On September 4, 2021, almost eight years after meeting each other during a competitive game of musical chairs at James Madison University, Nicole Elizabeth Pellegrino and Michael Dennis Freas finally tied the knot. However, Nicole, the host of the Betches Brides podcast, and Mike, who works in brand partnerships at DraftKings, were hoping they could call each other man and wife a little sooner. In fact, they originally had booked a date to marry on October 31, 2020.
“We decided in June 2020 to postpone until 2021, and at that point we had already had most of our vendors booked and sent out our save the dates,” shares Nicole. “So, it was logistically tough having to find a new date where our vendors and guests could still be available. We also had already had our South Africa honeymoon flights and hotels booked, so we had to postpone all of that as well.”
So, the couple shifted their plans and booked a venue for their 165-person wedding in Annapolis, Maryland. “I grew up spending time on the Chesapeake Bay and going boating, so it only made sense to have our wedding right there with the water and harbor in the background,” explains Nicole. “With our new September 2021 vision, we wanted to use earth tones and some fall touches, as well as relaxed and loose greenery. The bridesmaids dresses were black, so we incorporated accents of black throughout the decor as well, to give it a more modern and contemporary vibe.”
While the couple didn’t hire a full-time planner, they worked with Sara Reynolds of Sara Reynolds Events as a month-of and day-of coordinator. Their venue coordinator Sarah Lubawkski also helped the couple from day one, and they also received guidance from the Betches Brides followers.
“I was (and still am) fortunate to be running our Betches Brides brand vertical and hosting our podcast, so I was able to share my planning experience with the audience there, as well as learn a lot from them, too,” shares Nicole. “I always have audience members say that I’ve helped them plan their weddings so much via the podcast, but what they don’t realize is that they truly helped me as well and kept me sane! Being a ‘corona couple’ was not easy at all, so it helped to have the Betches Brides audience to vent to and relate to during the planning process. Mike was also super helpful in so many ways and took on a good amount of planning tasks!”
Despite the change of plans, the day turned out to be absolutely stunning, with plenty of meaningful moments and tons of fun. Ahead, explore the rest of the wedding planned by Sara Reynolds Events and photographed by Alex Ashman Photography.
Nicole spent the morning toasting to her wedding day while sporting fun pajamas from Nadine Merabi and getting ready with her bridal party who wore sleek pjs from Nasty Gal. For her beauty look, she wanted to feel timeless and elevated, “but still like myself,” she says. “Everything I wore was representative of my personality in its own way.”
“I truly could not have been happier with my makeup that day. I wanted to look glowy and radiant, and my makeup artist Kaytee Spanoghe truly nailed the vision,” shares Nicole. “She used certain colors for my eye makeup to really bring out the green in my eyes and make them pop.”
The bride also was obsessed with how her hair turned out. “I had done two trials before that—after all, I had been planning this wedding since 2019 so I had a lot of time to change my mind on things—and finally decided on the beautiful effortless half up half down hairstyle,” she says.
Since her mom passed away a few years before, she incorporated many details throughout the day to include her memory in the wedding. “I wore my mom’s fragrance, Coco Chanel Mademoiselle,” she says. “This was one of the many ways I honored her and had her with me throughout the day!”
For her accessories, Nicole wanted to blend style and practicality. She had a custom Rae of Light bag made to carry essentials, and donned a bold yet easy-to-dance-in pair of heels. “Bella Belle Shoes sent me the most beautiful pair of bridal shoes to wear, and the best part is they were truly so comfortable,” she notes. “I was able to wear them throughout the entire night and not complain about my feet once.”
Right when I put the dress on, it fit not only my body but my personality perfectly.
“For my first dress, I wanted something simple, classic, and timeless that would still stand out and make a statement,” explains Nicole of her strapless Suzanne Neville gown complete with buttons down the back. “Right when I put the dress on, it fit not only my body but my personality perfectly. It was timeless, but also with a little bit of edge. I love how crisp and white it was, too. It really fit the downtown Annapolis vibes.”
“To be honest it was hard for me to not have my mom with me to go dress shopping, as I know this is something we would have done together if she were alive,” says Nicole. “My sister and MOH really stepped up to make my dress shopping experience fun and care-free. My mom’s best friends met us at some of the bridal shops as well, so I felt like I had a piece of her with me.”
