Our Alaskan Potluck Wedding Was One Big Community Lovefest

How two performing musicians made it happen (with a little help from Costco)


Erin, admin and writer & Andrew, musician

Sum-up of the wedding vibe: An epic, musical Alaska dinner party and beach ceremony.

Planned budget: $20,000

Actual budget: $22,000

Number of guests: 170


Where we allocated the most funds:

Food and alcohol. We love good food and we like our cocktails, so we wanted to be sure we had plenty of everything for everyone. By the same token, we knew we could never afford to cater our wedding to the level we wanted. We bought the alcohol in bulk from Costco and prepped all the bar setup ourselves, and then hired friends to bartend. We had our friends make all the food and reimbursed the receipts for anything we didn’t purchase outright.


Where we allocated the least funds:

Décor. My parents gathered mussel shells (our visual theme for the wedding), and another friend used a gold pen to write everyone’s names on them for place cards. Another family member cut cedar boughs, which we used as our table runners. We purchased tablecloths and napkins online and resold them to another bride as soon as the wedding was over. We borrowed two strands of café lights and bought one strand that we’ll keep to decorate our yard.


What was totally worth it:

Going big! We’ve been together eleven years and had always planned on not getting married. When we changed our minds we decided we were going to “go big or go home.” Since we’re living in Alaska, one thousand to four thousand miles away from many of our friends and family, we really wanted to bring everyone to our home and show them why we love this place so much. We had so many of our friends and family take us aside to tell us that they finally “got it” and that they couldn’t be happier for us to be living in such an awesome community and amazing place. We wanted to put on the party of our lives, and that’s exactly what we got.

On a more practical note: hiring servers and bartenders for our DIY potluck wedding. We asked people we know from around town who were lovely people, but not people we would have invited to the wedding and asked them to work the wedding for a flat rate and tips. They were rock stars. The servers essentially bused the potluck and served cake, and the bartenders rocked our wedding cocktails all night long.


What was totally not worth it:

Worrying about whether we were asking too much of our friends and family. Even now that the wedding is over, I still have to talk myself down from any flickers of guilt that so many of our friends worked for parts of our wedding. What they gave us was the biggest gift we could ask for—their time, energy, and skill—and I’ve had to constantly remind myself to accept those gifts graciously for the beautiful demonstration of love that they are.


A few things that helped us along the way:

In Alaska there is an abundance of amazing seafood and amazing cooks, and we’re part of a community that loves throwing massive dinner parties. We wanted all of our friends and family, especially those who hadn’t had a chance to visit us before, to get a taste of Alaska. We used the APW guide to putting together a potluck wedding and then adapted it. We put together a rock star “Food Team” and dubbed a friend our “Food Admiral.” Each person on the food team was responsible for one item of food for the entire wedding and we reimbursed all receipts. It was a big ask to have each friend make their dish for 170 people, but in the end it worked out great and there is no way we ever would have been able to afford such amazing food otherwise. Not to mention that all of the people who made food for us are great friends, and the overall feeling of the whole dinner was one of big, big love.

The number one help was our friend Julie, whom we asked to be our day-of coordinator, or as we dubbed her, the “Wedding Executioner.” There is no way we would’ve made it through the wedding weekend without her. She bridged all the gaps and made it possible for me to hand over my cell phone to my maid of honor the morning of the ceremony. When we asked her to help she accepted on the condition that we wrote her a job description (this lady is frickin’ organized!). Get yourself an “Executioner,” whether it’s your awesome organized friend or a professional. Even with tons and tons of help for your DIY wedding, you still need someone who knows all the answers and has the authority to make decisions and isn’t you.


My best practical advice for my planning self:

Buy some Benadryl to take the nights leading up to the wedding. I slept very, very little because my brain was constantly buzzing, which meant that I got sick and was a little bit of a zombie at the start of each day.


Favorite thing about the wedding:

We’ve been together for eleven years and seeing all of our favorite people from all the different parts of our lives come together was amazing. Leading up to the wedding I kept saying, “I can’t wait for you to meet so-and-so! You’ll love them!” And it couldn’t have been more true—so many instant best friends were made! It was especially important to us to celebrate our families, and it made us so happy to see how joyful and touched they were by the ceremony and reception.

When we sat down to write our thank you toast for the reception, we realized that there was no way we could actually thank every person who helped us, because it was basically the entire guest list. We’re still overwhelmed with how much love and energy our family and friends put into our wedding weekend. We wanted our wedding to be an expression of our community, and that was exactly how it turned out. We came out of it feeling like the luckiest people in the world.


Anything else to share:

We left writing the ceremony to the end of our long engagement (1.5 years), but the APW community was a massive help there. We wrote the structure of the ceremony ourselves, but then asked each of our “readers” and our officiant to provide their own material. We also used APW’s vow resources to help guide us in writing our vows, which we decided not to share with each other ahead of time. We were told by many people that they thought our ceremony was the perfect length and the perfect tone for who we are.

With all the people we had tasked to help us, and all the moving details involved in having a weekend-long celebration (welcome BBC, whale watch, rehearsal dinner, ceremony, reception, brunch), Google Docs is your best friend. We shared all of our wedding duties, and there’s no way we could’ve kept track of everything without the dozen or so spreadsheets and to-do lists we generated and both updated. We started with the APW spreadsheets and then adjusted and edited to suit our needs.

The biggest piece of advice we have for anyone who is planning a wedding is to make a saving plan! As soon as we got engaged, we looked at our budgets and started setting aside a set amount each month. We’re both performing musicians and have each produced large events, so we knew going in that throwing a multiday event for 170 people was not going to be cheap, even cutting as many corners as we could. We really didn’t want to go into debt from our wedding, but we also wanted to throw the party of our lives. I got a second job waiting tables a couple nights a week and he took some extra music gigs. The result? We’re going to have the whole thing paid off less than a month after the wedding!


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