Hours before the second round of drive-thru weddings kicked off on May 14th in Downtown Gainesville, Alachua County Clerk of the Court Jess Irby had a boom microphone hanging over his head, an earpiece with a feed in his ear and a circle of sound crew and TV cameras pointed at him.
Irby officiated 27 weddings on April 30th and followed that up with 46 more on May 14th as a way to allow couples to get married even though wedding venues, churches and the courthouse were not allowed to host gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
It was Irby and the clerk of the court staff who decorated the drive-thru site with Las Vegas signage, ribbons, and bows. Local Event Planner Keith Watson and his team provided décor and bouquets for the bride, Baker Baker restaurant provided free cupcakes and this time a string trio volunteered to provide music to round out the event.
Celebration Strings Event Music members Nellie Sunshine, Julia Seltzer and Stephanie Richardson, all music teachers from Gainesville, said they were excited to participate by donating their time and performing “Wedding March” for each couple as they heard the “I now pronounce you husband and wife,” portion of each ceremony.
According to trio member Sunshine, the group usually performs for 30 weddings a year but hasn't done a wedding since October. The wedding season bookings for the trio are usually made between March and June, Sunshine said. They made up for that not happening this year by playing for 17 weddings in one sitting.
The trio also performed several Elvis songs to match the Las Vegas wedding chapel vibe such as “Love Me Tender” and “Can’t Help Falling In Love.”
“That was an extra special touch,” Irby said about the music provide by the trio. “They really kicked it up a notch.”
According to Irby, the weddings started on time at 5 p.m. and lasted late into the evening.
When requested, Irby even changed into Elvis costume for some couples.
And as couples drove up, some stayed in their cars while others got out and stood before the window with family members surrounding them capturing the event on their phone cameras.
All the while, at least a dozen media members circled the event and moved in close to capture audio and video and still images.
“It was pretty unbelievable to see the level of interest for the weddings,” Irby said. “The whole idea behind this was to help out these couples by trying to give them a special day.
“But the fact that they could touch some people beyond our little drive thru and they found some hope and inspiration and a little love in their own hearts, has really been heartwarming on our end,” Irby said about the story airing on national TV.
So far, Irby said he has seen coverage the wedding events show up in most of the local media outlets, plus The Washington Post, Orlando Sentinel, and Tampa Bay Times.
“I’ve seen us pop up all over.”
Inside Edition aired a short piece on May 15th and on Sunday, May 17th a story is scheduled to appear as the last segment on NBC Nightly News with Lester Holt, unless it gets moved to accommodate breaking news.
Irby said he has not scheduled another evening of weddings as the state begins reopening.
“Right now there is nothing currently set,” he said. “With some stuff opening back up soon, we’re not sure.
“If we end up having to go back into lockdown, and there is a need and demand for people to do it, we’ll do it again,” he said. “We’re here to serve, so whatever it takes to get things done and love is one of the great things we’ve got going for us.”
See the Inside Edition piece that aired on May 15th here.