While Mike had a calmer morning of the wedding complete with brunch and sipping High Noons with his groomsmen, he made sure to suit up with some meaningful pieces. “He wore his grandfather’s cufflinks from when he won the 1960 championship as a Philadelphia Eagles NFL player,” shares Nicole. “His grandfather gave them to him as a gift before he passed away, so these were the perfect accessory for him to honor his grandfather on the big day.”
Nicole also added a meaningful note to his tie for the day. “I surprised him with a tie patch with a sweet message I had gotten off of Etsy and ironed on the week before,” she says. “So on the day of the wedding while he was getting ready, he saw it.”
Instead of trying to picture an actual vision, I wanted the wedding to evoke emotion from us and our guests.
Nicole and Mike decided to do a first look and take photos before they became man and wife. “I truly just wanted the wedding to feel like us and be timeless, including elements of design and and overall experience that we’d love for years to come,” shares Nicole. “Instead of trying to picture an actual vision, I wanted the wedding to evoke emotion from us and our guests.”
“Since it was such a crowded holiday weekend in Annapolis, one of our planned photo locations for couples portraits on the docks outside of our venue was swarmed with tourists. Instead of panicking, our photographers got us a water taxi to take to a way less crowded dock across the street,” shares Nicole.
“Mike and I both said riding the water taxi there was oddly one of our favorite moments, since we were able to take a break from the craziness and just enjoy being out on the water,” she adds. “Our photographers also turned it into a creative moment and got some of our favorite photos while riding on it.”
Before the ceremony, the couple met back up with their wedding party for a few photos, as well. “My bridesmaids wore various black dresses in different styles from Amsale. I loved the all-black sleek look and the Amsale dresses fit the overall vibe of our big day,” shares Nicole. As for the bouquets, she decided to do ones similar to her own “with a bit more foliage and texture than flowers, so they tied in beautifully.”
“Generation Tux has been an incredible partner with Betches Brides this year, so we worked with them to design the perfect look for Mike and his groomsmen! Mike wore a charcoal suit, and decided to tie in with the black bridesmaids dresses with a black tie and vest,” explains Nicole. “The look came out so well!” The groomsmen also all wore boutonnieres with similar florals to the bouquets.
There were also a few younger additions to the wedding party. “My 20-month-old nephew Callen, the ring bearer, wore a black and white tux by Men’s Wearhouse and black and gold Nike Air Force 1’s,” shares Nicole. “My flower girl, my younger half-sister, Simone, wore the prettiest White Label by Zoe dress from Neiman Marcus with a big white bow on the back. She was so happy for us and emotional during the ceremony and throughout the day, it was truly the cutest thing ever.”
“Our ceremony location and backdrop was absolutely gorgeous, so we didn’t need too much to dress it up” says Nicole. “Our favorite part of the ceremony decor was the most gorgeous flower installation by Steelcut Flower Co. It was a custom ground installation that appeared to crawl up onto the railing behind us and encroach around Mike and I during the ceremony. With various greenery, pops of color, and textures, it truly made the perfect lush and organic backdrop while still showing the background of the water and boats.”
“We also put aside a special memorial table as a way to ‘save a spot’ for my mom who passed away in 2017,” she notes.
Nicole made her way to the altar to the classical version of the Taylor Swift song “Wildest Dreams.” “Mike and I loved the show ‘Bridgerton’ and cried whenever we listened to this song, so it was perfect for us,” notes Nicole. “My father walked me down the aisle. When I hugged him at the end of the aisle, I started crying tears of happiness right away because he’s the best dad in the world and I’m so grateful for him!”
The couple was grateful that the diocese of Baltimore is one of the few that allows Catholic ceremonies to be performed outdoors. In addition to the traditional elements, the couple had a very personal touch incorporated in. “Leading up to the big day, our Deacon asked us to write letters to each other so that he would surprise us and our guests with them during the ceremony. This was hands down one of our favorite moments, since both Mike and I poured our hearts out into those letters,” shares Nicole.
As I looked at my bridesmaids, friends, and family during the reading of them, there were so many tears as you could tell the letters were touching to everyone, not just Michael and I.
“As I looked at my bridesmaids, friends, and family during the reading of them, there were so many tears as you could tell the letters were touching to everyone, not just Michael and I,” she continues. “Our letters were also hilarious at some points, so this kept us all laughing and having fun during the ceremony.”
“They were about why we love each other and are excited to marry each other,” says the bride. “It was probably my favorite moment of the whole day.”
