This is a HUGE section of Q&A. It is well worth a read if you've not yet booked your venue, but even if you have, this information may still be helpful for you.
Who books the venue and which venues are most suitable?
It's your responsibility to choose a suitable venue. There are some essential guidelines to bear in mind when choosing your venue as there are a large number of factors involved and some venues are far more suitable for a ceilidh or barn dance than others. If you've already booked your venue and some of the following points make you think that your venue is unsuitable - don't despair! There are ways of maximizing the circumstances - feel free to discuss this with Fiona.
The venue for a wedding ceilidh will largely be determined by where everything else takes place during the day. However, if you're in a position to choose a venue specifically to suit the Ceilidh, the choice of the right kind of room can make a massive difference to how the Ceilidh or Barn Dance goes.
The decision about which venue to use can largely be dependent on cost - for example, a village hall will obviously be far cheaper to hire than a hotel function suite.
Ceilidh and Barn Dance Bands play in many different places - hotels, village halls, community and leisure centres, marquees, stately homes, converted function barns, private homes, castles, restaurants, school halls, social clubs, pubs, market places, fields and farm barns...
The key suggestion is to choose a venue with the bar in the same room as the band, Caller and guests! If the venue has several rooms, your party may tend to split up into smaller groups. This is fine socially of course, but it is more difficult to involve people in the dancing when they're spread out in different rooms.
What shape and size of venue is best?
I would recommend choosing a venue which is as square or oblong as possible - but it can still be possible to hold a ceilidh or barn dance if the room is an odd shape because all bands make the most of whatever the circumstances are!
The size of the room required will of course depend on the number of people coming to your party or event. It's best to check the maximum capacity with the venue management or the marquee providers. It's a good idea to take a tape measure along to any venue you may be considering, with the space requirements in mind, and pace it out so you know you're booking a venue which is large enough. Arranging tables and chairs around the edges of the hall or room naturally creates the dancing area.
How much space is required for the dancing?
The space for the dancing should be at least 5m x 5m, ideally double or triple this, but it's not essential for the dancing area to be square. I'd suggest that it's best to discuss available space with the venue manager or marquee provider, to ensure that enough space can be created for the band and dancing. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.
Ceilidh dancing requires much more space than dancing at a disco, where you dance "on the spot". Movements in Ceilidhs and Barn Dances include galloping up and down and swinging partners, so more room per person is required, and the more dancing space available the better.
At weddings, after any afternoon reception meal and speeches, the venue management should be prepared to move tables and chairs aside to make a good sized area for dancing. Putting some chairs around the edges of the room encourages people to remain involved in the Ceilidh. Ask the band and caller when they arrive which of the tables need to be removed, and ask the management to sort this out for you
How much space is required for the band?
This will vary depending on the number of musicians in the band, but the average trio Band and Caller will need 4-6m width and ideally 2-3m depth to set up comfortably. Approximately a square metre per person plus a square metre for each of the 2 speaker stands. It's best if the band is able to set up fairly close to the dancing area but not so near that they get trampled!
What if we've booked a Disco as well?
If you are booking a Disco or other live band as well as the ceilidh or barn dance band, please make sure BEFORE THE DAY that there is sufficient room for both bands or one band and DJ to set up. It's essential to check directly with the DJ beforehand about his space requirements.
Does the band need a stage?
No, the band doesn't need a stage. It's a bonus if a good sized stage area is provided, but it's definitely not essential. If you (or the venue) were to provide one, it must be at least 6m wide x 3m deep and no higher than 1m. Some venues have a ready-built stage, other venues are able to build a portable one, but a Ceilidh usually takes place with the band and caller on ground level. It's better for the band to set up on the floor rather than trying to cram onto a stage which is too small. It's easier for the Caller to move between band and dancers if he or she is on the floor rather than a high stage.
What about Barn Dance events in farm Barns?
I generally try to steer people away from having a barn dance in a farm barn. You may think that a farm barn would be the ideal and most appropriate venue for a BARN DANCE - But, speaking from several of my own bad experiences in the very distant past, I advise that a farm barn is not ideal because grit and dust in a barn is a total nightmare to the musicians and dancers alike. Everyone inhales the dust as it flies around during the dancing, and you feel the next morning as though you've smoked a hundred fags. The dust settles on the band's instruments and amplification equipment, meaning everything has to be cleaned the next day. Barns are draughty and it's impossible for musicians to play well if they are cold. YUCK! Some bands actually refuse to play in a farm barn, although obviously a converted function barn is fine. If you have already booked a farm barn, we strongly recommend hosing it down during the daytime of the date of the event, arranging heating and reasonable lighting and making sure as much draught is excluded as possible, especially where the band is to set up.
Important things you need to know if your dance is in a marquee or outdoors
Some of the points in this section about marquees and outdoor events also apply generally to other venues, i.e. the space requirements, flooring, access and parking, power source, lighting.
