Whether it’s “SportsCenter” anchors quoting Migos lyrics or country stars soundtracking prime-time NFL broadcasts, music and sports will forever be pop-culture bedfellows. It’s a natural crossover to use music to accentuate the emotional arc and myriad story lines within big-spectacle games played (and watched) with intensity.
But for fans in the stands, there’s a certain predictability whenever the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” rumbles over the loudspeakers or the tension-building “Welcome to the Jungle” intro lets us know something important is about to happen. Oftentimes, the playbook for pumping up a sports crowd is heavy on big, centrist arena rock and EDM injections. Not typically stuff that dazzles music geeks.
“I’m a big sports guy,” says confirmed music geek John Richards, KEXP’s morning host and programming director, “and sometimes when I’m there, I’m mystified as to why I’m listening to what I’m listening to as I look around at the crowd. It seems like it doesn’t fit who’s in the audience.”
The Sounders season-ticket holder and his KEXP cohorts might be able to help change that when the Kraken hits the ice at Climate Pledge Arena. Heading into its inaugural season, the Kraken tapped the taste-making Seattle radio station to consult on its game-day music programming, including those in-game song selections.
It’s a smart move for the incoming franchise to utilize its Seattle Center neighbor’s wealth of musical knowledge as it looks to create a game-day experience that resonates with the hometown crowd.
“Music is the pulse and the heartbeat of so much of the joy of our lives, whether it’s a wedding or a movie or a concert or our kid’s flute solo in third grade,” says Jonny Greco, the Kraken’s senior vice president of live entertainment and game presentation. “And there are few places on this planet where music is more important than Seattle.”
To be clear, don’t expect three periods of KEXP’s indie-centric fare when you show up to the Pledge (should we call it “the Pledge”?) for Saturday’s home opener. After all, “it wouldn’t be fair to our fans if we only had one vision or one lens,” Greco says. And if some of those go-to arena rockers and EDM blasts get people clapping, you might hear ’em.
Reps from the Kraken and KEXP have met monthly over the past year, and the station has offered a gazillion songs for the team to consider for the 200-250 cuts heard throughout each game, often specific to certain moments: a bad call, power play or the all-important goal song. (Per Greco, Nirvana’s “Lithium” is an early front-runner, though nothing’s etched in Stanley Cup silver.)
“If there’s a fight, we have way too many songs,” Richards says.
KEXP put the call out to its dozens of DJs, though a smaller team of about a half dozen — including local show host Eva Walker and Supreme La Rock, who once deejayed for the Seahawks — took the lead. Local music will certainly be a component, and KEXP’s insight helped “illuminate so much we didn’t know about this area,” Greco says, whether it’s turning them on to up-and-comers or uncovering choice deep cuts from Seattle heavyweights.
“Seattle has a rich history, and you know it,” Greco says. “It goes way back before [Jimi] Hendrix and things like that, but obviously it’s not just grunge. That’s a great chapter in this book, but there’s so much here.”
There’s also talk of highlighting a KEXP “discovery” artist for each game and spotlighting music from foreign-born players’ home countries. The partnership between the Kraken and KEXP is expected to continue beyond this first season, and KEXP will help identify potential national-anthem singers, “artists to perform at intermission or house band kind of material,” Greco says.
How exactly live music is incorporated before, during or after games is a work in progress. But perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this music-sports alliance is a new outdoor stage being built between KEXP and Climate Pledge Arena, linked to a revamped courtyard behind KEXP’s Gathering Space, which already has an indoor stage of its own. It’s unclear when exactly it will be up and rocking, but the jointly funded stage connected to KEXP’s building and “feet away from” the arena, Richards says, could allow them to host things like postgame concerts.
“You couldn’t have drawn it up better when we moved into [Seattle Center],” Richards says. “We didn’t know a hockey team was going in there or that we’d have a chance for an outdoor venue on top of the indoor venue.”
While KEXP brings loads of local cred, Greco has some pedigree of his own. Before a pandemic-interrupted “cup of coffee” at Madison Square Garden, the WWE alum helped the Las Vegas Golden Knights build their theatrical in-game production that has earned leaguewide attention. (Vegas loves a show, right?) Kraken fans caught a glimpse of the razzle dazzle during the team’s opening-night road loss to the Golden Knights last week.
In some ways, his mission with the Kraken will be similar to the Golden Knights, the NHL’s second-newest team: help mold the traditions and experiences for a startup franchise in a city without an established hockey culture.
“We learned to honor the city, but don’t stereotype the city, either,” Greco says of his stint on the strip. “What ‘Monday Night Football’ does when it comes to any city, in Vegas, they’ll play Elvis and maybe Sinatra, and you’ll show the strip, you’ll show casinos and showgirls. … When they come to Seattle, it’s coffee and the salmon toss and the Space Needle and Nirvana. And yeah, those are really important things, but there’s more. The Vegas experience definitely taught [me] to dig more. … It’s tremendously exciting, but it’s also a big responsibility.”
For KEXP, they’d just like to get some sweet local music in the ears of 18,000 hockey fans.
“Success is when we’re sitting there and someone like the Naked Giants suddenly come on or Chong the Nomad,” Richards says. “For us, if you can hear that while watching the Kraken, we have done our job.”