Side One Entertainment's Rob Hamilton on why a wedding band rocks

Side One Entertainment started small. The band's first public performance was at a private residence on the North Shore. They played Ray Charles' "Georgia On My Mind" together, for a couple's first dance. Of course, nothing ever goes perfectly the first time.

A hot sunny day led to an arcane issue: Paul Miyai, Side One's lead pianist, was playing an electronic keyboard, and somehow it had shifted out of tune—a nearly unheard of issue. "Cory [the bassist] and I were looking at each other, as musicians who play instruments that can go out of tune, frantically checking our tuning and we couldn't figure it out. Finally at the end of the song I asked Paul to restart his keyboard, and it booted back into tune." The rest of the party went as most weddings with Side One go: raucous singalongs, wild dancing, and multiple encores.

Since then, Side One has grown up. The band books more than 200 shows each year, with bands in Calgary, Toronto and Seattle, and has built a Vancouver-based production company to support up to three bands playing at one time nearly every summer Saturday. Staffed by some of Vancouver's most talented musicians, Side One brings the party to every dance floor they play—a shining example of just how much better a live band is for any event. I sat down with the band's leader, Rob Hamilton, to talk business, and just what makes a band shine.

Side One has spread all over Canada, and you have US clients, too. What makes you different from other bands? Why should do clients fly you to California to play?

First of all, our repertoire is very unique. It's not the typical wedding music that a lot of bands are playing, and it will really make your party. People are often surprised at the range of music that we can do on a nightly basis, and we want to keep surprising people.

The other thing that sets us apart is that we're very employee driven. It's important to us to keep all of our musicians happy and our techs happy. When our musicians are happy, that's going to translate to a great party. We take care of our people, and that means our people take care of our clients. I think it's a win-win for everybody.

You've gone through and incredible transition. Six years ago you're a successful gigging musician, touring musician, session musician, but you're what you do to keep yourself busy, day-to-day, has changed a lot. What's changed the most for you?

Right now, especially, I'm transitioning to playing the guitar less. And it never occurred to me that playing the guitar less in my life might lead to having a more successful career. But it's starting to get that way with Side One.

If I can focus on other things in our company, if I don't have to spend my week preparing setlists and tunes for the weekend's gigs, I'm free to start working on other things that will make the company as a whole more successful which is sort of ironic to me.

I think what we're doing with this company is quite unique. It's bizarre that I've been involved in an artistic endeavor all my life and this has really been the most creative thing that I've ever done.

What do you like most about what you're doing right now?

Solving problems. I think life in general, if you want to get philosophical here, is about solving problems. Music to a large degree is about solving a great puzzle and getting closer to perfection. It's constantly challenging you and you're never going to get to your goal, and I think very early on when you start playing music you have to make peace with that. You're always going to be constantly drifting towards it and trying to reach it but you'll never actually arrive because some new goal will present itself. And I think that's been the case with running my business as well. I realize that if I think about what will define the success of this company, I realize that it’s the ongoing pursuit.

So I'm fascinated to see what's going to happen next. I couldn't have imagined that it would take shape like this so it's all very exciting, and I just love it.

So I’ve hired you, do I have to pick all the songs? I love Radiohead, can you play Paranoid Android?

So even for me who's been playing music all his life, listening to music all of his life, I've gone to some more prestigious music schools in the world. I had no idea what was going to make the dance floor rock.

But I've been through the seven hundred gigs that we played over the last six years, and now I have an idea of what people want and that's just based on experience. 

You should, as a client, let your band take care of business. You don't have to hear all of your favorite Radiohead songs that particular night, in fact that might kill your dance floor if you wanted to hear all your favorite songs. I love Radiohead too. But when the guys have ties on their heads and the drinks are flowing, the last thing you probably want to hear is side one of OK Computer.

What's your favorite thing about a wedding?

I love The father of the Bride speech. You know that for me is always one of the most heartfelt moments of the night. So I like to if I can try to hang out and catch that.

Also, I love to see the couples you know out there just shaking and having a fun time while we're playing you know their special request or whatever. That's that's a great moment for me.

Any last words?

One other tip I will give to couples that are hiring a band is that you are the party. The party is going to be about you when it comes to people dancing and they are going to take your lead. So make sure that you're out there, you're having fun and you are creating this party because if you're standing in the back and chatting all night people aren't going to be on the dance floor. You’ve hired an amazing band, so get out there and enjoy it.