The first time model Marisol Maldonado, 24, met Rob Thomas, 27, lead singer for the multi-platinum-selling band Matchbox Twenty, he looked anything but “Smooth” – to steal the title of the Grammy-winning song he would later write about her for Santana. “He was wearing a floppy hat and pants that were falling down because they were way too big,” she remembers. The two were introduced in May 1998, after the band’s show in Montréal, where Marisol and a friend were looking to have some fun during what had up until that moment been a miserable vacation. At the concert, Marisol happened to see someone she knew, a guitar technician for the band, who invited the women to the group’s after-party. Suddenly things weren’t looking so bad.
Rob and Marisol talked for a mere 10 minutes, but despite the briefness of their conversation (and Rob’s frumpy attire), Marisol recognized him as the man of her dream. “I left and told my girlfriend, ‘That’s the guy I’m going to marry.’ I tell people I have always been married to him – I just hadn’t met him yet.” Apparently, the feeling was mutual. Rob called her while on tour with the band every night for two weeks. “By the time I flew to Boston to meet him for our first date, we both just knew,” she says.
The two were so sure of their shared destiny that within a week of dating they decided to get matching tattoos. The symbol, on his arm and her ankle, is the Japanese character for loyalty, which the couple happened to see in a tattoo parlor they passed on a weekend stroll in New York. Two months later Thomas sealed the deal by offering Maldonado an antique-style engagement ring: a diamond set in platinum flanked by two baguettes.
“You hear all these great [proposal] stories, but I didn’t sky-write anything or have Marvin Gaye playing in the background,” says Thomas. “We were in a parking lot in Atlanta, and I think we were arguing or something. I asked her, ‘Do you love me?’ and she said, ‘I will love you for the rest of my life.’ I said I wanted our life together to begin that moment, and I gave her the ring. She started crying,” recalls Rob, who says the ring had been burning a hole in his pocket for two weeks. “I think I won the argument,” he adds with a laugh. “Though I guess I can only play that card once!”
But Rob fell speechless when, on October 2, 1999, Marisol, carrying a nosegay of black beauty and red garden roses interspersed with red pepperberries, appeared for their wedding on the sprawling grounds of the Santa Ynez, Calif., ranch belonging to Matchbox Twenty’s manager, Michael Lippman.
Wearing a Gucci tuxedo and brand-new gold earrings, a gift from the bride, Rob visibly trembled as he watched Marisol, dressed in a Vera Wang gown of duchesse satin, walk down the aisle to the strains of Keith Richard’s version of “The Nearness of You,” the couple’s favorite song. “I know I’m biased, but she was the most beautiful bride I have ever seen,” Rob says, slyly adding, “She was a sexy little number too.”
During the brief nondenominational ceremony, the couple pledged to” trust what changes the future may bring,” then slipped platinum bands – hers a thirties-style ring with diamonds – on each other’s fingers (the bride also wore a second wedding band, of sapphire and diamonds). In Rob’s case, the phrase “eternity” may be literal: “He wanted a band that would never fall off, so we had him do the ‘flailing test’ in the store,” the bride reports with a laugh. “We had him flail around like the he does on stage, and we sized it down until it wouldn’t fall off.”
After the ceremony, the crowd enjoyed poolside cocktails and then moved to a tented tennis court that had been transformed into an elegant hall, complete with blossoming pink cherry trees in each corner and three-level hanging chandeliers lit by 600 candles each. Not that they needed all that beeswax. Joked Rob’s mom, Mamie Thomas, “The room would be lit up by the electricity between Rob and Marisol!” Dinner, by legendary chef Wolfgang Puck, included roasted chicken with black truffles.
Soon Lippman got the crowd up and swaying to the new dance version of “Smooth,” and the fun didn’t stop until well after midnight, when guests left with keepsake pewter stones presented in burgundy velvet bags bearing the couple’s loyalty symbol. As for Rob and Marisol, they made of for Hawaiian honeymoon, sneaking back before the scheduled three weeks were up to go house hunting in New York, where they plan to make their home and hope one day to start a family. Is Marisol still Rob’s muse now that they’ve wed? Not quite. Says the singer, “Our life together has become my muse.”