NEW RICHMOND, Wisc. – Around 10:30 p.m. on Aug. 24, revelers gathered around a keg of beer in New Richmond, Wisconsin, for that age-old and exceedingly romantic wedding ritual that is the keg stand, complete with the sound of chanted names filling the starlit night as blissed-out partiers guzzled themselves into even more blissful oblivion.
It was around this time that some guests assigned “Best Wedding Ever” status to the festivities, and you’d get no argument from this longtime wedding correspondent, as the entire weekend proved to be a reminder of how love brings us together in a world that’s constantly trying to tear us apart, and how a good love story has the power to heal.
“Flowers in the concrete,” as Kasey Musgraves sings.
The occasion was the Sonia Utzman-John Suihkonen wedding; she of the Hopkins-Minnetonka-New Richmond Utzmans, he of the Suihkonen-Hanson-Giang empire of South Minneapolis. The parents of the groom, Paul Suihkonen (Hibbing/Minneapolis guitar legend and leader of ’80s rockers Out All Night) and Mary Beth Hanson (singer extraordinaire and former singer with ’80s rockers Wen Bodine), teamed up with their youngest son, Joe (of South High School, Oberlin College, Junior Ranger and The Deals fame), to sing to the newlyweds — Musgraves’ “Love is a Wild Thing” at the ceremony and the Avett Brothers’ “I Wish I Was” for Sonia and John’s first dance as a married couple.
Breathtaking. I was the lucky date of Mary Beth, who provided the delicious wedding cake and cookies. I spent much of my time roaming the grounds and taking in stories of new love, old love, redemption and reconciliation from many of the guests, and I was heartened throughout at the notion of how the simple joining of two hearts can feel so expansive, so infinite and so supremely joyful to so many.
They came from New York, Chicago, Minneapolis, Duluth, Hibbing and elsewhere. The happily married and happily single and everyone in between started gathering Friday at the New Richmond Heritage Center, our hearts on the line for these crazy kids. The Heritage Center proved to be an idyllic location, with an old-timey church, barn, blacksmith shop and town store ringing the grounds, all of which lent a certain old-timey feel to the modern nuptials.
Friday’s rehearsal and rehearsal dinner gave way to more pre-gaming at the home of the bride’s parents, Brad and Karen, which sits just off of, yes, Minnesota Avenue. Haircuts and beard trims were administered to scruffy groomsmen as a volleyball game broke out and the families’ two dogs maniacally chased each other around the backyard. Then everyone walked a few blocks to the downtown Champps, where celebratory beers were hoisted, strangers became fast friends, the couple’s parents beamed proudly, and young lovers gazed out over the rooftop bar at the downtown lights and American-flag strewn main street, all to the sounds of a real-life Friday night lights high school football game in the distance.
The next day, the wedding started with a sublime reading of the Beach Boys’ “God Only Knows” from the groom’s father and brother. The bride’s brother Charlie officiated, telling the congregation that the couple met via an online dating service and were unimpressed with one another on their first date, but fell in love in part via teasing and put-downs as words of love.
The groom’s sister Viivi read a poem that choked up all concerned, as did Mary Beth’s gorgeous rendition of “Love is a Wild Thing,” which brought to my mind many more testaments to wild and free love, especially when I picked up another guest’s book, Peter Wohlleben’s “The Hidden Life Of Trees: What They Feel, How They Communicate,” which dovetailed perfectly with my own weekend companion, Henry David Thoreau’s “Faith In A Seed.” Both celebrate nature, wildlife and new beginnings, and gathered as we were amidst all the trees, fauna and flora of Wisconsin, hell if you couldn’t literally feel the love — as an energy that keeps growing with the seasons, a cure-all for what ails the human condition and a reason for hope in the future.
Vows were exchanged. Kisses were planted. Hoots and hollers filled the muggy Wisconsin evening as the couple jaunted up the hill/aisle to The Monkees’ “I’m A Believer.” Then it was off to the giddy receiving line and into the dinner tent, where 17 tables festooned with sunflowers and mason jars awaited. Speeches about good love and partnership were made, toasts were toasted, bread was broken, and then the party moved into the barn for the magical first dance, the cake cutting and some of the most ecstatic dancing to a DJ mix the building has ever witnessed.
As the sun went down and the crowd started to say their goodbyes and good lucks, some of the old folks slow-danced inside the barn, while outside, the keg stands got underway in earnest under the rising crescent moon. The next day, gifts were opened, dishes were washed, the barn was cleaned up and we the lucky revelers headed back to our lives, happy in the knowledge that we’d all been part of something so purely heartfelt and promising, with the words of Kasey/Mary Beth’s voice ringing in our ears:
Running like a river trying to find the ocean
Flowers in the concrete
Climbing over fences blooming in the shadows
Places that you can’t see
Coming through the melody when the night bird sings
Love is a wild thing
Love is a wild thing
Love is a wild thing
Jim Walsh lives and grew up in South Minneapolis. He can be reached at [email protected]