Music at sporting events serves various roles. It can be strategically used to rally and incite a home crowd at a pivotal moment (see Ozzy’s “Crazy Train,” Steel Dragon’s “Stand Up And Shout”); soundtrack a celebratory turn of events (Gary Glitter’s classic “Rock And Roll Part 2,” Joe Satriani’s “Crowd Chant”); or just fill in some time between pitching changes, timeouts, or other breaks in action (see pretty much every song ever).
But since the Boston Marathon on April 15, there’s been a noticeable uptick in Boston artists being heard during Red Sox games at Fenway Park, located less than two miles from where the bombs went off. The stadium’s DJ, TJ CONNELLY, who has spun the sounds before the game, between innings, and after full-time since 2008, says he and organist Josh Kantor agreed post-Marathon to add a stronger Boston identity to the in-game soundtrack. “We both play a good amount of music from Boston bands already, but without speaking for Josh, it’s probably fair to say we’re thinking more about including music with a local connection,” Connolly tells Vanyaland this week.
Current locals in rotation include the obvious, like Dropkick Murphys and Passion Pit, as well as upstarts Gentlemen Hall (“Sail Into The Sun”), Hallelujah The Hills ( their eponymous “Fight Song”), and Bearstronaut (“Passenger Side”). Connelly also admits an eagerness to get some Bad Rabbits, who released their debut LP American Love this week, into the mix as well. Of course, however, “absolutely every track played at Fenway is screened for lyrical content,” so the raunchy Rabbits might need a few turns in the editing booth first.
Amassing a vast musical knowledge via the radio, going to shows, and hanging out and working at bars around town, Connelly carefully selects each track based on the mood and moment at Fenway. “It’s actually not dissimilar to working a club or a party, except of course the cues are a bit different,” he says. “The concept is more or less the same: I’m trying to read the energy of the room, play to that, then bring the mood up. Less immediately, I get a lot of good feedback through Twitter. If there’s a quiet moment I’ll check Twitter once or twice a game and it’s always nice to see that people are enjoying the music they hear.”
And lately, they’re hearing a lot that reflects our city of Boston, and not just that California band singing about “Dirty Water” after Red Sox victories. The running playlist of classics is a local all-star team: The Modern Lovers, Morphine, Buffalo Tom, Barry & the Remains, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, the Cars, J. Geils Band, the Pixies, and Galaxie 500. Since the Marathon, Boston’s “Peace of Mind” has been heard in the Fens more than usual.
“The full list is way too long for words, and would get even longer if we included everything Josh Kantor has played on the organ,” adds Connelly. “We’ll actually play more songs from these bands and more as the season goes on, so the list isn’t really a complete picture of the Boston part of the Fenway sound as much as a partial snapshot of the first six weeks.”
Those weeks have been emotional, from a suddenly underdog Red Sox squad playing better than anticipated and the overwhelming sense of Boston pride that has engulfed the city in the aftermath of the bombings. When Daniel Nava blasted a comeback homer in the bottom of the 8th inning in the Saturday after the citywide lockdown, Connelly spun “a quick double cue of Dropkick Murphys’ version of the BC fight song, ‘For Boston.’”
He adds: “As the ball soared out of the park and he started to run I played about eight measures of the bagpipe opening, and then cut right to the hit with guitars, drums, and “For Boston, For Boston, we sing our proud refrain” vocals. The music was up real loud, but the cheers from the crowd were deafening. In that moment I felt more human than I had in a week, and I’ll remember that feeling for a good long time.”
While most fans at Fenway will recognize songs by the Cars, Mighty Mighty Bosstones, and other traditionally “Boston” bands, it’s up to those in the crowd to recognize the new jacks in the scene. There’s no big-ass Jumbotron display telling 37,400 heads they’re currently enjoying the musical stylings of Ryan H. Walsh’s Hallelujah the Hills – though they might recognize G-Hall’s “Sail Into The Sun” from various TV commercials. There’s just no flashing scoreboard message that the band currently being heard just played the Middle East the other night.
“All of our in-game presentation is intended to reflect and enhance the action on the field, so everything you see and hear is designed to be part of the ballpark experience rather than a sideshow,” says Connelly. “I think if we told people what was playing we’d rob them of that ‘eureka’ moment when they hear something they like.”
Plus, there’s a Shazam for that.
When TJ Connelly is not serenading Fenway in Boston sounds, he’s on RadioBDC every Saturday from 3 to 6 p.m., and is the co-founder of the OnTheBar app, which allows you to find out when your favorite bartenders are working and keep track of your favorite spirits and cocktails around the city. Follow him @senatorjohn.