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The Uneasy Coexistence of Ohio State Football and Columbus’ Music Scene

Ohio State football plays such a prominent role in Columbus culture that it is inescapable and disruptive of everything from weddings to wine tastings. It’s been this way since at least the early 1900s when Chic Harley became the first Buckeye superstar and old Ohio Field could no longer hold the crowds that came to see him, spurring construction of The House That Harley Built, Ohio Stadium. But the relationship with football and the arts scene (music in particular) has often been uneasy at best and acrimonious at worst. As sports culture has risen in prominence nationally, resulting in more night games to accommodate television, it’s only gotten worse.

Ohio State University Marching Band

Stars, Stripes 'N Brass

FSR – FSRS 1294

c. 1975

Musicians are certainly not the only segment of Columbus society to be resentful of Ohio State football culture. We all knew a kid who dressed in Michigan gear to antagonize the faithful - sometimes ONLY to antagonize the faithful. And there are plenty of wedding hall owners not thrilled that 12 prime Saturdays in the fall are virtually unbookable. But if you’re a musician in town - sports fan or not - you’ve undoubtedly either played to empty rooms or had gigs canceled and/or set times moved based on the vagaries of Ohio State’s football schedule. Not a scenario that engenders particularly warm and fuzzy feelings towards the Bucks.

Growing up in the shadow of Ohio Stadium with a single mom who wasn’t a fan, I was about as oblivious to football culture as possible. I remember showing up to 5 am hockey practices on Saturday mornings and not understanding why we had to drive around police barricades to get to the ice rink next to St. John Arena (the only rink in town at the time). Sure, you’d hear about it. I had a buddy who was related to Jim Stillwagon. We went to Woody Hayes’ house one time for reasons that escape me now. I’d see the reruns on Sunday mornings on WOSU since we didn’t have cable and there wasn’t much else on. But for the most part, I was oblivious to HOW important football culture was in Columbus. Of course, it’s only grown since then.

In Columbus, it’s taken for granted that not only does everything revolve around the football schedule, but that as a Columbus resident you know what that schedule is. You know not to book a gig - or to book with caution - on a football Saturday. My brother has noted that street signs stating “No Stopping 10AM - 8PM Football Days and 4PM - 1AM Football Nights” just take it for granted that you know when those days are. In other words, you’re pretty much legally required to know Ohio State’s football schedule if you’re gonna live in Columbus.

Of course, music is a big part of the football experience and The Best Damn Band In The Land is famous in its own right. Seeing the band coming out of the tunnel in person before a game in the Shoe is a must for any Columbus resident. And the marching band performs shows outside of the football stadium, including annual shows with the Columbus Symphony at Picnic with the Pops. There are currently 42 releases of The Ohio State Marching Band on Discogs, including the Stars Stripes ‘N Brass album I picked up at Johnny Go’s many years ago for $.50. It’s undated, but I believe it’s a 1975 release of the 1974 band. It’s fun to crank on the morning of a big game to get you into the spirit. And that’s the point. If you live in Columbus, you can’t beat ‘em, so you might as well join ‘em.

Even if you hate sports - I recommend giving OSU football a chance. There’s bound to be some aspect you’ll enjoy, whether it’s tailgate parties or the band. It has got to be a miserable experience to live in Columbus and hate Ohio State. There are plenty of valid arguments about the outsized importance of sports in this country (and the corresponding disrespect of the arts), but there is also something to be said for the communal experience of being a part of 100,000+ fans cheering on the team in the horseshoe. Or of living and dying play to play from the comfort of your couch. These shared experiences are unmatched for making you feel a part of the community.

In this digital age of echo chamber news and cynicism, we’ve all become too critical and hunkered down in our niche. There’s no such thing as consensus bands anymore. Why are all the stadium acts dinosaurs? Because well before the younger bands begin reaching that point of popularity, the hipster elite turn on them. There will never be another Rolling Stones, so big-time college football is one of the last shared communal experiences we can participate in on a large scale.

Of course, not all musicians are bitter and resentful of Ohio State’s cultural dominance. Some even embrace it. Take for instance Watershed’s side project, Dead Schembechlers. The satirical “punk” band quickly outgrew Watershed’s popularity before being temporarily mothballed in 2006 after Bo’s passing on the eve of the Michigan game (and the morning of a sold-out Dead Schembechler's show at the Newport). The members of Watershed are as chagrined as anyone at seeing their little joke outgrow “the "real" band (Colin Gawel) and (Joe Oestreich) have toiled in for twenty years.”

Love it or hate it, Ohio State football isn’t going anywhere, so if you’re gonna live in Columbus, you might as well love it. But pace yourself, because after the game there will be great live music throughout the city. Win or lose, go out and celebrate or nurse your wounds. Which reminds me - tickets are still available for Elisa Nicolas’ Year Of The Locust album release celebration at Natalie’s Grandview on Saturday, November 27. Don’t miss it.


A9 Chimes And Carmen Ohio

Companies, etc.

  • Record Company – Fidelity Sound Recordings



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