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DJs around Charlotte are in demand as weddings pick back up after a pandemic slump

Zane Persaud

It’s wedding season. And this year is busier than normal after many couples had to postpone their big days because of the pandemic. That’s good news for wedding planners and venue operators. It’s also good for DJs.

If you find yourself at a wedding this summer in Charlotte, it may be Omar Parkes laying down the grooves when it’s time to hit the dance floor. Parkes is the owner of Parkes Entertainment, and he performs under the name DJ Op.

Parkes also has a day job, working for an educational nonprofit. But he almost gave that up right before the pandemic hit. WFAE's Marshall Terry got together with Parkes to talk about business.

Omar Parkes has seen an uptick in requests for his DJ services as big weddings come back after initially being taboo during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Marshal Terry
Omar Parkes has seen an uptick in requests for his DJ services as big weddings come back after initially being taboo during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marshall Terry: What was your life like before the pandemic as far as deejaying?

Omar Parkes: When 2019 came around, business had been going so well for me that I toyed with the idea of leaving my regular job and taking up the DJ business full time. I came really close to making that call, and the next thing you know, 2020 happened. So, I did not make that call. Up until 2020, things had been really, really good — lots of bookings. I do all kinds of bookings, from corporate events, I do a lot of school events, I do private parties, I do a lot of weddings. And all of those were coming in pretty frequently up until 2019.

Terry: When the shutdowns were first announced, what went through your head as far as, you know, the deejaying side of your life?

Parkes: First thing I thought was I was really grateful that I did not pull the trigger on leaving my career to pursue this full time. And then I also thought it really presented an opportunity for me to do a couple of things, including spending time, creating my library, organizing my music in a way that I maybe didn't have as much available time to do that pre-pandemic because I was so busy doing bookings. So I was able to get my music really together in a way that really worked for me.

But also it created an opportunity for me to touch another side of the market that I had been unexposed to, which was the digital arena and streaming and learning how to exist in that space. I bought a few new pieces of equipment, some webcams, learned some things about Twitch and Facebook Live and Instagram Live and things like that. And it really positioned me to kind of broaden my reach because when you're streaming, you reach people all across the world, and you're automatically broadening your network. So that was two things that were great as a result of the pandemic.

Terry: It's been a while. The shutdowns have been lifted. So how are you doing now?

Parkes: Much better. I am almost, if not completely, back to pre-pandemic levels, as far as my bookings. Once the restrictions were eased, I've been able to get bookings all up and down the East Coast, really. I've been to Connecticut and as far south as Atlanta. Most of my bookings are here locally, but weddings primarily have been back in full gear. I have had a ton of business — so much so that I'm hiring out. I'm adding new talent to my roster to help me with the influx of bookings that are coming in. So it's great.

Terry: How many weddings do you do a week?

Parkes: I do probably three to four a month. That's not how it always has been. The boom in my wedding bookings has happened only over the past six or seven months. I was certainly doing weddings before the pandemic, but pre-pandemic, I might have done one or two every other month. It was nothing near what it is now. I think just love is in the air. People are ready. People have lost a lot of people, and people are ready to seize the moment and make the most of what they have with their loved ones. And I'm happy to be a part of it.

Terry: What about the weddings themselves? Have you noticed any differences in how they're held now versus what you were seeing before the pandemic?

Omar Parkes shows off his DJ gear.
Marshall Terry
Omar Parkes shows off his DJ gear.

Parkes: Sure. Absolutely. I've seen a lot more outside weddings, and I don't know if that has anything to do with people wanting to decrease the risk of exposure if anybody is maybe infected indoors. But I can say certainly I've done a lot more outside weddings in the past few months than I have before the pandemic hit, for sure.

Terry: Well, let's get on to the music, Omar. What are the hot songs at weddings this summer?

Parkes: It depends on the age, but if we're talking about the young people, there's a lot of Doja Cat, a lot of Justin Bieber. There's a lot of Drake, Lil Nas X. These guys are putting out songs lately that are just what I call — they get the floor filled. But what I found recently, more than anything, is that the young people of today are just as fascinated with older music as they are with today's music. So a lot of disco — Bee Gees and ABBA, you know, "Dancing Queen." And the great thing about being a DJ is that I have a job that is equal parts playing what people want to hear as much as introducing them to new music. So the things that were popular in my day — if you hire me, you get just as much of that as you do what's playing on the radio today.

Terry: Do you ever just ... slide in one that isn't requested, but it's a song that you really like and you want to get people out there grooving to?

Parkes: Absolutely. Weddings, as important as they are and as special as they are, they're actually quite easy for me because everybody likes a good party environment. There's a certain set of songs that you can play that work for everybody, right? But what I enjoy is reminding them about songs that they maybe haven't heard in a long time. And, you know, when the energy is really high, taking it down with a nice slow jam that maybe some of the grandparents in the house hadn't heard for a while. And, you know, just making sure that everybody gets what they want. I look around and I read the crowd and I make sure that if there's a certain set of people who haven't been moving around a lot, I give them something, you know.

Terry: And what do you give them? What's the song?

Parkes: One of them is called "Guilty" by Barry Gibb and Barbra Streisand. For me, it's a hard-hitting song. People don't play it a lot. I enjoy it. I enjoy giving them that. And I love love, so when I see older people who have been together for a long time and they get to get to the dance floor and love on each other because they are hearing their favorite song, that's —for me — that's the moment.

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Marshall came to WFAE after graduating from Appalachian State University, where he worked at the campus radio station and earned a degree in communication. Outside of radio, he loves listening to music and going to see bands - preferably in small, dingy clubs.