What’s it like to travel around the country getting paid to play music and watch the best beach volleyball players in the world? Well, over the next couple months I’m going to do my best to give you a behind the scenes look at what it’s like being the official DJ for the AVP Pro Beach Volleyball Tour.
I wasn’t at the Salt Lake City event as one of my best friends was getting married that weekend, so this weekend’s Manhattan Beach Open was my first AVP event of the year. Not a bad way to start the season, that’s for sure. IMG, who put on the event for the AVP, decided to go with an “old school” vibe. They stopped short of making the pros play on a big court or using sideout scoring, but they did away with any grandstands, making it sand seating/standing only. I also noticed a plethora of neon clothing roaming around the venue and rumor had it that Brittnay Hochevar had a one piece bathing suit that she was prepared to play in, but to the best of my knowledge it didn’t happen. Additionally, in order to facilitate the bleacher-less spectating, the tournament organizers rotated center court slightly so it ran at a 45 degree angle out from the pier, where the rest of the courts ran parallel to the ocean. There was some grumbling, prior to the main draw, from the players about the main court being different than the rest, but once the tournament started, I didn’t hear anyone complain about it. As for me, I tend to have one of the best seats in the house, elevated off the sand with nothing obstructing my view of the main court. The DJ/announcer area is also always a safe haven for the players to watch a match without being bombarded by fans. Not that the players mind the fans, but sometimes they just want to watch a match just like everyone else.
I like to start playing music about 30 minutes before play begins each day. The players are usually on the court by that time stretching and getting ready to warm up. Plus a 30 minute window gives me some time to get the music going and building the energy to the first match. I’ve always found the music I decide to play in the mornings of an event to be the most difficult for me throughout the day. It’s usually anywhere from 7:30-9 a.m. when I start playing music and because of the time of day, I don’t want to play really high energy music, but I also don’t want to put everyone back to sleep. The players need energy from me, but I don’t want to play anything that would feel more appropriate at a club at midnight. The solution I’ve found is to play songs with a reggae vibe. It’s happy music, has some energy to it, and usually doesn’t annoy fans after they have just rolled out of bed.
This Manhattan Beach Open was different for me as I only played music from the 80s and 90s all day Saturday. Since the staff, players, and fans really got behind the old school vibe of the event, I thought it would be fun to do the same. Sunday I had planned on mixing up the decades of music a little more, but people were so into the 80s and 90s music I had played Saturday so I decided to stay with that theme a little more on Sunday than I had originally planned. Even Rosie’s Raiders kept yelling at me to play 80s music. Even though their song suggestions weren’t appropriate for the moments of the match, their heckling let me know that they cared. I take it as a sign of respect when I get heckled by the Raiders.
The most appropriate moment of the weekend for the 80s and 90s themed music was when we had the Legends Match on main court right before the women’s final. They played four on four, with Tim Hovland and Mike Dodd on one side of the court versus Sinjin Smith, who picked up Eric Fonoimoana as his partner, on the other. It rounded out nicely as Jake Gibb and Casey Patterson were placed on team Smith/Fonoi with Nick Lucena and Tri Bourne hopping on the Dodd/Hov team. I sprinkled in some “Glory Days” by Bruce Springsteen with some cuts off the Karate Kid Soundtrack (“Danger Zone” by Kenny Logins and “You’re The Best” by Joe “Bean” Esposito) to really make the legends feel old, although I’m sure running around on the sand made them feel old enough. Fonoi, aka “The Body,” looked like he could be a top player on tour today. I already told him I have a good cut shot from the right if he needs a partner for his comeback. The best part of the Legends match was listening to all the dialogue between the players, well, mostly from Hovland. Hov would not only yell at the other team, but also his own teammates, especially Tri Bourne, who looked a little out of place at first, but settled in just fine. Hov even took to yelling at the tournament director Matt Gage for messing up the score. There may have been a ball or two thrown Gage’s way as well. The Legends were scheduled to play only one game to 21, rally score, but since the game seemed to go by quickly, and Hov/Dodd lost, Hov asked the crowd if they could play one more Obviously the crowd said yes, and Hov/Dodd managed to win the bonus game. I guess we’ll have to wait until next year for game three.
Going into this tournament, I’d say Jen Kessy and April Ross were the favorites. Not only were they seeded the highest and coming off a victory in Salt Lake City a week before, but knowing that their partnership is coming close to an end, in a perfect world, they would get their names on the pier together. However, they didn’t get their story book ending, losing to Jennifer Fopma and Brooke Sweat in the semifinals to finish third. This was Fompa’s third Manhattan Beach final in a row and I’m sure she was feeling like it was her time to win it all. However, she came up against Whitney Pavlik who was also in her third consecutive finals, but had won the last two. Whitney had a new partner this time in 3-Time Olympic Gold Medalist, Kerri Walsh Jennings, who has her name on the pier five times already. Game (or set) one was close with Whitney and Kerri coming out on top, 22-20, but there was a little controversy towards the end of the game as it appeared that Kerri came under the net and got her leg tangled with Fopma preventing Fopma from getting to a ball she probably could have had. Regardless if she could have gotten to the ball, and/or if Fopma/Sweat would have scored a point on that play (they were leading at this time), they never seemed to get their mojo back and eventually went on to lose the match making Whitney Pavlik a three-time consecutive Manhattan Beach Champion, and Kerri Walsh Jennings a six-time career winner.
On the men’s side, consistent with the old school feel, Casey Jennings and Matt Fuerbringer teamed up after ending their longtime partnership a few years ago and Fuerbringer retiring in March to take the assistant coaching job with the men’s indoor national team. Story goes that Casey Jennings called Matt and asked if he’d play one more Manhattan Beach open with him. Fortunately, Matt was available. After winning their last match on Saturday, Fuerbringer jetted right over to Irvine to coach the national team in their intrasquad scrimmage. I happened to walk by Matt Sunday morning before his first match and I asked him how he was feeling. Without hesitation or a fake look on his face he said he felt great. And apparently he did as the next time I saw him, he was flying all over the court in the final. It’s difficult enough to beat Phil and Rosie once in a tournament, but to do it twice in the same day and the second time in the final of the Manhattan Beach Open, is quite a feat. Casey had a look of determination on his face all weekend and Matt looked like he was out there just playing for the love of the game again. Casey always seems to play well against Phil and that may have factored into Phil and Rosie mostly serving Matt, or maybe they thought since he hadn’t been on the sand much that he’d eventually get tired. Regardless of the reason, they didn’t really have an answer for him. Matt did his job at the net, and if he didn’t block a ball, Casey was there to dig it. Matt seemed to live by the hard angle/cut shot all match and both his and Casey’s transition setting really was the difference in the match, and in the entire tournament.
It was my first tournament in 2003 when Casey and Matt made it to their first final in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., where they lost to Fonoi and Dax Holdren. I was also there in 2004 when they finally won in Belmar, N.J., against Adam Jewel and Jake Gibb. I DJed both of their weddings and now I’m happy to say I was there when they won the Manhattan Beach Open together.
I remember specific matches throughout my 10-year career DJing on tour, but a lot of times I can’t remember the city since center court pretty much always looks the same. However, this year’s Manhattan Beach Open will be an easy one for me to remember. With no stadium, I was able to see the entire pier with an amazing view of the ocean and watched two great friends earn the honor of having their names on the pier as a team, deservingly so.