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Misadventures In Mixing Music And College Football

September 9, 2009
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.

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