Much like the crowds it plays to all summer long, family is at the core of the Myrtle Beach variety act known as the Party Favor Band.
Started by the husband and wife team of Carleton and Janet Whilden, Party Favor plays up and down the Grand Strand, exciting crowds with a high energy show that combines everything from Funk and Motown to Beach and Blues to Classic Rock and Modern Pop.
“I grew up singing in my dad’s Bluegrass band and playing mandolin,” said Janet. “Family has always been important to me.”
Myrtle Beach: Jerry and Kay Burbage dance as the Party Favor Band performs at Apache Pier. (click for more photos)
The pair met while attending Appalachian State together — both as music majors — and have making beautiful music together ever since. Janet is a music teacher, while Carleton serves as a music minister at Live Oak Church in Murrells Inlet and also runs sound for his own production company at events across the area and into Charleston.
See them live
• Friday, Sept. 2: Finale @ The Pier, Apache Pier, 8 p.m. (Full details here)
• Saturday, Oct. 1: Conway Fall Festival, 3rd Avenue and Laurel Street, 10 a.m. (Full details here)
“I was always running sound for bands who did this sort of thing. I’d be sitting there thinking, I’d really like to be doing this or I should really do that,” said Carleton.
Never one to let an opportunity pass, the drummer and Party Favor bandleader got his wife on board as a vocalist and recruited a crew of seasoned players to join up.
With a core lineup of five members — which can expand up to eight at times — the group now includes Carleton (drums/vocals), Janet (vocals/flute), Rich Rinaldi (keyboards/vocals), Paul Matthews (bass) and Mark Beasley (guitar).
Keeping the musical tradition alive in the Whilden family, the band also incorporates Janet and Carleton’s youngest daughter Caroline, singing a few songs per night and serving as the band’s activities assistant.
And when it comes to the Party Favor Band experience, activities are a big part of the show. Oftentimes the group will distribute actual party favors to the crowd during performances.
“A lot of times I’ll get the kids out on the floor with maracas and we have a little bit of playing along with the band,” said Janet. “I’ve given out as many as 60 maracas and it’s a lot of fun because then people have a party favor to take home form the Party Favor Band.”
It’s this playful attitude and focus on including additional elements that helps set the group apart from others of its kind.
Myrtle Beach Music: Carleton Whilden performs with Party Favor Band. (click for more photos)
“We try to bring out all these lights and little extras to do as much as we can with it. We’re really out there to create a fun atmosphere,” says Carleton.
“I saw some bands that really just went out and did their own thing and others who got right in there and got really involved with the crowd When I built our band I wanted to not only be able to play the music really well, but also use the music to help [the crowd] just have an absolute ball,” he adds. “It’s about what can we do for you to make you have a ball.”
Though the group’s on-stage focus is fun, the members admit that there’s more to being a party band than just partying.
“This can be a really tough town to get work in,” said Carleton. “We’re not your classic bar band.”
“Plus, there are a lot of bands in this town,” added Janet.
For the past year and a half the group has slowly worked to built up its reputation, battling for a share of the many lucrative gigs that come from being known as one of the area’s best bands for private parties, weddings and family-friendly festivals.
It’s an always-evolving process, but the group does its best to fit the bill by being ready to play for virtually any crowd, at any time.
Myrtle Beach Music: Fans dance as Party Favor plays at Apache Pier (click to see more photos)
“The first thing I try to find is what is the audience and what are they looking for. If it’s a wedding it may be something very fun and interactive, whereas if we’re playing a Chamber event after hours we know we’re strictly background music and it’s really laid back,” says Carleton. “I try to really talk to the event holder beforehand and get as good of a feel for what it’s all about before we go in, so that we can cater our set to that.”
But despite playing to crowds of all types, the Party Favor members take solace in the fact that certain things seem to work with almost any group.
“The one thing that’s always going to get them on the dance floor — that we do — is the ‘Electric Slide’,” said Carleton. “We use a number of the line dances because no matter what that’s going to get people going. A lot of times people are shy, but when you put on a line dance that really gets people out of their shells.”