For Jon Durnell, music as a vocation came later than it does for some. Focusing on athletics as a kid and playing baseball in college, he knew a sports career wasn't in the offing. Looking for something to do when his free time was no longer filled with practices and games, he decided to learn to play the guitar.
While many before him have picked up an instrument as a hobby in adulthood, few have parlayed that into a professional career. In fact, Durnell now devotes all his time to music, performing solo, in a few duos and in two bands. The Jon Durnell Band plays with some frequency and features Pete Jacobs, Logan Weber and Brad Crossland. But when that quartet adds Eliza Toth who shares lead vocals with Durnell, the Jon Durnell Band morphs into Night to Remember.
Night to Remember were born of Durnell's desire to move away from late nights in bars and toward something more satisfying.
"After years and years in playing in bars, I was looking for something more lucrative, more rewarding," he says. "Music is my career now, and I always loved playing at weddings. The pay is better, the hours are better and you have a roomful of people showing up to have a good time."
When first conceived, Night to Remember had an additional voice in Fernando Tarango. But Tarango already had a full plate, and the original bass player, Missy Burgess (one of Durnell's regular duo-partners) left to join the Hubie Ashcraft Band. For the last couple of years, however, as the current five-piece lineup has been secured, Night to Remember have blossomed into not only a popular wedding band, but a pretty full-service wedding planner.
"We help people plan their receptions and provide on-site consultations," says Durnell. "We've been to enough of these that we can tell people when things happen and how they happen and can steer them in the right direction."
While the function of a successful wedding band is to play music that will keep people happy and dancing, there are a lot of specific elements to weddings that have to be taken into consideration, too. And that's where Durnell has learned when to have the band play and when to bring in reinforcements.
"There's the first dance for the bride and groom, then there's the father/daughter dance, then the mother/son dance that's often DJ-style stuff. We also provide dinner and cocktail music, and most of that is prerecorded. We have a couple of jazz guys in the band, so we can provide a jazz set for the dinner services."
For the setlist, Durnell talks to the couple beforehand to get a sense of what they want to hear during their big night.
"We talk to the bride and groom about what they want us to play and maybe what they don't want us to play. The goal is to keep it flowing so quickly - just boom boom boom - so the energy stays high."
One of the key elements in the success of Night to Remember is Durnell's increasingly savvy approach to marketing: putting the band out there so couples know about them.
"You learn more with each wedding that you do, and having done a couple dozen of them now, you might learn one thing at each wedding that you take into the next one. I've learned a lot about how to get people to know we exist. We tried doing some bridal shows, asking for 15-20 minutes on the main stage, but we didn't really see a return on that. We've discovered that couples plan almost everything online these days, so we've been promoting ourselves on some of those websites, sites like The Knot where people go and plan out each part of the wedding. Right now we're using some websites, social media and building our own website to promote ourselves."
He's also using some of his other gigs in other configurations to help promote Night to Remember.
"We're going to start bringing Eliza in to perform a few songs with the Jon Durnell Band to promote Night to Remember. We want to give people an idea of what we do as a five-piece. We're also performing at a few other venues and doing some private party events. I've been trying for years to get us booked at Friday Night Live at Jefferson Pointe, but I think someone has to die to get booked for that because it always seems to be full. So we're looking at places like Georgetown and other places that we can play just to get the band's name out there and let people know we're available."
Night to Remember are booked for about 10 to 12 weddings each year, a number Durnell would like to see grow in the future. Interestingly, this month is the only one that has no bookings.
"I don't think we have any June weddings this year. We have one in July and weddings in September, October and November. And we're starting to spread out a bit to play in South Bend and Indy, so we'll be playing a couple weddings in each of those places in the next year or so."
The band has a set of about 40 songs ready for each night, and Durnell says they include a variety of genres like Motown and early Beatles, songs that are sure to inspire people to hit the dance floor. It's become not only a rewarding, but also a gratifying outlet for Durnell's musical talents, and it's something he clearly enjoys.
"It's great because you generally play from 7 until 11, so the hours are good. And it's just overall so neat to see families come together. The energy level is so amazing - it's not like any other playing experience. I really want to do more of this because it's totally positive vibes."