Kaju’s Off the Hook, NYC’s Most Exciting Party Band: Going the Extra Mile to make a Unique Wedding Happen
I remember it like it happened yesterday. It felt like a great triumph, a wonderful feeling and proud moment for me as a leader of live party bands and a shining light being in the music service industry. This is the story of how Kaju’s Off the Hook- NYC’s Most Exciting Party Band - forged ahead to go the “extra mile” to make a unique wedding happen.
And the story of the valuable lesson I received on what drives prospects to find a wedding band, book a band for a wedding, and how Off the Hook Entertainment became one of the great party bands for hire.
First a brief introduction. My name is Kaju, my ethnic background is part Asian and Italian. On my mother’s side, both her parents were from the beautiful isle of Ischia off the southwest coast of Italy. Not much is known from my father’s side; however I do know I was born on the island of Kawaii, Hawaii – another sublime beautiful place - and my family migrated to the U.S. mainland when I was a toddler.
Many know me by now from my bio as the band leader guitarist and singer of Off the Hook (very recently changed to Kaju’s Off the Hook) and the many philanthropic activities I have partaken over the years. You also may know me in the community (ha ha!) as a bit of a detail freak - someone who is never shy about using his voice to speak his mind and one who enjoys writing long posts.
A Brief 20+ Year History in the music service industry: How I Started a Great Party Band for Hire
I myself and a close friend started the band currently known as Kaju’s Off the Hook way back in 1993 when it was a classic rock band called the Air Dogs. Prior to starting the band, we both met at the gym having been introduced by a mutual friend (also a musician) and the three of us quickly became workout partners.
It was serendipity that Off the Hook ever began, as we never intended to form a band. Soon I was told by my new friend - who I later discovered was definitely crazy – that he was into filming himself doing wild stunts like bungee jumping with guitars, diving off stages, and riding his bike off the edge of a canyon. And he now planned on making a compilation video performing every stunt on film and getting me involved! I admit I must’ve had rocks in my head, as I agreed.
One of the stunts he planned was to perform with a live band at a concert. Never having played together before, we booked one rehearsal and practiced one song “Mama Kin” by Aerosmith, and reserved an open mic night for the “band” to perform a simulated concert at Avalon in NYC.
Filming at various locations over a period of one month that summer, the raw footage we filmed included all of his insane stunts, including a 150 foot bungee jump plunge off a hot air balloon with his Fender Stratocaster guitar. He eventually edited the raw footage down to a 20 minute compilation video, and one of the last stunts we filmed was my crazy friend diving off the stage into the audience at Avalon with his guitar in tow, then being caught like a flapping rag doll in mid-air by two of his burly friends.
We had so much fun on that hot muggy summer night in the summer of 1993 that we decided to keep the band going. Air Dogs was officially born!
Air Dogs would go on to perform hundreds of shows from 1993-2003. Then late in 2003, myself and a few other band mates decided we needed to expand our musical repertoire to include dance and party music to cover a wider range of club dates and private events. The band, now renamed Off the Hook, began by expanding its song list to include many diverse musical genres in order to cover weddings, special concerts, and all types of private events. We were on our way!
Off the Hook has never been your typical wedding band, from the start we developed a niche method by approaching every wedding as a live concert performance sans a few toasts in between. And these are the hallmarks and qualities we possess to this day that excite people and bring repeat customers back for 2nd and 3rd return engagements. We have steadily performed at weddings and private events ever since 2003.
Above all, my mission statement for the band has always been to provide service to our client base very seriously without taking myself too seriously, and to provide every customer with outstanding service beyond customer expectations. These affirmative acts more than words have always been most important to me. Under promise and over deliver!
Now onto that Unique Wedding…..
One day I received a call from my wife that her sales vendor, an orthodox Jewish man in his early 50’s, was getting married to a beautiful young Indian woman in her late 20’s. The autumn wedding ceremony and reception would be at Tavern on the Green in New York City and was scheduled in three months.
He’d seen our band perform for the first time two weeks earlier and absolutely loved us! So he told my wife that he wanted to hire our band for his wedding. Although several of his colleagues tried persuading him otherwise suggesting he should hire a more conventional “seasoned” wedding band, he was absolutely convinced that only we could provide a unique “off the hook” experience for his over 200 guests. This man placed all his faith in me and my band. Believe me, there was no way I was letting this guy down!
So he and I talked on the phone and I scheduled a date and time to meet the couple in person to give them a free consultation where I could make recommendations and we could discuss all of their special needs and preferences, i.e., wedding party names, song selection preferences, special ceremonies, when the toasts should occur, etc. This is a first gratis service I ALWAYS provide every potential customer.
As a result we fleshed out all the details for a happy agreement. I prepared our standard wedding contract, which was for the same musical lineup he experienced and loved at the club date, and added a saxophone for the cocktail hour and full reception. Nothing more or nothing less, and certainly nothing unusual. All of us being very clear and satisfied with the agreement, the orthodox Jewish man signed the contract and booked Off the Hook for their wedding.
