Ella Eckerson and Brent Rogers are hoping to have strangers at their wedding this weekend.
The bride, 30, and groom, 32, are forgoing the traditional wedding template and instead will host a rock charity concert in front of hundreds of family, friends and, they hope, plenty of people they’ve never met. They plan to exchange vows between sets, and in lieu of gifts, are asking guests to donate to Literacy Kansas City.
“Instead of friends or our families giving us a spatula, how about we give something to the community?” Eckerson said. “We need a strong community to raise a family.”
Their “Love, Charity and Rock & Roll” event will start at 5 p.m. Saturday at Crossroads KC at Grinders and feature the bands Trapt, Shaman’s Harvest and Chance the Arm.
Rogers and Eckerson describe themselves as a couple who like to drink beer and go hiking. They met in fall 2011 in a math course at Penn Valley Community College and have been together ever since.
They don’t like to take things too seriously — when they take photos together they typically stick their finger in each other’s nose.
During a little picnic in their yard, Rogers proposed in a kilt to Eckerson.
“We enjoy being together,” Ella said. “God, that sounds so lame.”
As you’d expect, they weren’t interested in a conventional wedding. They wanted to focus on what they say people actually remember from such events: the food, the booze and, most importantly, the entertainment.
The idea for the concert formed while they were struggling to think of items for their gift registry. They were already living together in a house in Kansas City and had everything they needed.
They also thought it would be funny to ask a celebrity to marry them and started brainstorming names: Mayor Sly James, morning radio show host Johnny Dare and actor Bill Murray (Eckerson even wrote him a letter). They figured a celebrity would be more inclined to do it for charity — and then the lightbulb turned on.
“We have everything we could ask for. Instead of having a traditional wedding, which everyone has been to plenty of times, we decided to make it essentially a giant reception and make it as fun as possible while giving back,” Rogers said.
More and more couples are asking for charitable donations instead of gifts. I Do Foundation reported that 242,000 couples have used its website to create charity registries since 2002, according to philanthropy.com. Couples have donated $8.3 million to charities through the site — $703 per registry on average.
But turning the whole event into a fundraiser and inviting the community is more unusual.
Eckerson and Rogers have connections with Literacy Kansas City. Rogers’ cousin, Kim Rogers, has been the group’s operations manager since 2013 and will be one of Eckerson’s bridesmaids. Eckerson has also been raising money for the group for about five years through her Dusty Penny Fund. Back when she was cleaning houses, she asked her clients to donate the loose change she found to Literacy Kansas City. (She now has her degree in mechanical engineering and is working at a consulting firm; he just got his master’s in physics from UMKC.)
Now more people will learn about the group and the problems it addresses, Kim Rogers said. About 225,000 adults in the Kansas City area read at the lowest literacy level, according to the organization.
“This concert will reach a lot of different groups we typically don’t reach out to,” she said. “Most of our volunteers are retired; this will reach a younger crowd.”
The wedding might not follow the typical format, but Brent Rogers said the planning is still “hellish.” The couple have booked the bands, selected the venue and coordinated donations themselves.
They hope Kansas Citians, even those without much money to donate, will crash their “wedding weekend bender.”
“Adult literacy is not really cute puppy dog faces or starving children, but I think it’s incredibly important,” Eckerson said. “Because when you educate the adults in children’s lives you automatically grow the community in a way that has a ripple effect.”
And they still really hope Bill Murray shows up.
▪ “Love, Charity and Rock & Roll” starts at 5 p.m. Saturday at Crossroads KC, 417 E. 18th St. Admission is free, but donations may be made at the show or at crossroads.frontgatetickets.com. (They’ll also raise money with a raffle but haven’t decided on the items yet.) For more information, visit Facebook.com/LoveCharityRockandRoll.
▪ For more information about Literacy Kansas City or to volunteer, go to literacykc.org.