tips for an off-grid celebration
Your entire family and friend group all together, outside, in a place not only wild, but that also holds a vein that runs through you. You imagined it your whole life—a backyard wedding in this exact locale (even if you didn’t quite have the space nailed down yet) set among the mountains and the trees, with the occasional glimpse of passing wildlife.
Can you imagine a more serene setting in which to sanctify your union as a couple?
Neither can we.
And neither can many other couples who embraced the backyard wedding obsession that has us all wanting to secure a nook of property, if only on which to celebrate.
But in order to pull off an intimate affair in the middle of a field somewhere, you really need to dial in the details, many of which are above and beyond what’s required by a traditional event venue.
Consider the Nonnegotiables
You can’t pull off a backyard wedding—especially in the Tetons—without some very specific backstage elements. The weather is often unpredictable, and the space you select for your celebration may be suitably off-grid. Therefore, laying the foundation with the practical necessities will allow for an issueless fete.
“A lot of couples say, ‘We do not want a tent. We want to have an al fresco dinner. Everything outside,’” says Alison Kyle, of Destination Jackson Hole. “Well, I’ve done plenty of al fresco events, but you have to at least have a tent on the books.”
Rain, or snow (even in June), can, most definitely, drown the festiveness of an open-air ceremony and reception. But even the wind can wreak havoc. Blown away flower arrangements, place settings, and chairs (It’s happened!) can make it impossible for guests to even sit down.
Ashley Wold, of Wild Rose Weddings and Events, reminds us that, aside from a weather break, a tent adds a “cohesiveness to the event and allows for a home base,” even if, at first consideration, you don’t think you need one.
Plus, “there can also be a 30-degree temperature swing [during the event],” says Wold. “You can use the tent for shade during the day, and warmth—made by the body heat of people dancing and moving around—at night.”
Both Kyle and Wold suggest at least renting a tent, and then, should you decide you don’t need it in the days before the event, you can always cancel.
Chances are, you don’t want people traipsing through your house to use the bathroom at your wedding. And unsightly cords strewn about, we don’t know any wedding planner who would let that fly.
Mobile bathroom trailers, provided locally by JH Posh Potty and Canvas Unlimited, seem to be the trending choice for those hosting an outdoor party. The trailers can be set off to the side, down a lighted path, and with appropriate signage to help lead the way. Once inside, the custom touches will make guests feel like they’re in a cozy space.
Destination wedding coordinator Kaylen Davidson says you can’t overlook water needs either. She likes to make sure her setups (which include weddings in Jackson Hole, South Florida, and New England) have ample water stations to meet the needs of guests, caterers, and other on-site vendors.
“Double-check to see if your caterer needs water; some may just expect it,” says Davidson. “Then, ask your entire team what their water needs are, and then double it.”
Set up the caterer next to an outdoor water supply to assure a continuous flow. And, for bartenders or mobile bars, fill reusable jugs to service their water needs. Water stations throughout the property can consist of water jugs with spouts, outfitted with whimsical glassware and set among flowers.
When Wold runs down the list of electricity needs—caterers, lighting, music, microphones, bathrooms, a photo booth, and a dessert warming station (to name a few)—it’s easy to see you can’t just run a few cords from your house. She suggests enlisting the help of gas or battery-powered generators.
Wold also advises marking your sprinkler lines for tent placement, and then making sure you turn off your sprinklers during the event so that nothing short circuits.
All of the big venues carry their own insurance, but when you’re the host, and the party is on your property, you carry the liability, should an accident happen. Wold recommends purchasing liability insurance before the big event, and she sends couples to protectmywedding.com (hosted by Travelers Insurance) to do so. She also suggests making sure each vendor has their own insurance, as well.
“[Insurance] is a pretty small expense for peace of mind,” Wold says.
Think Like an Architect
So, the space, the tent, and the view is on lockdown. But have you planned your layout?
Wold always does a walk-though before diving into the logistics. She uses the space’s available features to her advantage, and chooses a different location for both the ceremony and the tent. She finds the flattest spot that is easy for people to walk on, and notes the sun angles at different times of the day, making sure there’s ample shade.
