Green Machine Leaves for Denver
A brief synopsis of the George Mason pep band's last in-game performance, a more than two hour set at the CAA final. The musical director, the much-blogged about Doc Nix, danced it out, despite having had a root canal that morning. Nix was, as always, dressed in a style that could either be described as "flashy but classy" or "cut from a cloth that Elliot Spitzer's friends might recognize." At one point, campus chaplain Father Peter Nassetta appeared, in sunglasses and collar, slapping high five with the Doc and then exuberantly leading his band through Bon Jovi's "Livin on a Prayer;" Nassetta's later pointed out that the song's name has certain religious implications. Meanwhile, the troubadours--hair spiked and painted green, faces streaked with yellow, masks and tiaras at the ready--shook and screamed between playing their trumpets and trombones and saxophones. And, um, violas.
"Viola in a pep band; you never see that, though, right?" asked the viola player, whose Green Machine uniform reads "Big Kahuna" but whose real name is Ben Pereyra. "I went to Doc Nix and I was like, 'Hey, can I play viola in pep band?' And he was like, 'Yeah man.' It was a joke at first, but look where we are."
Here's where we are: at that tournament, the Green Machine at last broke past their version of Connecticut in 2006, upending the six-time defending pep band champs from VCU (as voted on
by the registered users of the CAAZone), along the way earning generous on-air praise from the ESPN broadcast team and about seven entries on some blog that's supposed to be about sports, not amplified violas.
The band's appeal is multi-faceted. Its leader owns five fairly flamboyant suits, with accessories including that glowing cane, which is where the "women of the night" talk comes in.
"It's not necessarily something I was really trying to make happen, I was more just trying to get some flashy suits," said Nix, aka Michael Nickens. "Some people say it isn't setting a good example. I don't know. At no point am I walking around with hookers. Just trying to put on a show....It's more fun to have fun than to not have fun."
Which describes much of the mission of the band. This, for example, is why their play list includes artists ranging from Journey to Stevie Wonder, Chicago to Daft Punk/Kanye West, Earth, Wind & Fire to Jay-Z.
"All genres, all types of music, from classical all the way to funk, to rap, to rock 'n roll, to classic rock, all of 'em," said trumpeter, graduate assistant and musical arranger Jeremy Freer. "The band is unique. It's probably one of the most unique bands in the entire country. And we are the best at what we do, because we're the only ones that do it."
That boast refers also to the band's composition, with those front-row violas hardly alone in their novelty. There are, for example, violins, a cello, an oboe, a bassoon, a contra-bassoon, and a vocoder, which turns human voices synthetic, giving the Green Machine college basketball's second-most famous artificial voice, after Dick Vitale's. How then to describe the resulting timbre?
"Phenomenal," said Nassetta, the chaplain.
"High octane," said Nix.
"Pure awesomeness," summed up Pereyra.
The band took off for Denver today, joining the Mason team that will face Notre Dame this week, but the electric violas, sadly, stayed behind. The NCAA tournament, showing solidarity with the Newport Folk Festival, doesn't let musicians plug in, and besides, only 30 band personnel can go to tourney sites. Still, white violins or no white violins, Nix said the Green Machine would press on.
The strings are "definitely a source of strength for us, but we don't rely on any one thing," he said. "Our flavor is still our flavor."
I suggested they might want to honor their missing strings, and Nix, after a moment's thought, agreed.
"Maybe," he said, "we should tip our 40s."
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