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Mountain Home Magazine

Pitch a Tent

Dec 31, 2020 09:00AM ● By Karey Solomon

A space created just for your wedding, set in a picturesque landscape as large as your love, inspired many couples to choose an outdoor wedding, long before health and safety concerns limited access to many indoor venues. Add a tent for protection from sun, rain, and brisk breezes, style it with special lighting, colorful flowers and table linens, and all the possible choices expand nearly into magic.

An event under canvas can be formal or casual, open-air, or more like an indoor space. Those tent sides with cathedral—a.k.a. French—windows create part of the difference these days. There’s a lot of flexibility in tent sizes, and the location—backyard, park, meadow, pond, or streamside—plays a role, too. A tent might not be for everyone, says

Krystle Putnam, co-owner with her parents and husband of Keystone Tents and Rentals in Canton ( But for those who choose a tent wedding, and for their guests, she’s noticed, “It’s more relaxed. People let their guard down just a little.”

“A great thing about a tent wedding is you start with a plain tent and design your own surroundings and atmosphere,” says Sonja Harvey, who with her husband, Howard, owns Crystal City Wedding and Party Center in Big Flats ( They’ve done this for more than thirty-three years, and they’ve seen, and planned, a lot of weddings. “You make it uniquely yours by adding a tent liner, leg drapes, chandeliers, fancy linens, chair covers, a backdrop behind the head table.”

A country or rustic-styled wedding might be styled with wood slabs under centerpieces, bright colors for table linens and flowers, wine barrels used as part of the décor, and faux burlap table runners. A more formal wedding would use tent liners and leg-drapes to cover much of the tent’s frame inside, almost-floor-length tablecloths, chair covers, and white or ivory linens.

The planning for a tent wedding—and with tents in greater demand, advance planning is more important now than ever—begins with the number of people expected and the possible locations for the tent. Howard Harvey uses a computer-aided design program (CAD), as do the Putnams, to help decide on the tent size needed. Modern tents, whether they’re frame tents like those used by Crystal City or center pole tents like those from Keystone, are created of sections of canvas so they can be expanded from the basic twenty- or thirty-foot square starting point to lengths of 105 feet or longer as needed. Modern tents, whether they’re frame tents like those used by Crystal City or center pole tents like those from Keystone, are created of sections of canvas so they can be expanded from the basic twenty- or thirty-foot square starting point to lengths of 105 feet or longer as needed.

Five-foot round tables or, less commonly, long rectangular banquet tables, seat eight people and require space around them. Will there be a head table? Cake table? A gift table? A bar? Dance floor? Will the meal be served by waitstaff or is a buffet planned? Will there be a band or DJ? Are caterers working on site? These all affect the size of the tent or the number of tents needed. Sonja and Howard often suggest using smaller auxiliary tents for the caterer and DJ to allow guests unimpeded conversation and less distraction from the festivities.

“You have to listen to the girls,” Howard often says in discussing tent possibilities. You get the feeling he does a lot of listening. Making sure the bride has the day she wants means using the couple’s wedding planning skills to cover all the details. And after more than three decades of wedding and event planning, they’ve got a lot of experience, recommendations, and suggestions. These include Sonja’s comment that a friend at the gift table should be armed with a roll of scotch tape to make sure all gift cards are securely attached to presents to avoid later confusion, and Howard’s suggestion that if the cake cutting ceremony happens early in the meal, those photographs are checked off the list, the caterers can finish portioning cake so the dessert service goes smoothly, and no one has to worry about dancers bumping into the cake table.

Planning also means an analysis of the event site. Once, a couple decided they’d like windows behind the head table—but as things had been designed, that meant their guests would have a cinematic view of the porta-potties. Changing things on paper was easier than rearranging things later on.

The details are many. Crystal City makes sure tables are leveled, and they can supply a dance floor. They can coordinate with florists and DJs, check with utilities about buried lines, and work with code enforcement for safety. On one instructive occasion, both the caterers and the band came with extra equipment and Howard had to bring in an electrician to make sure everyone safely had the wattage they needed.

Starting with a white tent of whatever size is needed, the space becomes a blank canvas for the bride’s décor. The Harveys install chandeliers on dimmer switches. Krystle Putnam says she sometimes uses chandeliers and sometimes, in smaller tents, the special effect of perimeter lighting. Sometimes a DJ will supply multicolored uplighting near the dance floor. Knowing who’s coming and what they need helps the planning and the big day run smoothly.

The Harveys recommend holding the ceremony in a venue other than the tent, allowing the planners and caterers to set up the tent during the ceremony. For instance, using one set of chairs for the ceremony and different ones for the reception means no bustle of activity moving chairs and a smooth progression between activities for guests.

It’s important for brides to know the outdoor tent season in our part of the country is a window of time mostly between May and mid-October. The tent canvas does not benefit from heavy rains or snow and tent suppliers try to avoid cold weather work.

Says Jason Wilcox of Wilcox Tent Rentals in Troy (find him on Facebook), “Some of the most beautiful weddings are outdoor weddings, but be aware that Mother Nature can change things in an instant!” After he put up tents for his brother’s wedding, an unexpected heavy downpour made a few adjustments necessary. “You have to take everything in stride.”

Much like the marriage being celebrated...

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