When Zachary Zwerdling saw The Beatles on The Ed Sullivan Show back in 1964, he knew what he wanted to be. All he needed was a stage, screaming girls and a guitar.

Now, sitting in his office right across from the Eureka City Hall, he keeps his guitar on display. It stands among the symbols of his career in law, including bookshelves and antique leather chairs that require a surprisingly high level of skill to get in and out of. Though Zwerdling has practiced law for the last 43 years, he’s never let his dream of being a musician slip away.

“Performing is a blast,” Zwerdling says. “There’s nothing like getting up in front of people that like you. It makes life sweet.”

Zwerdling started off with a garage band during his time at Arcata High School. After law school, his career, family and drive to be a musician required a delicate balancing act, the elements sometimes colliding in interesting ways. “I started playing in bands here 25 years ago with an all-lawyer band,” Zwerdling says. “We were called The Convictions.”

Zwerdling founded his current band Ghost Train five years ago. In the time since, it has grown into a seven-piece band and taken on lead vocalist Christina D’Alessandro. “Out of the blue I took her out for coffee and said, ‘I hear great things about you. Let’s do a project,’” Zwerdling says. “She really brought the band to a whole higher level than we were before.”

D’Alessandro never received professional training but her rich, emotional voice can pull off everything from Billie Eilish to The Rolling Stones. A real estate agent by profession, she balances a full life with her love of performing. “Ghost Train is a dream come true for me,” D’Alessandro says. “I have two kids, so it competes with them, but I find the time.”

The band plays at events all around Humboldt, but D’Alessandro says weddings are special. “Being at a wedding is very inspiring,” D’Alessandro says. “You feel the love. Everybody is having the best time.”

Few people attend as many weddings as Zwerdling and D’Alessandro, so they know what works and what doesn’t — and that planning weddings is not always a joyful affair. Zwerdling recommends shopping around for a band. He also suggests not being afraid of something fun and unique.

click to enlarge ZACH LATHOURIS
  • Zach Lathouris

“I had a mariachi band at my wedding,” Zwerdling says. “There’s just a huge diversity of music in this county.” He notes there are local bands that play anything from hard rock to traditional Irish folk, but whatever type of band you choose, you need to book them way in advance and give them time to practice the songs you want them to learn.

D’Alessandro recommends keeping requests outside the band’s usual repetoire around three to five songs. “I really do think that a band is one of the most important elements at a wedding,” D’Alessandro says. “The band is good, everybody is having fun.”

For that to come together, communication is key. Make sure the musicians know who the important people are, what the schedule is like and what atmosphere the band should create. Confusion and technical problems can be mitigated during the performance by a professional audio technician. “We always hire a professional sound guy,” D’Alessandro says. “Always. Every single gig.”

But music isn’t the only complicated piece of the wedding puzzle. Every separate piece needs to come together into one evening, which is why D’Alessandro and Zwerdling recommend bringing in a professional to oversee the planning.

“It is great if you can have a wedding planner help you out,” D’Alessandro says. “It is gonna take a lot of stress off the bride. You have to think of everything from the ‘save the date’ to the formal invitation. There’s just so many details.” Then, everything arranged, you can just dance to the music.
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