The two bass drums pound away at every match. At the front and heart of the Bailey: the war drums. They keep the tempo, set the pace, and complement the growing throngs of those chanting along as the inaugural season has progressed. The thunderous lead can be heard all around Nippert and is yet another example of the community and tradition that has been forming around a team that was announced not even a year ago.
The drummers bring the Bailey together; in a way, it's an example of Die Innenstadt's motto adapted from the city's motto: Juncta Juvant or "Strength in Unity."
But who are these Bailey drummers, and what is it like to be one?
Bjorn Knudsen and Fox Gibson became friends in their days at Miami University; such close friends that Fox served as the best man in Bjorn's wedding. They're soccer fans, followers of clubs like the Columbus Crew and Bayern Munich before their local team, FC Cincinnati, came along. Right away, they knew they wanted to use their musical talents to add something special to the matches. "I knew I wanted to have a bigger part in the supporter section than just being there and cheering," says Bjorn. "I said to Fox: hey man, let's get some drums.
"It's not just a match, it's a 90 minute dance party in the Bailey," says Fox. He's right, these guys help keep the environment moving from the way they add their drums to the national anthem right up until the final whistle.
"My favorite thing about drumming in the Bailey is the feeling of community that is around as we drum. It's great to be a part of something new, and start new traditions. It's also a lot of fun to make noise and pump the team and fans up," say Bjorn.
Fox adds: "I've found that the people in the supporter groups that help us write the songs and lead them in the Bailey are some of the best people I've met in Cincinnati. I'd probably still want to drum and sing even if there were only a few of us, but the turnout of fans and supporter groups have been so strong and their drive to learn songs and cheers has been amazing."
Bjorn and Fox have become fixtures, but in the most recent match against Richmond you may have noticed even more drums popping up and joining these guys. However, did you notice we had a guest drummer that evening as well? Bob Brumberg was kind enough to tell the following story of what it was like to be a Bailey drummer for the Richmond match.
"My Night as a Bailey Drummer" by Bob Brumberg
Sunday morning came way too soon. I flinched as I got out of bed...my back and shoulders screaming with pain. Even my wrists were sore. And where the hell did this blister come from? Honestly probably not too different than most Sunday mornings post home FC Cincinnati matches (hey those liter mugs at Mecklenburg are heavy...you can get a blister from that!).
But this pain was different, almost welcome. This pain came with a sense of satisfaction. For one night, one glorious night, I was a Bailey drummer.
If you've been to an FC Cincinnati game, you've no doubt heard the drums. The constant thumping, keeping the beat to whatever cheer or chant the Bailey is yelling. Front and center, these guys set the tone. They are the audible compass for the supporters to follow, a vital part of the match day experience. So how did a schmuck like me end up here? Lets jump back to 4pm Saturday.
I walked into Mecklenburg͛s beer garden, Cincinnati flag in hand and ready for a liter of the finest German Dunkel. As I down the delicious dark lager, Jared comes up and asks me, "Can you drum?"
"What?" I replied, not sure where this was going.
"Can you drum?" he repeated. Fox is bringing his daughter and can't march with the drum tonight. You want to do it?
In that instant, I recalled every sports movie where the character is called into action at a pivotal moment. Julie ͚"The Cat" Gaffney in Mighty Ducks 2, Ronnie "Sunshine" Bass in Remember the Titans, Rudy in..."Rudy."
"Yeah I can drum." It wasn't a total lie. I've drummed. Usually in the car or at my desk...I have a sick air drum kit. I was the drummer in my friend's Rock Band group, "Snatch." I could play a few songs on Expert. My old roommate was a drummer...like a real one. I goofed around on his gear a few times. Oh, and my wife was a drummer in marching band. So yeah. Sure. I can drum.
