Monday, November 04, 2002


Rattling around in my head today is the question: “What makes a party great?” As a social being, and with all the special occasions this year, I’ve often felt like a professional party attendee. I don’t blame these party-throwers one iota for inviting me, as I am a damn good guest. I’m pleasant, entertaining, and I can handle my liquor. But, my presence is only a small fraction of what it takes to make a fun fiesta transition into a barnstorming bash.

First things first, you need to set the proceedings into motion. That means, at the very least, you must provide the basics: namely alcohol, music, and people. Without these, your party doesn’t even have a chance to get off the ground. Now, to get the thing to spread its wings and soar, some other element must be introduced into the mix. This very slippery X-factor is not so easy to get a hold of.

THEME: If the gathering coincides with a holiday or a birthday, you’ve got yourself a theme, and that always helps. Halloween lends itself particularly well to creating a unique atmosphere, but nothing says you can’t have a costume party at any time during the year. If no holiday or event, like the Super Bowl, can be attached and you really want some sort of theme, you have to get creative. You can come up with a concept – 80s, Day-Glo, rave, nitrous tank, pajama, etc. – but, honestly, it’s not entirely necessary. Great parties don’t need to be theme parties.

ALCOHOL: You can never have too much.

MUSIC: A live band can lift a party to great heights if they get the revelers on their side, but it can also kill any chance for greatness by sucking up the joint and sucking the life out of the room. You run the same risk with a DJ, although you can always tell the person spinning to play something different, whereas you might not have that option with a band. If you’re planning a party on a budget, a few mixes can often do the trick, but they must be well conceived to sustain the energy level for several hours. The mixes can’t be too obscure, but they can’t lean on the standards either. I find the mix method to be more effective than simply throwing a bunch of CDs into the changer and letting things ride. Inevitably, after the initial batch of CDs gets played out, someone from the party thinks they know exactly what’s needed and takes over the stereo. Usually, they only know what music they’d like to hear and a power struggle over music control ensues. Then there’s always digital radio…

SNACKS: Not essential, but always welcome. Unless you're serving a five-course gourmet meal, keep it simple: Salt and Chocolate.

PEOPLE: The crowd at any shindig is a reflection of its hosts. Taking this into account, I suppose it’s only natural that you have to be a pretty magnetic person to attract an assortment of interesting individuals. Unfortunately, if you’re not such a person, you should probably hire someone who is to take the reins and plan your party. Very important: The logistics of the setting dictate how many people you can accommodate. So, whether you have a little tiny apartment or fantastic house with no available parking, you have to make sure you don’t invite too many people, otherwise you’ll find a big fat barrier blocking your bash from breaking on through to the other side.

The Halloween/Dia De Los Muertos Party I attended on Friday night at the home of Ken Layne and Laura Crane had all of the above in spades. There were costumes, oodles of booze, a campfire, Tarot card readings, a flying electronic bat, a huge bowl full of candy and mini-chocolate bars, live music performed by party guests, sing-alongs, and volumes of strange and interesting conversation. The hosts did an outstanding job of setting things into motion and the X-factor was present in a variety of forms. My Girl and I had to sneak out just before 5 am because we didn’t want to interrupt the circle of music, which didn’t seem to be losing any steam, to say goodbye. Nor did we get a chance to thank our gracious hosts, who stirred all these ingredients together to make a truly great party and a memorable night. So thanks Layne and Crane.

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