It Took a Village: The Friends, Artists and Birmingham Wedding Vendors Who Helped Make Our Wedding

photographer shoots wedding picture on redmont hotel rooftop

Photos by Spindle Photography

For someone who’s not that into weddings, I have a lot of work experience in the wedding industry. I’ve always liked a good side hustle, and I have lots of friends who work weddings, so these opportunities come up every now and again, and I enjoy taking them. I’ve worked as a second shooter (a.k.a. backup photographer) for a couple of seasons for two wedding photographers. I’ve been ordained and have officiated at three wedding ceremonies. I’ve assisted a wedding florist, carrying buckets full of peonies and roses and hydrangeas around country clubs and churches and even a horse farm. 

All these weekend jobs paid off big time when I started planning my own wedding; we had some of the most amazing vendors in the business. These professionals are the best of the best, and I can’t recommend them highly enough. They are my personal wedding heroes. Most of them are available to hire for your own wedding — and if you want to know that everything about your wedding will be perfect without your having to worry about it, I recommend that you do.

kelly cumming shooting carrie rollwagen's wedding

Photography: Spindle Photography (Kelly Cummings)

Our wedding photography team couldn’t have been any better. We were so lucky to have Kelly shooting our wedding. I’ve assisted her on lots of weddings, so I know how professional and dedicated she is; I didn’t worry for a second about whether or not I looked good or that the things I wanted captured were being captured. She’s that rare mix of a person who’s incredibly organized, but also an amazing artist. I’m so happy to have wedding photography that makes us look like us, but on a really perfect day. Yes, we got all the moments that you want to have captured, but they don’t look like fake wedding models. It was perfect. And I was so happy that Morgan Trinker came out of wedding photography “retirement” to second shoot with Kelly. I loved it because Morgan and Kelly are both good friends (I dragged them to Paramount a lot when Russell was still just a bartender I had a crush on), but also because they just do their jobs so, so well. I could go on, but I think the results speak for themselves.

Visit Spindle Photography’s website.

kathleen varner styles wedding flowers

Florals: Edna K. Design (Kathleen Varner)

I worked with Kathleen Varner at Southern Progress, and we called her the unicorn — she’s so good at so many different things. Kathleen’s worked in print design and social media management and photo styling, and she’s so professional at all those things that you’d think each of them is her specialty. She started doing wedding florals pretty recently and immediately became one of the best in town. I’m so impressed by her work, and she’s a great person, too.

I’ve assisted Kathleen on a couple of weddings — there’s a shocking amount of packing and unpacking, heavy lifting, carrying water buckets, cleaning up, scraping off candle wax, ironing of linens and just general tidying involved in floral work, so I did that, but I know almost nothing about flowers. I didn’t even understand what I liked or how to explain what I wanted.

I got married in the fall, and I needed flowers that were in season to fit my budget, but I didn’t want traditional fall colors (helpful, I know). Kathleen did everything; I shared some Pinterest pictures of basic color palettes that I liked, and she translated that into amazing florals that were just so lovely. She also incorporated my grandmother’s ring as my something blue on the bouquet, and she gave me flowers for my hair. Oh, and did I mention that Kathleen and her sister Sarah stayed to help set up the food and refill platters on tables? They were truly amazing.

Visit Edna K. Design’s website.

joanna ballentine does wedding makeup

Hair & Makeup: Irrelephant (Molly and Joanna)

When Molly Stilley and Joanna Ballentine, a.k.a. Irrelephant, met me at The Essential to talk about bridal hair and makeup, they told me a story. A story about my hair. Joanna told me they saw me as a bride in the French countryside who’s marrying the boy from the farm next door, and all our family and friends were gathering together and everyone was bringing homemade food, and I was wearing my aunt’s best gown instead of a wedding dress. This wasn’t a literal story, but a metaphor to help me visualize the look they were going for. Naturally, I was sold.

Joanna and Molly were wonderful with me. They helped me look like myself — I didn’t want to look like someone else, even if that someone else were a model — but on my prettiest day. I loved my hair (Molly called my bangs “iconic”), and it stayed looking perfect all day and night. They were also wonderful with my mom and sister — we’re a family of women who are extremely awkward about being doted on or getting made up, and they dealt with our awkwardness and had us all looking beautiful.

Visit Irrelephant blog for wedding hair and makeup, or see Joanna and Molly at Mae Salon.

alison belcher styles a table of wedding cakes

Coordinator: Alison Belcher

Alison Belcher was Creative Director — and my boss — when I worked at Southern Progress and Willow House. She took me from a high-strung wreck of a copywriter to a professional who at least appears to have it all together, and she did it all thanklessly. Actually, that’s understating it, because not only did I not thank her, but I actually complained quite a lot.

