A Wedding in the Smokies

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Gatlinburg smoky mountains fall

Looking off the mountain from our lodge


This weekend, while most of my cohorts were off at Southern Foodways Alliance, my husband Seth and I packed up and headed east instead, to the Great Smoky Mountains outside Gatlinburg for the wedding of our friends Sam and Lara. It was a destination wedding of sorts – most of the guests also lived in the Nashville area, though some came from as far away as New York. However, for most of us, it was about a three hour drive, and a pretty one at that.


The trip along I-40 is plastered with small wineries, so that made for nice early evening stops on the way … but I digress, the discussion of Tennessee wines and spirits can be saved for another day ( thought I urge a stop at Stonehaus Winery for the fun of it (www.stonehauswinery.com).


The Von Bryan “Estate” is a vast cabin sleeping 40 or so high atop a mountain peak not far from Gatlinburg in Wears Valley. At this time of year, there’s peak fall color, meaning every tree blazes. The house is on a million levels, it’s a bit of a puzzle house, but there are plenty of bedrooms, a big kitchen, a living room with an extensive bar, and a hidden basement where a crowd of us played pool and fusball all night, alternating with Rock Band (because you know, I can match pitch with Debbie Harry so all is good – or, damn, my throat hurts, the late legendary Alexandra Hunt did not teach me with Rock Band in mind).


Sam and Lara’s wedding in the Smokies

The wedding itself was held Saturday at 4 o’clock, on the huge deck overlooking the mountainside. A steep drop off meant beautiful views.


Everything was gorgeous, as weddings are meant to be. We sighed, we cried, we oooohed. Then we all drank champagne, ate too much, and ended up in the hot tub on the deck at midnight, laughing and catching up with friends.


If you’re wondering why I’m blogging about this, the reason is actually pretty straightforward. No, I’m not telling you to vacation in the Smokies in the fall (though it’s not a bad idea).


The reason for the post is to underline what I’m seeing become a much bigger wedding trend lately: Increasingly, I see couples (especially those over 30) defying the traditional routes and creating small, intimate gatherings that are about letting the bride and groom have fun themselves, rather than stress. Yeah, I mean throwing a party they actually enjoy while it’s going on.


Some of that was already self-evident in the early destination wedding concept. The idea was to get away with a few friends and enjoy the process – and maybe have a mini honeymoon in the destination location. Then the wedding industry popped their heads into it, and suddenly destinations became big to-dos involving whole Caribbean islands. But the real thought behind them is to have weddings that are less like production numbers and more about appreciating and celebrating a day you – at least in theory – only get once. And wouldn’t it be nice if you could have that without traveling to another country – or Florida?


In the South, weddings are about the hoopla. Always have been, and may always be. I’ve been in a lot of those weddings and to more of them. At least 250 guests, huge dance floors, epic experiences. But perhaps in part because of the new economy post 2007, along with the scaling back of excess has come a real impetus on the part of brides to worry less about having a gargantuan shindig and more about actually loving the day because you’re surrounded by friends and family, and – oh yeah – you get to spend some real time with your groom.


What we have now is a new level. We’d gotten to the point where the options were huge local wedding, less huge destination wedding, or essential elopement (which may involve a wedding party). Our fourth path becomes the intimate wedding. You invite a handful of the closest, you plan a party and you have the kind of day you want. There’s the dress (or not) and the decorations (or not) but it returns to an intimacy level that we have forgotten, perhaps, in an era of Martha Stewart Weddings and Say Yes To the Dress.


Seth and I did the same thing when we got married a year and a half ago. We ended up with 45 people in my parent’s huge Brentwood (yes, Tennessee) garden, all in fancy dress, eating barbecue by Patrick Martin, drinking cava, and having a magnificent party. And it was beautiful, with masses of white flowering plants from the farmers’ market, and a huge green lawn, and an elegant marquis tent just big enough for all of us to enjoy dinner. (And my girl guests, including Lara, decked out like pin ups from the 40s, 50s and 60s, because it was fun.)

blue wedding dress

Me at my wedding, May 28, 2011 (Dress by Olia Zavozina, photo by Ron Manville)


There is the downside, in that that we’ve reached the point where everyone expects you to have a giant wedding, and some relatives and friends feel left out. I hate that, but when Seth and I planned our wedding (and Sam and Lara too), we quickly realized that inviting everyone meant 400 or more people. That’s not reasonable.


Lara and Sam had an incredible wedding. It was warm, tiny and intimate. And when it was over, the bride got to play guitar in Rock Band in her dress.


I don’t mean to suggest that we need an end to formality. There’s a great deal to be said for the pomp and circumstance of weddings, especially in an age where we have so few rites of passage in our lives. But I am happy to see a return to closeness and familiarity in weddings. I’m thrilled to have been a bride who had more excitement than stress.


Sometimes I think our wedding culture has become less about a celebration of the bride and groom than an attempt to outdo everyone else in money spent and frou frou set out. Surely charting a middle path between the epic wedding production event and the elopement can be nothing but a fine thing.


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