Our Alaskan Potluck Wedding Was One Big Community Lovefest


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

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!


The Info:

Photography: Sydney Akagi Photography | Wedding Location: Juneau, Alaska | Wedding Venue: Juneau Arts and Culture Center | Bridal Party Jewelry: Bronze Betty Finery | Erin’s Dress and Sash: BHLDN | Erin’s Mink Stole: BrownBoots Costume Company | Erin’s Hairpiece: Anna Marguerite | Wedding Musicians: Caleb Klauder Country Band | Andrew’s Suit: J. Crew | Andrew’s Shirt and Tie: Banana Republic | Andrew’s Shoes: Alden | Andrew’s Belt: Apogee Leather Goods | Flowers: Miss Scarlett’s Flowers

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  • This looks like a fabulous and fun wedding, and I got teary ready about it! Congrats on your marriage!

  • toomanybooks

    What beautiful scenery! What a beautiful dresssss

    • “I Don’t Knowww, Margo!”

      The only thing I could think while reading and looking at the pics was DRESS DRESS DRESS DRESSSS!

  • Dolly

    What a beautiful community celebration. This made me so very happy – to see your happiness, and that of everyone around you. Yay!

  • CMT

    Oh, hi, friends! Alaska has to have the highest per capita readership of this blog.

    • Kalë

      ONE OF US! ONE OF US!

    • LindseyM

      I GOT SO EXCITED!!!

  • AtHomeInWA

    PNW Pride! I’ve lived within 5 miles of a major body of salt water my entire life except college. And my college was near a very large lake.

    I’ve recently been toying with the idea of a lavish multi-day event in the San Juan Islands where my brothers and I basically grew up. The smell of salt water fills my soul. It would be a relaxing vacation full of nostalgia for my brother who lives in Florida, about as far from Washington state as you can get, and our parents who only get their three children in one place about every 3 years. It would also be a way to share what makes the PNW the best place in the world to live with my niece daughter who didn’t grow up here and my friends from college who are scattered all over the country.

    We would probably have oysters instead of mussels, tons of salmon, go crabbing and have crab cook on the beach, and we’d also go whale watching. We’d have tp go to Friday Harbor for pizza and ice cream. Because when we were kids on week long boat trips we’d go to Friday Harbor half way through the week for pizza, ice cream, and showers.

    • LindseyM

      I love the Friday Harbor ice cream place! We used to go sailing in the San Juans for a month every year, and its one of my favorite places. Super expensive to get married there if you want a traditional wedding/venue though. I’ve never looked into it, but the Gulf Islands (Canada) might get you more flexibility & bang for your buck & they are just as wonderful.

      • AtHomeInWA

        After some soul searching and lots of APW, I kind of decided that what I want most at my wedding is connection with my people. My him, my parents and siblings, my closest friends who have supported me and us. But also my aunt who I see once a year and that family friend we only see during crab season. So I did the math. 200 guests / (5 hours x 60 minutes) 300 minutes = just over a minute a person.

        SO. In response to your very accurate comment on traditional island weddings being crazy expensive, I think I want to do a long, grand but relaxed (think married on beautiful beach or hillside overlooking the Puget Sound and reception at a nice restaurant) event for the 20ish people who matter the most, film the crap out of the event, and then throw small celebrations with our other people. That way our people can SEE and HEAR us getting married on the video (instead of being stuck in the 8th row) and then we actually can sit down and have a 30 minute conversation with the aunties and uncles. Or for our friends get really drunk and have a rocking dance party.

        Now we just need to figure out how/whether to tell my grandmother she’s not invited to my wedding… (I would want her there except for the part where she’ll make every other person utterly miserable.)

        That said: My people do all have passports.

        *Runs off to google “Gulf Island Canada Weddings”*

        • Gulf island Canadian weddings FTW!!!!

          http://apracticalwedding.com/2013/10/10k-wedding-2/

          • AtHomeInWA

            I have so many memories that contain white lighthouses with red roofs that look just. like. that.

          • LindseyM

            Your wedding is one of my all-time favorites! When we were thinking of San Juans/Gulf Islands/Desolation Sound as possible areas I read it so many times :)

          • <3 Where did you end up having yours??

          • LindseyM

            We’re actually still 6 months away (super long engagement), but we’re going to have it just outside Buenos Aires. I lived there are as a kid and we go back every few years, so it was our number-one choice once we got over our guilt of having a destination wedding. I finally got on the our-guests-are-adults train and we decided just to do it. I also briefly thought about Cortes Island (B.C.) since its my second favorite place in the world, but I decided it was almost as hard for guests to get to as Argentina since most would need to seaplane up or drive 10 hours and then take two ferries. :)

  • Kalë

    I love everything about this, and it’s so fun to see familiar places pop up on APW! The photographer did a fabulous job of capturing your joy, as well as the beauty of the natural surroundings. Also, major props on the sunny day ;)

  • I bought that BHLDN dress when it went on sale, then had to return it because it wasn’t doing much for my body type, but it looks rad on this bride. The addition of the belt was genius!

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  • Sarah P.

    As someone who lived in Alaska, I’m impressed they kept their budget this low! Also, this is my favorite wedding APW has featured in a while :)