Alison’s still a Creative Director, and she agreed to step in as my Day-of Wedding Coordinator. I was thrilled that she said yes, and she did a perfect job, which I expected because I’ve never known her to do anything less. She’s incredibly kind, but she gets the job done and doesn’t compromise quality. She didn’t let me feel any stress … even when she had to run around the cake table squashing bugs when it turned out three of the bundt cakes came infested with ants. 

brat brot outside view

Venue: Brät Brot

We decided to get married at this biergarten before it even existed. My friend David Carrigan had me over for a Radler one day and told me about this amazing German-themed bar he was opening up in an old plant nursery. That sounded just about right to me and Russell, and I was so excited that David let us use the place for our wedding.

Brät Brot’s manager, Ashley, made planning so easy. She made me feel low maintenance even when I wasn’t being low maintenance. She helped me create a drinks menu that was within our budget, gave me good advice about how to serve food and what to avoid, and even let us crawl through their bakery window to put a top hat and bow tie on the stuffed pig in the window. (Dressing up the pig was the one thing my mom insisted on.) The venue was beautiful, unique, and incredibly special to us.

Visit Brät Brot.

stuffed taxidermy pig wearing top hat and bow tie

Videography: Stoneybrook Films (Josh Frantz)

I’ve seen a lot of bad wedding videos, full of manufactured moments and cheesy cliches, and I’ve watched wedding videographers be so intent on getting their shot that they get in the way of the actual ceremony. But Josh Frantz of Stoneybrook Films (and who was one of my best friends in college) was perfect. He managed to capture every shot without being obtrusive; it was like he wasn’t even there — except that he obviously was, because I have the video to prove it.

To be honest, I didn’t even want to watch the video. My memory of the ceremony was special to me, and I didn’t want that spoiled by reality. I wanted to cherish it the way I remembered it. When I watched anyway, I was so happy that I did. The ceremony was just as special as I remembered, but I also got to see things I didn’t experience at the time, like the way my family looked at each other. And because it’s recorded, I don’t have to worry about forgetting some of the details that meant so much to me at the time.

Visit the Stoneybrook Films website.

chris and lyndsay slaten stand with a guitar

Music: Chris Slaten 

I knew we wanted simple, acoustic music at our ceremony — and that’s the only direction I gave Chris Slaten, which makes me one of those annoying people who pretends to be easygoing when they’re actually quite high maintenance. I just sent a couple of tracks off of Spotify that I like listening to, and said, “something like this I guess.” I think they were piano music, i.e. not very helpful.

But Chris, who travels the country doing house shows as Son of Laughter (and who happens to be married to my college roommate), was perfect. He did a quick demo of a few song choices before hand, and played Be Thou My Vision as I walked down the aisle. It couldn’t have been better if I’d actually planned it.

Visit Son of Laughter’s website.

josh miller hugs carrie rollwagen at brat brot

Catering: Josh Miller 

Josh isn’t technically a caterer; he’s an editor at Food and Wine. As I writer myself, I know that writing about something does not necessarily qualify you to actually do the thing — but Josh really killed it. I’d decided to throw a wedding potluck, and it would’ve been the disaster it sounds like if Josh hadn’t stepped in to save me from myself. (He partnered with me to write a blog about the experience, so I’ll share more details about the potluck later this week.) I was so impressed with him every step of the way, from planning to execution. The food looked beautiful, and it was actually delicious — and that’s really saying something, considering half of it came from Aldi.

bride and groom stand with minister

Ceremony: Michael Stuckey

I wanted our wedding officiant be someone who was equally important to both Russell and me, and our coworker Michael Stuckey was perfect. He’s had theological discussions with Russell, had my back in more meetings than I can count, and was truly honored to be chosen to perform our wedding. Choosing a friend to help with your wedding ceremony can be stressful, but Stuckey took all the stress out of it for us. Since I’ve performed a few wedding ceremonies myself, I had some ideas about what we wanted, and Stuckey took those thoughts and ran with them, telling a great story about the two of us, our personalities and how we met and fell in love.

Carrie Rollwagen married Russell Marbut in September of 2018. She’s the author of The Localist, a book about buying independent, and cofounder of Church Street Coffee & Books. Currently, she’s Director of Strategic Planning at Infomedia, a Birmingham-based web development company. Find her on social media as @crollwagen: Facebook, Instagram or Twitter. Russell is a web developer and jiu jitsu instructor who isn’t much into wedding blogs or website bios. He’s on Instagram as @russellg9.

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