At The NCAA Tournament, Pep Bands Go Gaga

March 20, 2011

NPR Staff

Alex Brandon
The Butler band performs during the first half of Saturday's NCAA Tournament game against Pittsburgh. Every band but one that came to the rounds in Washington, D.C., covered a song by Lady Gaga.
Tim Mosenfelder
Lady Gaga has become an unlikely source of pep band covers at this year's NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament.

A new star has emerged from the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament over the last few days.

No, not BYU's super-shooter Jimmer Fredette ... or even Butler's last-second specialist Matt Howard.

The star who's really inescapable? Lady Gaga.

Arenas across the country are rocking out on the tournament's opening weekend — but not to the slick, dance-happy recorded versions of the singer's hits. It's the pep bands that are delivering those songs, complete marchable rhythms and blaring horns. Of the eight college bands that trekked to Washington, D.C., for example, only Cincinnati came without a Gaga cover.

"The beat, the speed, the tonality of what she does" all make Gaga a natural choice for pep bands, Old Dominion band director Alex Trevino told NPR's Mike Pesca.

At one point, during an opening-day timeout, ODU was challenged to a Gaga-off by the Butler band across the arena.

"If they want to play, we'll play!" a band member shouted, before his compadres launched into "Bad Romance."

"It also helps when people actually know the song," says Bucknell saxophonist Alex Apfel. "Lady Gaga's everywhere."

That means it's not just fans who get excited about Gaga arrangements — it's band members, too.

"Oh my God, did you hear we're playing Gaga?" was the refrain when Robin Phillips and her University of Missouri bandmates got the news.

You just don't hear "Oh my God, did you hear we're playing Sousa?" these days. Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.