As the city’s hopes and dreams of an NHL title are squarely focused on the body checks, slap shots and glove saves on the ice, it is easy to overlook the behind-the-scenes warriors who have labored long and hard to keep the crowds amped up as the Blues compete for Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Charged with making the crowd energetic and the atmosphere fun, Carl Middleman is one of a handful of veterans working hard to make the fans at Enterprise Center feel like they are an integral part of the action.
Known as “Carl the Intern” on several St. Louis Radio stations, Middleman serves as the Music Coordinator for the St. Louis Blues, a post he’s proudly held since the fall of 1996.
Middleman previously held that same position with the Saint Louis Rams, the Saint Louis Althetica Soccer Team and, for one season, the Saint Louis Cardinals. During his career he’s also helped keep the beat going at various events held at Enterprise (formerly Scottrade, Savvis & Kiel) Center.
While the Blues are working hard to bring a championship home Middleman took center ice to chat with Maximize St. Louis about his job, playing music and doing his part to bring a title to the Gateway City.
How did you get such a fun and important gig?
In the summer of 1996, the Blues wanted to change organists. Back then, the organist was also the person who played the canned (aka recorded) music. That was also the case with the St. Louis Cardinals. John Ulett (of KSHE) was doing the Public Address announcing (and still does) for the Cardinals; but he was also doing the music for them, although he does not do that anymore. They asked John if he would be interested in doing the St. Louis Blues games. He was interested in doing the PA announcing, but since the Blues already had Tom Calhoun, he declined. He then recommended me since I was already a hockey fan. I met with the people that were trying out for organist, I met with the marketing department and they paired me, for a while, with organist Geordie Kroeger. Things clicked and I have been with the team ever since then.
What does a music coordinator do?
The music coordinator job is not just playing music at the games. That person is responsible for gathering music for videos, for specialty presentations, such as check presentations, for honoring a service member or for a ceremonial puck drop. But I also play music during the games.
Describe how this job brings music to the masses?
For the last couple of years, we have worked with a team consisting of myself, Jeremy Boyer (the organist) and Tony Patrico (the “hype man”). He also plays “hype” music, while I am responsible for handling the sponsored material. I like to put it this way: I play the songs you know, while they are talking about things that are being paid for by sponsors and Tony is the one responsible for you to get up out of your seat and cheer on the team.
Do you get to pick the music you play during games?
Having worked in commercial radio for so long and being what some people would call an “expert” on classic rock, current music and music of the St. Louis area, my bosses trust me to know what St. Louis fans like. Not only that, but I continue to follow current music trends and so, along with Tony Patrico and Jeremy Boyer we try to give the fans a complete experience. Whether Tony plays a popular WWE theme or Jeremy plays the latest top 40 hit on the organ or whether I play a classic rock staple, we try to provide the best entertainment experience for everyone in the arena.
What is the key to working the crowd?
The key to working the crowd is to know the pace of the game, to also know the localness of the crowd and of their fatigue. You don’t want to beat their heads in for 60 minutes of play. You want to keep the crowd up, but you don’t want to just have them cheer every single time. If you want them to score, then you’re not going to play something that will make them go nuts while you’re in the defense of zone. Sometimes you need to give the crowd a breather and let them just take the moment. The other side of that is sometimes the crowd will just have a spontaneous moment and we don’t do a single thing. We let the crowd have that moment and the naturalness of an organic moment usually is much better than anything we could prompt the crowd to do.
How has the “Gloria” phenomenon changed the atmosphere at the Enterprise Center?
Gloria hasn’t changed a single thing about game presentation except for the fact that we now play it after we win. It has nothing to do with pregame or during game. It is only post game. I will say, I do not cue up Gloria until the game is completely over. Which is why, when I blow the horn sometimes it goes on longer than it might normally go. I blow the horn with my left hand while my right hand is turning on that channel, turning up the master all the way, going to the page of the computer program Gloria is on and then playing it a half a second after the horn is over so the beginning of the song can resonate. My wife wants to get shirts made that read, “Hey, Carl! More Horn & Play Gloria.” Since all the shirts that say, “Play Gloria,” are literally talking to me.
Were you involved in ” Take Me Home Country Roads” becoming a fixture at home games?
It all began on Saturday afternoon, February 9, vs. the Nashville Predators. It was the first game of a home and home series. The Blues were in game four of their amazing eleven-game winning streak. No one thought they could beat Nashville both games, especially after just beating the number one team in hockey, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Late in the game, the game presentation department asked for a sing-along song. We had discussed this before the game and we had some country songs to play, since it was against Nashville. I played, “Take Me Home Country Roads” by John Denver and to the delight of everyone, the crowd sang along to every word, past the commercial break and back into regulation play. It worked so well, we played it again the next commercial break and it worked again. The Blues won that game 3–2, and then won the next day in Nashville and then a few more. We have been playing it at nearly every game since then and the crowd sings along every time.
What is the best part of your job?
I would like to say winning. But that’s not always the case. Sometimes when I do something clever, and someone tells me on Twitter that they’ve heard it and they got the joke, that is always fun. I used to play “Back in Black” by AC/DC and use it as a math joke. I only used to play it when we had the lead, then we didn’t have it and then we got it back again, so we were “Back in Black.” Little things like that. I also would also say that meeting fans in person or people that know I work at the stadium but don’t necessarily know exactly what I do is always fun.
How much interaction do you have with Blues fans?
If you follow me on Twitter or Instagram (@_CarlTheIntern), before every home game, I test the horn to make sure it works. If not, then we have about 2 1/2 hours to fix it. I started recording it this year so people can see just what goes into making the horn work and having it blow. One day after one of the games a woman stopped me as I was leaving and said, “I follow you on Twitter and Instagram just to watch the horn test every game.” That made me feel great and makes me feel more in tune with the audience.
How do you get the crowd energized if the team isn’t playing well?
We had that situation this year. St. Louis Blues fans were spoiled, they set a record 25 seasons going to the playoffs in a row. For a long time, St. Louis Blues fans were spoiled, they knew every year they were going to the playoffs. That changed several years ago: Once the streak was over, the strike happened, and previous ownership had a fire sale. It was not the best of times. The first half of the season also looks like it was not going to be the “best of times.” So, when you are trying to get fans in the arena who are not necessarily the happiest, you do whatever you can to make them feel that when they have left the stadium, they have had a good time.
What do you think is the most important part of your role at music coordinator?
To make sure that there is still hope. I have never once played a song that has given up on the team. I just don’t do that because it’s sports. Weird things happen in sports. Look at several games in just the last month or two. It shows that anything can happen. Our job is to always let the people know that they have hope, even if we are five goals down entering the third period.
The party never stops for Middleman and his team as they keep the beat strong and steady as they help Blues fans make some noise and cheer them onto a championship.