark arts of party planning
Here’s how a little heavy metal once helped America’s greatest event producer out of a late-night jam
Bronson van Wyck knows entertaining means more than sending out the invitations and setting out the drinks. His new book, Born to Party Forced the Work, distils the essential pillars of the art of celebration into one volume, with examples drawn from his many successes - and, admittedly, a few entertaining failures.
In fact, in some cases, he has managed, quite skilfully, to snatch party success back from the jaws of defeat. Take this example, which he outlines in our book.
“In one of the grandest rooms in New York, 550 of the most fabulous people in the world have just finished dinner,” writes van Wyck. “The mayor and the police commissioner are there. More Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony winners than you can count, including several people who have won all four. A future president of the United States, and someone who, but for the Electoral College, would’ve been a president. It was a surprise birthday party for the father of two old friends, and I’d helped them plan it. I’d heard of half the people in the room, I’d worked for half the people in the room, and I wanted to work for the other half.
“Dinner was over, and it wouldn’t be long before the guests started to drift away. It was time for the daughter of the guest of honor to take the stage, toast her father, and unveil the surprise headliner. My friend was in position, but I didn’t have the band. Earth, Wind & Fire had arrived, but they were in their dressing room with the door locked. Praying, they said. For the past forty-five minutes. We had installed a state-of-the-art sound system for their performance - the kind you might see at Madison Square Garden. But it was useless without the band. I wanted to delay the program, but knowing we might lose people, the daughter decided - band or no band - that she had no choice but to begin. I hurried backstage to try to move heaven . . . and Earth, Wind & Fire.
“The daughter started her toast, but the band did not emerge. She stretched her toast out, and then stretched it more, until her younger sister—the only other person in the room privy to what was supposed to happen next—asked me where the band was. I explained the situation. Improvising, she grabbed a glass of champagne and gamely joined her sister on the stage. The toasts continued, and the band prayed on. Finally, the father, the guest of honor, left his seat and asked me, ‘What’s going on here? This high praise is very nice, but it’s getting damn embarrassing. What’s happening next?’
“’I can’t get the band out of the dressing room,’ I whispered, a bead of sweat on my brow. ‘Well, I’ve got to get up on that stage and save those girls. Figure this situation out,’ he hissed. He went up and—at great length, taking his time—began eloquently returning the toast.
“'Do we have audio in the dressing rooms?’ I asked. ‘Absolutely,’ replied my sound engineer. ‘We have monitors and speakers in all of them, so the performers can follow what’s happening on the stage.’
I opened the music library on my phone. I didn’t have to scroll far. Selecting a song, I handed the phone to the engineer. ‘Patch this into the dressing room. Full volume. The prayer revival’s over. It’s showtime.’
“Fifteen seconds later the band poured out of their dressing room and streaked to their places on the stage. My friends’ father’s ex tempore toast concluded to thunderous applause. The curtain dropped as the first bars of Earth, Wind & Fire’s September roared into the room. The party exploded in a delirium of delight as the crowd rushed onto the dance floor.
“’How’d you get them out?’ the hostess asked me later that night. I handed her my phone: AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ still played on repeat.”
For more highly entertaining tales from the king of high-end entertaining, order a copy of Born to Party Forced to Work.