NEW ORLEANS — The crowds surging out of Mercedes-Benz Superdome’s after a Saints’ home game are often greeted by the sound of cymbals and drums.
It’s the music of the Fat City Drum Corps, whose members bang their drums and crash their cymbals, lead the Who Dat chants and high-five the elated audience making its way to Poydras Street after a Saints’ win.
“One woman came up to us and said, ‘Only in New Orleans,’” drummer Pat Bennett recalled recently.
But, in fact, it’s not only happening in the Crescent City.
Drum lines are becoming part of the pro sports experience, and many NFL teams have them. The Saints made Fat City an official part of the festivities in the 2012 season.
“The Fat City Drums Corps has been performing outside the Dome for years, and we recognized how well the fans responded to them,” said Jared Sampson, director of game day entertainment and special events for the Saints. “They add an extra element of excitement to game day whether inside or outside of the Dome.”
They’re often found in Champions Square or outside Gate C before a game, but the drum corps started marching from tailgate party to tailgate party in 2007.
“People want to feed us, want us to play their weddings,” said members Jason Weiss.
“Even the opposing fans are into it,” Bennett said. “We were playing the Texans two years ago, and when we finished playing, a guy in a Texans jersey says, ‘Dude, y’all were wonderful,’ and he opens a beer and hands it to me. ‘Have one on me.’”
The corps started in the summer of 2005 as a laugh between friends at a backyard party in Metairie.
Eddie Melara, Paul Guidry and some friends had the idea to pull together all the drummers they knew and have a parade, possibly during Mardi Gras. The others thought the plan was just party talk, but Guidry got busy on eBay.
According to Weiss, “Next week, Paul says, ‘I’ve got drums on the way.’”
The initial group had one practice at Lafreniere Park in Metairie, with 12 to 15 members from The Topcats, The Molly Ringwalds, Bag of Donuts and The Chee Weez on the drum line.
Everybody knew each other and had drumming experience, either in bands or high school or college. Six of the original members are still in the group, including Melara, Guidry and Weiss,
The parade never happened, but because of their connections in music, they played a few shows with Better Than Ezra in 2006, escorting the band to the stage and joining them for their first song.
The drummers didn’t get paid when they started lining up outside Saints games, and they still don’t. “We do it because we love drumming and we love the Saints,” Blake Schuyot said.
There have never been more than few members who had season tickets, so when the game started, most of the drummers listened to it while driving back to Metairie. Now, Fat City has a locker room in the Dome, and even the guys with tickets stay there to hang out and watch the game with the others.
“It’s like a brotherhood,” Pat Bennett said, but he quickly corrected himself. “Brotherhood and sisterhood.”
The group has expanded to 34 performing members and four alternates, and two of them are women. Members range in ages from 17 to the early 50s. There is one father-daughter pair in the group, and Molara and Weiss’ sons have drummed with the group since they were 10.
Not surprisingly, their fandom runs deep. Bennett commutes from the Northshore on game day, and gets amped up on the drive by listening to some of play-by-play announcer Jim Henderson’s more famous calls, including Steve Gleason’s punt block against the Falcons in 2006. Three weeks after that game, he and his wife found out she was pregnant. They named the baby Payton.
“It’s like a two-fold on a Sunday,” he said. “You get up and ‘I get to play drums today, yeah!’ When all that’s done, ‘Man, that was awesome. Now I get to watch my favorite team in the world play football.’”
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