Updated: Jun 27, 2022
Ranging from Bruno Mars hits to ’50s classics like “Johnny B. Goode,” Belmont’s Bruin Blast Pep Band can play it all.
Composed of 20-plus student musicians in a sea of brass, woodwind and percussion, the pep band combines two of the most sacred Belmont pastimes: music and basketball.
Recognizable by their red polos with white stripes down the sides, students and fans can find them in the west-end stands of the Curb Event Center on basketball and volleyball game days — and soon, at the Ohio Valley Conference tournament in Evansville, Indiana, when they travel to support Belmont basketball in the semifinals.
Dr. George Shannon II, a music Faculty Fellow in his first year directing, believes the band ignites energy in the stands and excitement among the fans.
“They work tremendously hard to make the music come alive and they really contribute to the game atmosphere,” Shannon said. “I love the energy, and that’s the best part of my whole day — being able to share the spirit.”
Once a band kid himself, Shannon transitioned from a marching band baritone player to versatile musician and director.
Dr. George Shannon directing the Bruin Blast Pep Band at Belmont’s homecoming basketball game against Tennessee State University, Feb. 26, 2022. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
Apart from Bruiser, there may be some additional guest sightings among the musicians, like cafeteria staffer Antonio Peebles dressed up in drag as the buxom BelMadea.
Or take a close look during the opponent’s free throws, and you’ll likely see fish swimming through the stands.
An old tradition that came from a gift shop, and one that pays homage to the name of Belmont’s former first family, the Fishers, the giant green bass serve as a distraction tactic.
On the first free throw, the band waggles one fish — that’s former president Dr. Bob Fisher. But on the visitors’ second shot, here comes another— that would be his wife, Judy Fisher.
“Usually they don’t expect the second fish, and they’ll miss their second shot,” senior saxophonist Alex Steinhaus said.
Steinhaus, a music education major, has taken on a leadership role for the band his final season. He has played saxophone for 12 years and plans to pursue his passion for teaching music as a career post-graduation.
A few seats over, standing at only 5-foot-2, music business sophomore Mariyah Martinez plays an instrument more than twice her size: the tuba.
“I get shoulder pains every once in a while, but, you know, pushing through it. Gotta represent the girls,” she said.
Percussion also plays a significant role in the band by setting the tempo, synchronizing their skills with the thrills of the Belmont cheer team.
The drummers, set up on the ground floor, instigate the “Let’s Go Belmont” cheer among others to incite Belmont pride in the crowds.
Eye-level with the action, freshman Joseph Crews enjoys the courtside view from behind his drum kit.
“I get something that’s good here. You get pretty much front row seats to every basketball game, and that’s pretty much the best part,” he said.
But the pep band doesn’t only witness the action at for home games; it also follows the basketball teams to their biggest tournaments.
The Bruin Blast Pep Band will bring its energy and support for the Bruins at the OVC semifinals when they play in Evansville March 4-5.
Traveling is an exciting aspect for many members of the band.
One fond memory for junior trumpeter Sam Eaves was the OVC championship game between Murray State University and Belmont his freshman year.
The lone Bruins in a sea of yellow Murray State spiritwear, Eaves and his bandmates watched as Belmont cleared the Racers fans from the stands.
“Our boys just proved better that day,” he said.
Whether the Bruins take home the coveted ring or not, the pep band will always blast the same victory cry to students and players alike.
“Everyone here is a winner,” Shannon said.
PHOTO: Pep band players in the stands at Belmont’s homecoming game against Tennessee State University, Feb. 26, 2022. Jessica Mattsson / Belmont Vision
This story was written by A.J. Wuest and Jaymey Hedberg.