I turned and looked at the drum in the corner. Stared at it. "I can do this," I told myself. I hoisted the drum and its harness on my shoulders. It slipped off. I lifted again. It slipped off again. Drum harnesses are apparently not made for big guys. It became evident there was no way I was going to be able to march a mile with this thing if the harness didn't fit. Even worse was the prospect of letting my pride get the better of me, trying to fight the harness and having the drum come off mid-march, damaging what I assume is a very expensive musical instrument.
Then I remembered my wife was on her way, and I think she had kayak straps in the car. Maybe this can work after all! God I hope those straps are in the car. She arrived just in time, with the straps, and I rigged a most-uncomfortable neck band to keep the behemoth from falling. So now not only was the too-small harness digging into my shoulders, but the strap was trying to snap my neck off. "I'm good," I proclaimed as we made our way out of the beer garden.
We marched the mile from Mecklenburg to Nippert, and I honestly don't remember much of it. Between balancing the massive metal shell, trying to not trip and fall (oh yeah, forgot to mention you can't see in front of you with this thing), and keeping a beat to the marching chants, the trail of tears went by in a flash. I don't know how marching band drummers do it. Gained a new respect for them during the walk.
Before I knew it we were in the stadium, gathering up for our final march to the Bailey. I've said this before, but this part always gives me chills. Usually I'm the guy near the front waving the Cincinnati city flag, and the faces of fans watching us go by gets me every time. The sea of people on the concourse. Phones come out en masse to record us. Even the concession workers and ushers give a cheer and pump their fists. The supporters have arrived. It has become an event of its own for me. I liken it to the ramp entrance the Ohio State Band does at football games...romanticizing it a bit, but regardless it feels special. Blake called me up to the front of the group and we were off.
You know those moments you want to right-click and "Save As?" That short walk down the concourse was one of those moments. The drum became weightless and the pain disappeared. Leading the supporters to the Bailey...just wow.
Down the stairs I stepped, carefully I might add. Arriving at the rail I see Bjorn, the other bass drummer and a mainstay at the front of the Bailey. Almost a mythical figure, his commanding presence and ability to lead the group is matched only by Fox, the man I've been asked to fill in for. Every home match I watch the two of them keep the supporters at a steady roar for 90 minutes. Now the eyes and ears of the Bailey are on me.
I strap the drum to the rail and breathe it all in. Ronny is behind me with the megaphone, and I see Darin down the row. These are the two men who will lead the chants tonight. We start early with "F-C-C," "No One Likes Us," and all the other staples. Then the National Anthem, and we're off and running.
Then it rained. Albeit briefly, but enough to trigger an hour-long delay. It was like someone upstairs wanting me to have an extra 60 minutes of this awesome experience. I'll take it. Plus the rain drops looked awesome off the drum head as we thumped away.
The match itself was a blur. Truthfully I spent most of the time watching Bjorn and his tempo, trying to match his pace. He had to remind myself more than once to just keep the beat on "No One Likes Us" (I was getting a little overzealous with my rhythm). I know Okoli scored early. I know we got a dagger in the heart at the end. Bookends to an amazing night. Chant after chant, beat after beat. 90 minutes of just plain fun.
After the heart wrenching equalizer from Richmond and the final whistle, we gave one final salute to the squad and departed. Despite the result, I was still buzzing. My group made our way to Mecklenburg, hoisting beers and telling stories. I bought John Harkes a shot. It was a good night.
So as I (painfully) rolled out of bed Sunday I did it with a smile...and an aspirin. Yeah I know I was probably the first guy Jared saw when he went to ask who could drum. I was just sitting in the right place at the right time. Could've been anybody. But dammit if I didn't take it seriously. I've been caught up in all of the passion around FC Cincinnati, and being a part of Die Innenstadt has only amplified that. So to carry the drum and rally the Bailey, even just for one match, was truly an honor.
Thanks to Jared for asking, to Fox for letting me use his drum, and to Bjorn for his instruction and patience. Finally, thanks to Die Innenstadt and the Bailey for a special night.
See you this Saturday.