The couple recessed to the song “This Will Be (An Everlasting Love)” by Natalie Cole. “The Betches Brides audience knows I love all the songs from the movie The Parent Trap, so this helped bring in more Parent Trap wedding vibes,” notes Nicole.
At the end of the day, it’s about you marrying the love of your life and that’s all that matters
After the ceremony, the couple took a quick walk around the property to take in the moment. “Wedding planning can definitely be extremely stressful and it’s easy to get caught up in the small details and stress over them, but at the end of the day, it’s about you marrying the love of your life and that’s all that matters,” says the bride.
“Things inevitably WILL go wrong throughout the day (my veil fell of right as we were starting our recessional, I was literally launched off of a chair, etc.). But, none of that matters as long as you had a good time and were able to spend the day with the one you love most,” she says.
After the ceremony, the guests were welcomed indoors with acrylic table assignments and a fun telephone-style guest book. The bride adds, “We kept the outside balcony area open so that guests could take a break from dancing to enjoy the fire pits and sunset outside, too. We also lucked out with the PERFECT weather. It was 70 degrees and sunny the entire weekend—we could not have asked for better.”
“Our venue included some of the reception supplies, but we definitely brought in some outside items too to bring our overall vision to life more,” says Nicole. “Our centerpieces by Steelcut Flower Co. were a mix of tall textured centerpieces filled with greenery, low centerpieces and bud vases featuring florals from our palette, and a ton of candles throughout.”
“Our rentals from Pretty Little Wedding Co. consisted of black chargers to tie in with the other black accents, blonde crossback chairs, sage green napkins, and gold flatware,” she adds. “Blair at BH Designs made us menus that sat on top of the chargers, as well as black and white escort cards, and Copperstone Co. made the acrylic table numbers.”
“We also DIY’ed the memory table at the reception displaying photos of our families’ deceased loved ones,” says Nicole. “My mother-in-law was super helpful in putting this together!”
The couple had “his” and “her’s” signature cocktails: an orange crush for the groom and a jalapeño margarita for the bride. “I designed my own acrylic bar signs via 1801 & Co. on Etsy! However, I accidentally spelled the beer name Yuengling wrong on them,” adds Nicole.
“We had a variety of menu options, but throughout the whole night, we definitely wanted to make amazing seafood part a large part of it since that’s what Annapolis is known for,” shares the bride. “Our guests loved the raw oyster bar at cocktail hour, as well as the crab cakes and crab dip station.”
As the party got started, Nicole slipped into a charmeuse sheath dress with asymmetrical details. “Watters sent me my second dress a couple weeks prior to the wedding, as I had decided I wanted something a little looser and comfier to dance in,” shares Nicole. “When it arrived and I tried it on, I immediately fell in love. My favorite part was the buttons from head to toe so I could control the length of the slit!”
Nicole notes that hiring Spectrum Band was one of the best decisions of wedding planning. “They were SO incredibly amazing and talented, and probably our favorite part of the whole reception. They definitely kept the party going,” she says. “They serenaded us during dinner by performing ‘All My Life’ by K-Ci and JoJo, and it was truly one of our favorite moments of the reception. Now when I hear that song, I’ll always look back on that moment and smile.”
“They also brought indoor fireworks to go off throughout the night during dancing and it made for the most fun atmosphere ever,” the bride adds.
For their first dance, the couple took a turn to an acoustic version of “Latch” by Sam Smith sung by their band. “It was incredible. The lyrics are just so beautiful and perfect for us,” says Nicole. “We also took a dance lesson from Maya Sank, founder of Maya Moves, and she helped us choreograph a simple yet amazing first dance!”
Since Mike has Celiac disease, the couple opted for a gluten-free vanilla cake with fresh strawberry filling from Blue Crab Cupcakes decorated with florals and a custom-cake topper from Etsy. The couple also had a wide array of cupcakes for guests to snack on with flavors like cookie dough, blueberry lemon, and snickerdoodle. Nicole adds, “I get these cupcakes for every single event I ever go to or host because they’re truly the best in the world.”
As a wedding podcaster, Nicole had to leave us with one last piece of advice. “The wedding day goes by SO fast in the blink of an eye. Be sure to soak it all in and truly be and live in the moment, and do not let go of your significant other since you’ll be pulled in a billion different directions,” advises Nicole. “During the ceremony, take a moment to look out at all your friends, family, and loved ones and soak it all in that they’re all there to celebrate you together.”