Sometimes life throws you a Curve Ball
Well, two months three weeks and four days went by, it was 3 days before the big wedding at Tavern on the Green and I was making standard preparations for the wedding with the singers and other musicians in my band. In addition to planning for the big event, this was an ordinary day, nothing unusual. My plate was full handling business for other gigs and private events. I was multi-tasking as usual. Otherwise all was quiet, everything was on schedule and not a word from my Tavern on the Green clients.
That’s when I received another call from the orthodox Jewish groom to be.
He said plans had suddenly changed. Several of his bride-to-be’s family members had decided to fly in from India to attend the wedding. All of her siblings were already married, and all experienced traditional Indian weddings back in the old country where there was always a musical accompaniment during the cocktail hour and reception by a sitar and tabla player.
The family from India insisted they wanted the same for their youngest child. Being the youngest sibling and last to marry, she did not want to disappoint her family.
Yes, plans had suddenly changed indeed. Now the new overall plan was for this happy interracial couple to make their grand entrance by riding into a major New York City landmark together on a “white horse” and to dismount this horse under a chuppah (canopy) where they would make their wedding vows followed by the Jewish ceremonial “breaking of the glass” and then ending with traditional Indian sitar and tabla music that Off the Hook would provide? What??
I told my client we would TRY to do it without making any promises, however I really had no idea this was going to be possible or how I would get this done!
Oh gosh, where on earth was I going to find a competent professional sitar and tabla player this late in the game? These players are so rare! I couldn’t even think of any sitar and tabla players in the city, let alone know competent professional and AVAILABLE ones who could do this gig on short notice. But I didn’t want to disappoint the client either, this same client who placed so much faith in me, despite having every right and reason to reject their 11th hour request. I had to try to find them!
I could’ve just told the client, “I’M REALLY SORRY, THIS IS JUST TOO SHORT NOTICE, WHAT YOU ARE ASKING FOR ISN’T IN THE CONTRACT”. That would have been so easy. However, as I said earlier, my mission statement has always been to provide every customer with outstanding service beyond customer expectations. That’s the only way I roll!
There was just no way I could look at myself in the mirror and live with myself if I didn’t at least TRY to accommodate this client’s late special request, even if it wasn’t in our original contract.
So the next day I called every musician contact I knew in town who might know a sitar and tabla player. No luck. Later that afternoon, I called the 802 local musician union to see if they could find me the same professional players. None available.
Naturally by now I would be lying if I didn’t tell you I was getting a bit stressed out. Time was ticking away. How could I not, I had to deliver and failure wasn’t an option. I told myself, “Kaju, take a deep, take deep breath. Relax and try to calm down. Brainstorm, brainstorm!!”
Just when I thought I had no choice but to give up the hunt and tell the client I’d done everything but could not deliver the goods, I remember a friend telling me awhile back there were some great Indian restaurants on one street in Lower Manhattan. It was a gamble but where there’s good local ethnic food there is good local ethnic music.
That night I paid a visit to that one street on the lower East side of Manhattan, and walked into every restaurant. My search seemed futile, there was nothing. I was losing hope. However, I did not give up.
By the time I reached the 5th Indian restaurant, I could not believe my eyes – hoilla! There they were right in front of my eyes - MY sitar and tabla playing in the street window. And not only were they players I needed, they were really, really GOOD players! When they finished their set, I walked up and introduced myself to these total strangers and cut to the chase, telling them I was the band leader of Off the Hook and needed them BOTH for a special wedding at Tavern on the Green over the weekend – and I was willing to pay them very well for their services.
Through my good fortune - and perhaps divine intervention - both players were not only available over the weekend, but very friendly and thankful I had offered them work. They both graciously accepted the gig. I got their emails and shortly after sent them all the information. Success!!
All this while although they were never promised, my client the orthodox Jewish man and his beautiful Indian fiancé had no idea I was so close to NOT delivering their special request. When I broke the news that I succeeded in finding the players we needed, they were both absolutely ecstatic!
We played their wedding that Saturday afternoon at Tavern on the Green, the handsome interracial couple rode their white horse into the ceremony (and later into the sunset) to the joy of the huge gathering, and to my delight and relief, not only did my new friends the very reliable sitar and tabla players do a great job, for the rest of the wedding the band’s exciting and energetic performance was a tremendous success.
For many years I received a Christmas card every year from that beautiful happy couple telling me they will never forget how Off the Hook (now Kaju’s Off the Hook) saved their special day – and how all of their guests still rave to this day of how incredible the band was and how unforgettable the total experience was at their very special wedding that Fall evening.
The moral of the story: Never give up, and never take “No” for an answer.
And if you want to stand out from the competition -
Always Under Promise and Over Deliver!