“You don’t want your grandparents tromping through a field of rocks,” she says. “Nor do you want guests baking in the sun in July for two hours.”
She encourages couples to think about the flow of the event. “Can you move people from point A to B to C seamlessly?” while also taking into account access for the caterer, the musicians, and other vendors.
“Try to look at the small, and the big picture. How is this going to be for [the] ceremony? And then, how does that connect to the rest of the day?” she says.
Invent Some Cozy Nooks
Creating natural lounge areas in your backyard setting gives guests the opportunity to cherish the specialness of the place. Davidson likes to mix wood with fabric when designing hangout spaces, and use neutral tones that blend with the natural environment.
“I am really big on chairs!” she says, “I feel like you can have the most beautiful florals and linens, but your chairs will make or break your look, whether you’re in a backyard or a ballroom.”
She opts for wooden benches, bamboo folding chairs, and Chiavari chairs, and then mixes them with couches, monogrammed pillows (for a personalized touch), and plenty of blankets to customize the space.
At a recent Jackson wedding, Davidson crafted a Welcome S’mores Party gathered around cauldrons, complete with a chocolate bar, Persephone graham crackers, and monogrammed marshmallows. Each cauldron featured a cowboy boot filled with roasting sticks and a place to sit down and warm up. The same wedding also featured a glamping teepee for kids, with coloring books, goldfish, and juice boxes, as well as sequined pillows and blankets.
Courtney Rodriguez, of Victor, Idaho, wanted people to feel like they were at her home—but “more elevated”—during her wedding to Matt last summer on their ranch. They created different hangout areas: one with a sofa, Jenga, and cornhole, and another with a loveseat and daybed, backed with Mexican-inspired papel picado (paper art) that they used for a photo staging area.
“I didn’t want people to feel like they had to sit at a table,” she says. “We’re both from Dallas, and I really wanted our guests to understand the beauty of the lifestyle [in Idaho], which is laid-back and relaxed.”
Kyle loves to incorporate nooks that lend an element of interest, and uses lighting, like rustic bulbs and lighting canopies, to create an elevated feel. She also works with vendors who bring their own sense of style to the event.
“I really love mobile bars for a more curated experience,” says Kyle. “You can incorporate the bar with a lounge area where people can hang out before coming into the dining or dance area. … It’s just another spot to be.”
Maximize Your Dollar
Lots of couples choose a backyard fete out of sheer consideration for economics. Forgoing the expense of a pricey venue allows you leeway on the details that are more important to you.
Davidson points out that you can save money on site fees by having the welcome party, the wedding, and the day-after gathering all in one place. And you don’t have to go big on them, either. Welcome parties can consist of charcuterie boards and cocktails, and the day-after “brunch” can be a simple open house, complete with a coffee cart and local pastries.
“You can use the same furniture and switch out blankets and pillows to give it a new feel,” she says. “This way, you’re [technically] renting furniture for one day, but getting three days out of it.”
And if it’s your own space, Davidson advises being flexible with deliveries and pickups.
“If you’re renting a venue, usually everything needs to be out of there the same night. And there’s a major upcharge attached to this. But [for a backyard wedding], you can have rentals dropped off on a Thursday, and then picked up on a Monday. This will save you money,” she says.
“Then, if you set up your tent early— say, on a Wednesday for a Saturday wedding—and it happens to rain … bonus! Your ground stays dry for the event.”
Keep Your Footprint Small
Wold, who specializes in sustainable events, reminds people to stay mindful of their consumption when planning a backyard wedding. She gives tips like growing your own flowers or consciously harvesting wildflowers (just not in the national park) for bouquets and installments. She advises sourcing reusable décor elements that may end up back in your home, growing your own greens and herbs to be featured on the menu, and eliminating the need for single-use packaging products.
Kyle wants to make sure you have people in place—like a coordinator—who can monitor the cleanup and assure the food trash is taken away, or secured, so that you don’t invite wildlife in.
“It’s the planner’s job to manage your vendors, so that leaving no trace is possible,” she says. “And then, be there until the bitter end.”
Davidson concludes by saying: “It’s your backyard, and your blank canvas. There is no right or wrong.” But she urges you to be thoughtful of the land and wildlife, and have people throw rose petals instead of confetti.