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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Misadventures In Mixing Music And College Football

There's a disturbing trend out there these days, folks. And it threatens the very landscape of college football.

It is, of course, country and rock music. More specifically, country and rock music forcefully wedged into places it doesn't belong, like, say, college football.

Let's back up a second. Let's point the fingers of blame not at the musicians commissioned to pen the misplaced works of "art" you'll hear this football season. After all, they're simply doing what they were paid to do.

No, the blame for the aural assault you and I face every Thursday and Saturday lies squarely at the feet of overly ambitious, misguided marketing directors at ESPN, the ACC and yes, our very own N.C. State. They are the ones who woke up one morning and said to themselves, "Self, today we're going to march right in that office, look George Bodenheimer/John Swofford/Lee Fowler square in the eyes and say, 'The time has finally come. It's time for Kenny Chesney/Some Shitty Unknown Country Band/Airiel Down. Let's give the people what (my focus group research tells me) the people want!'"

The reasons behind the constant need by marketing folks to continue vamping and revamping the packaging surrounding college football are, of course, money and a desire to increase appeal of football to the masses. It's a bottom-line need to appeal to that oh-so-tempting middle chunk of the bell curve that can -- at one end of the spectrum -- tolerate just enough Kenny Chesney as to not turn off the television and -- at the other end -- can tolerate just enough college football with their husbands to catch a glimpse of a sleeveless Kenny Chesney sing an autotuned college football intro. That delicious middle chunk of the bell curve spends money -- lots of it. And it makes it a nice sell to advertisers looking to sell not just to middle aged fatasses in their HD-equipped caves but also to their kids and their wives.

The desire to be fresh, new and widen college football's appeal to the masses leads marketing types like State's Chris Alston (Assistant Athletics Director For Marketing) to seek out new and creative ways to present the same ol' thing.
Cover tunes are never easy, especially when you are attempting to turn a marching band song perfected by John Philip Sousa into rock-and-roll.

But that was the job NC State assistant athletics director for marketing Chris Alston gave to Raleigh-based independent rock band Airiel Down: Record an updated version of the NC State Fight Song and the Red & White Song.

Airiel Down's version – complete with wolf howls – debuted Thursday night, as NC State's football team entered the field at Carter-Finley Stadium for the 2009 season-opening game against South Carolina.

The song, available for download as an MP3 from the link above, was recorded at Raleigh's Osceola Recording Studio last month and kept under wraps until game time.

"We were approached by NC State and asked if we would do something similar to what we did for the Carolina Hurricanes, and we were all for it," said Airiel Down frontman Beaux Foy. "Though none of us went to NC State, we are all college educated and have a lot of friends on campus.

"We are a Raleigh band and we want to do anything we can to help out NC State."

For Alston, the updated version breathes a little life into a song that has been a staple at NC State athletic events since the 1920s.
With all due respect to Mr. Alston and the job he was tasked with, but State's fight song, and college football itself, isn't something that needs "life breathed" into it. The sport -- for those that really care about it -- works just the way it is, right out of the box. The sport, the band, the fight song...the trappings have all remained relatively unchanged for over 100 years because they just work.
"We didn't want it to be cheesy," (Airiel Down frontman Beaux) Foy said. "We wanted to rock it out and we wanted it to be fun. But we also knew we had to appeal to students and alumni of all ages. We wanted it to be something that 80 year olds and 8 year old both like."
Guess what? The State fight song, as performed by the State marching band, IS something folks from age 8 to 80 like. No thrash metal or extraneous wolf howls needed.

I hope a time comes where folks in marketing positions -- particularly State's -- stop trying to please EVERYONE and instead go back into supporting roles with a mission to put the focus subtly back on the product. Highlight the stuff that works, gloss over the stuff that doesn't, and generally get out of the way. Because at some point, when you keep trying to re-wrap a package to make it this year's Next Big Thing, you imply that the package itself has no real value, at least not enough to stand on its own without a flashy new cover song.

To assume that we need Kenny Chesney or Airiel Down to remain interested in college football only insults our intelligence.


  1. Well said, James. Fortunately the stadium sound system is so bad you can't really hear the cover during the pregame festivities.

    I just don't understand (1) why anyone would think, "y'know, that fight song...needs guitars," and (2) why, out of all the great local bands that could have done something creative or interesting, they'd go with this great big bag of douche.

  2. at least they're doing the wolf symbol correctly

  3. Steve, your right i couldn't hear it and new it was coming what pissed me off the most is we came out to Rock me mama to start the 3rd quarter...i mean i was looking at the players and they seemed confused and werent sure if they should run out or not...miserable

  4. OK just listenin to it and that is AWFUL...surprising that old man tradition O'brien didn't nix this in favor of the marching band

  5. Wow. That sounds like a rock song off the Disney Channel. The only one I have really liked is when they did "let the bodies hit the floor". It seems to me that they should go after Daughtry or Fred Durst to make something. Heck, how about John Tesh... he is an alum and did a great job with the NBA theme.

  6. Yeah, can't we give a couple extra dimes to upgrade the stadium sound system. It SUXXXXX!

  7. The sad thing is we will have to hear this awful rendition of the fight song for 7 more home games! Alston has said that he has received emails saying people liked it. One out of every 10000 ain't bad I guess!


  8. Sounds like a Weird Al Yankovik song.

  9. It definitely has a very Yankovician quality about it.

  10. Whats up with the sound system? It sounded pretty good around 2002.

  11. Really enjoyed this article as it put forth the same question I've put forth: why? I woudln't want even my favorite band covering the fight song. The fight song should ONLY be played by the NCSU marching band and ONLY sung by the fans. It sounds great that way. And it sounds genuine that way.

  12. Charlie,

    Thanks for the kind words. You and I have the same question: Why? The folks in charge of marketing seem to have a different question: Why not?

    Thanks for reading!

  13. Have fun with it! rock it out! im all for it and like the fact that I can memorize the words now. ive seen these guys and they work hard and are very good at what they do. they were the absolute right choice for this. kudos!!!

  14. Tradition and Progression people. I was sitting under the speakers and it rocks and is fun. Keep playing it! The music is not the problem nor is our Athletic Department. Players play the game. Period.

  15. Seriously we have detracted from what worked. Airiel Down sucks. We need to go back to the basics like what worked in the past. The intro is important and ramping up a sacred song like the fight song is wrong. The above posts are correct the marching band and only marching band should play that. When was state founded and when were the hurricanes founded? Enough said, tradition don't screw with it.

  16. I just heard the new Airiel Down N.C. State fight song. It's crap, that's spoken with a Scottish accent.