Gothamist visited Madison Square Garden Music Director Ray Castoldi and Assistant Music Director Mark Lee high above all the seats at the Garden (you need to climb up a ladder) during a Knicks home game. Castoldi and Lee perform during not only Knicks games, but also games for the NY Rangers (when they play), the NY Liberty, the NCAA Big East basketball games, and the Millrose Games. But not the dog show, since the dogs might be skittish. In their aerie, they have over a thousand CDs, a hard drive, cd "turntables," and, of course, a keyboard.
How long have you worked for the Knicks? How did you get started?
Ray Castoldi: Since 1989. I was DJing in clubs, and someone mentioned there was this gig...
Mark Lee: Ten years. I was a tour guide for Madison Square Garden at first.
RC: It was really primitive here when I came - just a keyboard and a cassette deck.
Tell us about playing the organ. It seems like a lost art.
RC: I do try to keep the traditions alive with my organ playing, trying to learn about the ways they used to play. The Knicks are one of the few basketball teams that have organs... Boston does, since it's one of the league's oldest teams, and L.A. recently introduced it. Of course, there are lots of organs at hockey games.
How do you figure out what you're going to play during a moment?
RC: We do a lot of preparation before the game. With the newer technology, we can store the songs in advance and have them at our fingertips.
ML: We have to weave everything together. There's a give and take depending on the game...maybe there are celebrities there. Like tonight, Lloyd Banks [of G-Unit] was here, so we played some of his stuff. Usually, there are 3-4 right answers, but one best answer. Like tonight, there was a moment that was just a Rock & Roll, Part 2 moment.
What's your relationship with the fans?
ML: We definitely feed off the momentum of the fans. There's a give and take.
RC: It depends on the game situation. There's a game director on the floor, and he helps us out with what's going on down there. We're also working with Gardenvision [the Jumbotron and messaging] and all the other elements.
Since you've both been at MSG for a while, how have you seen the music played at games change? For instance, at tonight's game, there was a lot of hip-hop, but back in the day...
RC: In 1989, it was still more of an old rock and roll, sort of frat rock, kind of Animal House vibe at games. They were playing "Louis, Louis" or "Bully Bully"..."Gimme Some Lovin'."
ML: Then we started to introduce the songs with big beats, to get the crowd ready, to pump them up. We'd play Technotronic.
What are some of the trends you've seen with game music today?
RC: Definitely right now it's hip-hop. The players love it. We play more music in general during a game.
ML: In the past four years, there have been hip-hop artists who've stayed popular like Puff Daddy, versus one hit wonders, like Black Rob who had that great single [Whoa!] or Hotstepper from Ini Kamoze.
RC: But there are some performers who have been popular the whole time, like LL Cool J.
How is the music for a Rangers game different?
RC: The Rangers have more of a rock vibe. The Liberty, it's more of a club.
ML: And there are kids, too.
What are some current songs that you'll think will remain popular?
ML: Hey Ya.
RC: We play Mo' Money, Mo' Problems a lot.
ML: Run DMC never gets dusty.
RC: Beastie Boys.
ML: We played Blur [Song 2] tonight, and that song came out a while ago.
Is there one song that you feel is overplayed?
RC: Well...I guess that would be "Cotton-Eyed Joe." There is one fan who dances to it when we play it, so if he's here, we play it.
[After we hear this, Gothamist tried to bring up Cotton-Eyed Joe in almost every question, but, while editing our interview, decided it was overkill.]
What kind of music do you listen to outside of this?
RC: I like jazz, I play jazz in my spare time. I also listen to a lot of classical. It's pretty eclectic, I like listening to everything. And of course I listen to hip-hop to stay current.
ML: My tastes are eclectic, too. I like a lot of classic rock...and lately, I just discovered Jamie Cullum.
Do players make any requests?
RC: Sometimes, but mostly during warm-up. It's usually hip-hop. We do play Sinatra for [Athletic Trainer] Mike Sanders' birthday.
What's your favorite Knicks team?
Both: This one!
RC: Really, it's every team... we go through everything they do. When they win, it's great. When they hurt, it hurts.
ML: I will admit to loving Patrick Ewing. John Starks...
RC: Yeah, they had heart.
Okay...do you have one game that you remember? Or moment?
RC: Man... I would say Larry Johnson's four-point play.
ML: Yeah...the four-point play.
The Knicks play the Sacramento Kings tonight at 10PM. And Gothamist is partnering with the NY Knicks for a night of speed dating during the Knicks-Bobcats game on February 13 (more info).