Tucson muralist Joe Pagac and videographer Arielle Alelunas are getting married Saturday afternoon.
It’ll be a simple affair with about 120 of their closest friends and family somewhere near Sabino Canyon, followed by a taco-bar dinner catered by a local Mexican restaurant.
But the reception? Not so simple.
They’ve invited Tucson — all of Tucson.
“Even if people don’t know us, it will still be fun to dress up and come down for all the fun stuff without the boring stuff,” the happy groom-in-waiting said last week after he and Alelunas put out a public invite for their Hotel Congress “Happily Ever After Party.”
No need to bring a gift, and you don’t even have to know the happy couple. But more likely than not you are familiar with them in passing if you drive past the Rialto Theatre where Pagac’s handiwork graces the side of the historic venue. He’s the artist who paints brilliant murals of artists set to play the Rialto. The latest mural: The invitation to the reception.
The reception is expected to start at 9 p.m., soon after the wedding party, riding atop an English-style double-decker party bus, arrives flanked by Flam Chen performers and Brazilian-style drummers from the Tucson drumming ensemble Sol Axé.
Admission is $3 at the door. DJs will perform on the patio and in the lobby, and everyone is invited to toast the happy couple with champagne. The bride will toss her bouquet, and the groom will perform the ceremonial flinging of the garter as part of the festivities.
This is not exactly the wedding reception Alelunas imagined when she envisioned her wedding day. It’s better.
“I’ve always loved doing things outside of the box, but I never imagined I would meet a man who would go for it,” said Alelunas, 31.
The Pagac-Alelunas relationship has been one big outside-the-box love story, starting with how they met. Pagac, who also dabbles in party planning at local nightclubs, saw a photo of Alelunas from one of those parties. He was instantly smitten, but soon learned she had a boyfriend.
Fast-forward a couple months: Alelunas stumbled across Pagac’s posting on the free online dating website OK Cupid.
She reached out to him: “Hey, you’re a man about town. What are you doing on a site like this?”
“I’m looking for the right girl,” the 36-year-old Tucson native responded.
They met, started dating and became inseparable.
Pagac said he knew she was the one for him after the couple took a 40-day bike trip late last summer along the U.S.-Canada border.
They biked and camped, and when they returned to Tucson, they still liked each other.
“We got along the whole time,” he recalled. “I thought if we could do this, we can make a life together.”
Last November, the day after they rode in the Tour de Tucson, the couple hiked up Pusch Peak. At the top, he lit a flare, and a handful of their family and friends who had secretly conspired with Pagac, including Alelunas’s twin sister, Lena from Texas, lit fireworks below. As they exploded, he popped the question.
She said yes.
Pagac, whose parties often center on themed dress-ups, hopes to see a sea of women — and men if they so choose — donning wedding dresses for the occasion. But you can also come as you are; no one will be turned away.
“I’m just envisioning that it’s going to be a big group of our friends and family and then a whole lot of people who will show up and not realize it’s a wedding party, and they’ll be surprised,” Alelunas said.
Pagac said he read a survey once that showed that people who spend a lot of money on their weddings don’t stay married as long as folks who take a more frugal route. He and Alelunas are spending just under $6,000, which covers everything from the clothes and rings to renting the wedding hall for the taco-bar buffet.
He said he believes that a key to marital success starts at the reception: The more folks coming out to support a couple, the better the odds of success.
Which goes a long way in explaining why he invited all of Tucson to the special day.