This Friday, the American Track League – a series of international-calibre meets – will set about changing the face (and sound) of track and field in the United States. The quick-fire action in the middle will be accompanied by the ATL's very own travelling house band, the Velveteen Playboys. Ahead of opening night, the band’s charismatic frontman Paul Souza tells us more.
The high jumping frontman
"The American Track League is an abbreviated track meet, so it is almost like watching an athletics concert," says Souza, a former 2.25m high jumper. "Events move quickly from one to the next and in that way it is a bit like a live gig. I’m playing three or four minutes songs with high and low moments, which will hopefully reach a crescendo.
"For me, it was easy stepping from the athletics stage to the music stage. Track is an individual sport and music may be about being in a band, but as I’m the front guy I help carry the show, so in that way it was a lot like being a high jumper. The onus is all on me! Track is similar to music, in that even when there are nights when I don’t feel great, I have to put my best face on and get on with it."
American Track League #1: Ten events, one band, free entry.
Tempo, tempo, tempo
"Everything is tempo, whether that is music or sports. Tempo has become such an important word in American sports that in american football, the new buzzword is 'running an uptempo offence'. During the meets we will try to front-load the set with uptempo songs followed by a lower tempo middle and then end with a bang. A crescendo.
"I would call our music a hybrid of rock, pop and swing, which really sets a party mood. We play a song between each event and also during the distance races. Hopefully our music will keep the audience constantly engaged. Our music should bridge the gap between events.
"A great distance event song we’ll play is called Over and Over, with a rolling tempo. Another mid-tempo song is Big Rock Wall, a song about perseverance and not giving up.
"So much of what we do today is integrated and I believe music is such a great complement to sports. Today we can see it when we watch sports on TV. It is very often accompanied by a musical track."
"The sport of track is in a state of transition at the moment, and going through an identity crisis. It needs to redefine itself. Somewhere along the line people have got disillusioned with the sport for a variety of reasons. What the American Track League does, is it allows people to be involved and integrated again. It can create a whole new dimension which can draw more people in."
The athletics on display won't be bad, either. On Friday (May 2nd), Souza will be sharing the limelight with Canadian high jumper Derek Drouin, who last week cleared 2.40m (placing him joint-fifth all-time outdoors). He'll be pushed on by US rival Dusty Jonas, who jumped 2.35m at the same meet at the Drake Relays.
Gracing the track: world-class sprint hurdlers Lolo Jones and Kristi Castlin; 2011 world 400m hurdles champ Lashinda Demus and Olympic 400m medallist DeeDee Trotter.
There will also be special preliminary qualifiers for the men's 100m, by way of a 40-yard time trial dash. This will also be open to members of the public, and the fastest fan will go in lane nine of the 100m final – alongside former world 100m silver medallist Derrick Atkins from the Bahamas!
After Friday's meet at Bloomingdale, IN, the Velveteen Playboys and the ATL will roll on to Charlottesville, VA (May 9th), Atlanta, GA (May 16th), Austin, TX (May 23rd) and Houston, TX (June 6th) – with three more dates to follow in August.