If the event is to be held outdoors
Outdoor events have their own pitfalls - mainly the unreliable weather in this country, so it is your responsibility to have contingency plans for bad weather. While all attempts would of course be made to continue with the dance, if it has to be abandoned due to weather conditions, the full fee would still payable to the band.
If your event is to be held in a marquee
Please note that it is up to you to discuss and arrange all the following requirements with the marquee providers well before the day.
Access to the marquee, parking and setting up
Please supply address and post code for exactly where the marquee will be sited and bear in mind that the band and caller really do need to get their cars as close as possible to the marquee for unloading and loading their instruments and PA system.
Ideally, the band will be able to leave their cars where they unload, or they could possibly move the vehicles elsewhere if necessary, after unloading.
Arranging for a removable or openable flap in the marquee near to where the band will set up is a good idea, so they can gain access to set up without having to walk through the guests.
Power source in the marquee
Mains power is ideal, but a generator is fine too. The band will not be able to play amplified if they don't have a safe and suitable power source. The band and caller just need access to one ordinary safely earthed 13A plug socket, which should ideally be easily accessible from where the band sets up, and no further away than 10m and if possible, not outside the marquee. Please let Fiona know if the plug socket is going to be any more than 10m away from where the band sets up. The band and caller provide all other extension leads for their own use on the evening.
The amplification equipment for a Ceilidh band does not draw more power than, say, a 2KW electric kettle. If a generator is used, it needs to offer a 240V (not 110V) supply, with a standard 13 Amp socket available for the band's use. We recommend having the band situated well away from a generator as these machines can be quite noisy. Any cable, plugs and sockets should obviously be safely protected from the elements whenever leading outside.
Space in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
You will need to talk in detail with the marquee providers about the overall space required to "house" your group of guests, depending on the number invited.
We will need to know the approximate width of the tent "wall" along which the band will be setting up, and what the approximate area is that you're allowing for the dancing.
A band of, say, 3 or 4 musicians and Caller needs an area with a minimum width of 4-6m and 2-3m depth, with the band situated against one side or end of the marquee and near, but not too close to the dance floor, or they get trampled! Allowing the required depth of space for the band is very important.
For the dancing area, I recommend an absolute minimum of 5m x 5m for the dancing, ideally double or triple this. The dancing area doesn't need to be square. You never get 100% of a group dancing at one time, so as long as there is enough space for about 30-40 people to dance at one time, that is fine.
Arranging the tables and chairs as close to the sides of the marquee as possible is the best way to create the dancing area.
The band doesn't need a stage, but if you were to provide one, it must be at least 6m x 3m and no higher than 1m.
Flooring in the marquee for the dancing and for the band
Grass is difficult to dance on, and concrete can be harsh on the knees if you take a tumble.
A solid wooden floor or heavy-duty rush matting or carpet is fine for dancing on. Wooden flooring isn't critical, as the coconut rush matting does a perfectly good job for dancing on and costs less to install than a wooden floor. Wooden "mobile" dance floors often have steep edges and it's almost better - and safer - for people to dance on matting than on a floor with steep edges.
If you are having a proper wooden dance floor laid, you'll definitely need to ask the marquee providers to allow a good 3m depth for the band to set up comfortably, so the dance floor is not too close to where the musicians set up.
Please note - the Band needs waterproof covering underneath where they are to set up - whether in a marquee or if they are playing outdoors - it's not acceptable to put equipment and musical instruments on bare grass or dusty concrete or other potentially damaging surfaces. It gets damp in marquees later on and expensive instruments and PA equipment need to be kept dry.
It may seem obvious, but it's essential to have the marquee set up on totally flat ground, because even the slightest slope will make it very difficult indeed for the dancers to dance and they gradually end up at one end of the tent either sitting on the knees of the band or in the bar!!!
The surface must also be level where the band is situated, as they have speakers on tripods to set up, and the musicians need to be on level ground for obvious reasons!
Lighting in the marquee
There definitely needs to be some reasonably bright lighting in the marquee, particularly over where the dancing is taking place and also where the band is sited so they aren't in a gloomy corner of the tent! The caller definitely needs to be able to see what the dancers are doing, so this is an important thing to sort out beforehand. I recommend chandelier type lights from the marquee "ceiling" or side lights and strings of white / coloured lights, and maybe some uplighters too. We recently played in a marquee which only had up-lighters and it was rather gloomy, so I recommend having more lighting than just up-lighters. For the rest of the marquee, it's up to you, and you may choose to have lower level lighting for the other areas.
Heating in the marquee
Even for summertime dances, I strongly recommend arranging for optional access to portable heating as it gets chilly in a tent later in the evening and it's impossible to play well if musicians are cold. I recommend hiring or borrowing portable propane (or similar) heaters - for the guests and also for near the band.
Armless chairs and table
Musicians sometimes like the use of some armless chairs and may need a sturdy oblong table about 1m x 2m for a mixer / amplifier. The table should be available for the band on their arrival, to enable a speedy set up.