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THE PROFESSIONALS: Benny Drawbars, Organist for the Seattle Kraken

Benjamin Wooley, also known as Benny Drawbars, currently serves as the organist for the NHL’s Seattle Kraken, but he’s not your average musician. He’s renowned for infusing popular music into home games, slipping in organ covers of songs like Sugarloaf’s “Green Eyed Lady” and Fall Out Boy’s “Disloyal Order of Water Buffaloes” between game whistles. His talent for comedic timing, often improvising musical puns on the spot, has also endeared him to sports-crazed fans.

Drawbars discovered his passion for the organ while studying engineering at the University of Illinois. His involvement in Analog Outfitters, a program dedicated to refurbishing old organs and instruments, revealed his deep connection to the instrument. This led him to relocate to Seattle, where he secured a position with the Seattle Kraken, succeeding Rod Masters.

In an interview with CONE Magazine, Drawbars shares his journey from playing in a school marching band to becoming a staple at national sports teams like the Seattle Kraken and Seattle Sounders, bringing contemporary music to the masses.

Music education is important to you. Tell me a bit about that and your journey into the world of professional sports.

I started playing piano when I was five years old. I think my mom always joked that when she was pregnant with me, that she might have a gymnast or percussionist. She was right. I played percussion and piano all through school. Band [class] started in sixth grade to middle school, and as soon as that became an option, that was basically my entire life. I spent all my free time at school, after school, before school, in the band room practicing. I played in I think every ensemble you could be in. That was my thing, and those were my people. When they started doing marching band in the high school, I signed up. That is what gets you playing music at a sporting event. So, I was on the drum line.  I don’t know what I would do if it weren’t for band, because taking music classes and being part of that really opened so many opportunities throughout my entire life. 

What can you tell me about your experience in the Analog Outfitters? 

Analog Outfitters is honestly kind of where the entire trajectory of my life started. It was a program where they repurposed every part of the organ. I got an internship there, and that’s kind of where a lot of things got into motion. I went to school for Engineering, but decided that that really wasn’t for me. But in the process of working on the Hammond organ and working on amplifiers, I really wanted to try and find a way to build instruments, which is what got me to Washington in the first place, because I decided I wanted to build pipe organs. 

Tell me what is an average day like? What is your morning routine?

Usually, it starts with going to the day job, which is building pipe organs. I’ll probably try and get in like a half day. So, I’ll work my day job from like eight to noon and then depending on what time puck drop is, we have a script review at the stadium, which is with our team that does all the game presentation stuff.

So we meet and go through what the game plan is for the game that night. We have a show caller and a pretty big group of people working behind the scenes to make everything run smoothly. After we’ve gotten everyone on the same page, I’ll get my instrument hooked up. Then we’ll go and rehearse.

During this rehearsal block is when I sit down and write out what it is I want to play at that night’s hockey game. To build that set list, I’ve got a bunch of different playlists on Spotify to go through, and I’ll try and figure out what I think would work well. 

You want to try and see if there’s any word play that can be based on any players on the other team. 

Where can fans find you playing the organ at a hockey game?

I’m on the north end of the arena, kind of perched on a balcony. Just beneath [my area], there is a window that opens to the outside and lets some natural light in. My spot is perched above one of the goals on the north end of the arena, intermixed with a bunch of fans.

Seattle is obviously very well known as a music city. What can you tell me about bringing in alternative music to what you do? 

The music team is me and DJ Cide, who is our music director.  I think both of us would say we think almost too much about what we’re playing. A lot of it is kind of dictated based on what seems to get the crowd into it. That changes from day to day. But there is also a concerted effort I know on Cide’s part to try and play as many local artists as we can.

Seattle has a big grunge scene. Look, Alice in Chains’ “Man in the Box” is kind of a staple for a penalty freeze during a hockey game. So, it works out nice. But there’s kind of an effort to try and bring as much of that local flavor. And I’ve always been into Midwest Emo and Fall Out Boy growing up around Chicago.

How do you use social media in your work? 

The first season was honestly just to read the room first, trying to figure out what fans were into, what they would notice during the game, and what they picked up on. It was very illustrative to see if something was too deep of a cut.

What are some of the challenges of being an organist? 

Like I referenced, I’ve been in marching bands and bigger ensembles, doing similar roles at sporting events for a long time. When you’re playing the organ, you’re a lot more exposed. It’s just you.  You can practice something a million times, but if the one time you make a mistake is when you’re live and in the arena, well, you have to own it and just keep pushing through it. 

Do you find that you have critics or people are sometimes overly critical? 

I haven’t really seen that, but people are opinionated in sports. I’m sure people have a mix of thoughts on it. 

I think there was someone on Instagram at some point that was complaining I played something too fast. But this isn’t the most musically perfect environment. You kind of have to sneak some stuff between the whistle. I think overall people have been really supportive. 

How does it feel to take up the mantle after Rod Masters of “Slapshot” fame?

I’m glad that he laid some groundwork. I am able to build on that. His presence acted as a through line to get that traditional aspect of organs in hockey games and sports in general. So it’s a nice runway for me to come in and do my thing and build on all the work that he did getting it setup. 

Is there anything you would like to add?

If you’re reading this and haven’t had the opportunity to go to a hockey game at any level, it’s a good time. The best way to get into it, if you’re curious, is to just go to a game. It’s fast-paced and energetic. All across the league, even, the AHL or the minor leagues, the game presentation is top-notch. 

Words by Brian Capitao

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