Mar 27, 2009

Pittsburgh sports music: Penguins, Steelers, Pirates

Here's a great article about the music played at three of Pittsburgh's major league sports teams: the Penguins, the Steelers and the Pirates. Highlights from the article:

The Pens skate out to the sound of crunchy, distorted guitars of contemporary hard rock reverberating off the ice. When the Steelers take the field, you're bound to hear classic rock. The Pirates' sound is cozy, comfortable, nostalgic — heavy on catchy, slightly-worn hits from the '80s and feel-good oldies like "Wooly Bully" and "Twist and Shout."


"The nature of our sport is aggressive -- we do our part to maintain that aggression with our music," says the Pittsburgh Penguins' game-night producer, Bill Wareham, 24. "Unlike football or baseball, most of our decisions are split-second. We don't have a designated offense or defense. ... We really try to feed off the crowd."

In practice, that often means playing AC/DC a lot, along with stylish, semi-hip pseudo-indie rock like The Strokes and Modest Mouse, and occasionally something hard and heavy, like metal titans Metallica or Dimmu Borgir.


"A general rule of thumb for us is, (with) a power play or anything in the attacking zone, we try to be more aggressive," Wareham says. "If we're backed up in the defensive zone, I'll try to play something more 'supportive,' or something like a call to arms for the fans -- like 'Right Now' by Van Halen -- and we'll put up on the board 'fans are our strength, and we need you Right Now.'

"We want to make them feel like a part of what we're trying to do, what the team is trying to do."

Some music you come to expect during a Pens game -- Gary Glitter's "Rock and Roll, Part 2" whenever there's a goal. And, yes, the country-techno version of "Cotton-Eyed Joe," by the Swedish band Rednex, is pretty much unavoidable.

"It's everyone's guilty pleasure," Wareham says. "It's, like, the worst song ever, but I can tell you as soon as I play it, you can see you see, like, 90 percent of the building on their feet."

Wareham occasionally will throw in some old-school hip-hop like Run DMC, or some Top 40, country or classic rock.

"Classic rock's still huge here," he says. "We're not as Styx-heavy as the Steelers, but that's their thing and I'm happy for them. I wish we had something like that."

Yes, Styx and Steelers, for some reason, are a match made in black-and-gold heaven. The Steelers didn't plan to turn Styx's me-against-the-world anthem "Renegade" (1978) into their theme song. But you can't argue with success.

"One of our videographers put a piece together with that music in the background, and it was played at a critical point in the game when our defense was needed to stand up -- and it got the fans going," says Tony Quatrini, 56, director of marketing for the Steelers.

"Now, our fans are almost conditioned: When that video board goes black, that's the cue -- the towels start to wave and the fans are energized. Consequently, we're hoping it translates onto the field and inspires the players."

The Steelers even brought in Styx this year during the playoffs to do an a cappella version of "Renegade."

"The band loves it," Quatrini says. "They're Steeler fans to begin with, and have granted us the right to go ahead and do this without any reservations or royalties."

For the Pirates, there isn't a specific sound, but baseball has a lot of time to fill between innings. Aside from the player introductions -- where each player gets his own theme song -- the goal is to make everybody happy at least once.

"We always try to have one or two very contemporary songs -- something on the iTunes most-downloaded list, something in the Top 10," says Eric Wolff, 40, the Pirates' producer and director of in-game entertainment. "Then, one or two good rock songs from the '80s or '90s. One or two classic rock songs -- this is Pittsburgh; everyone loves the classic rock -- and one or two oldies.

"We try to cover all the bases -- no pun intended," he says.

The first few innings usually are scripted out, musically. Then, it's all about adjusting to the curveballs the game throws at you.

"Obviously, Friday nights are rowdier than a Tuesday night or a Sunday afternoon," Wolff says. "You always want to keep it upbeat, with your crowd-pumps, your 'We Will Rock You,' your 'Crazy Train.' When you're losing seven to nothing, you're still going to stay high-energy, but you don't want to force it down people's throats. You're going to have bad games, horrible-weather nights, and the crowd just isn't going to get rowdy in that situation."

For the Pirates, game night is like a finely tuned orchestra, suddenly forced to improvise. Wolff is responsible for a lot of moving parts.

Essentially, all the elements of entertainment are found within the ballpark -- the video board, scoreboard, music, mascot, PA system, organ.

"All that stuff," Wolff says. "About 25 people, all told, on headset and walkie-talkie communication."

The Penguins, on the other hand, keep it simple.

"The organist sits about three feet from me," Wareham says. "It's all really unscripted. He's on headsets with me. Sometimes, I'll look over and say, 'Timmy (Priano), let's give 'em a "Let's Go Pens" to get 'em going.'"

Read the entire article...

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