He’s the man behind the music of Boston sports.
TJ Connelly has been working as the official DJ and music director at Fenway Park since 2008, was hired by the Patriots in 2013, and added the Bruins to his roster in 2017. Few people have had a better seat over the last decade-plus: From World Series titles to the NFL and NHL postseason, the man on Twitter known as “Senator John” has seen just about everything.
“It’s a lot of fun,” he said with a laugh.
Connelly, a Massachusetts native, started with the Red Sox in 2005 when the team was looking to update in-game entertainment. By 2008, he had become their full-time music director, incorporating walk-up music for hitters and coordinating with Fenway organist Josh Kantor on musical selections.
Connelly said it took him some time to find his footing, but by the time the Patriots came calling in 2013, he was starting to feel comfortable. His first game that season was an epic comeback win over the Broncos, where New England faced a 24-0 halftime deficit.
“Well, we might as well play something to let them dance,” he recalled thinking at the time before putting on Daft Punk’s “Get Lucky.”
“The whole pace kind of blew up,” he remembered.
The game ended with a 34-31 victory over the Broncos. Connelly called it the night where he got the job.
“That was the first game I worked for the Patriots, but notably, that was my introduction to a pacing of a sport that is really much more constricted, but still faster than baseball," he said. "In football, you have to have music ready to go in no time flat. It’s like trying to sprint and do jigsaw puzzles at the same time. In six seconds, you need a piece of music that’ll work for 12 seconds.”
Connelly gives a lot of credit to Mario Pregoni, the chief audio engineer at Gillette Stadium, for helping him better understand the musical rhythm of the game.
“His influence in terms of me figuring out what music goes best with the moment was huge,” Connelly said. “It’s really great to be able to have someone like him to work with.”
Connelly keeps his connections open with athletes when it comes to their music.
For a few years, kicker Stephen Gostkowski requested “Tarzan Boy” by Baltimora after every field goal. Then there’s “Public Service Announcement” from Jay-Z, which played every time Tom Brady took the field for warm-ups. (He’s curious as to what’s going to happen with Jarrett Stidham, Brian Hoyer, or whoever will be under center for New England going forward.)
His go-to songs these days? When it comes to football, he starts with “Your Love” from The Outfield, thanks in large part to 98.5’s Scott Zolak, who adopted the song as his own years ago. (“It provides a nice burst of energy to the stadium.”) There’s one for the defense when he cues up “Mars, the Bringer of War” from Gustav Holst, a tune that was reportedly the inspiration for the Imperial March from “Star Wars.” (“A big, heavy-hitting, classical piece.) And he starts every pregame with Alice in Chains and “No Excuses.” (“It’s both a good way to warm up an empty stadium, and the overall sentiment seems very Patriots.”)
He also brings songs in and out of rotation. A few years ago, he started playing “Build Me Up Buttercup” by The Foundations after an opponent missed a field goal. But then, a few more opposing kickers blew field-goal attempts, and he had to change things up.
“It’s like, ‘OK, the joke is over, we have to come up with something else,’” he said. “Weirdly, it’s like being a stand-up comedian. You have to start thinking of new material.”
With the Red Sox, he does much of the same thing. The biggest difference is probably keeping track of the walk-up requests. If he doesn’t have an updated walk-up song for a new player, he’ll dip into a library of a few he has in reserve. But for the most part, players have a pretty good idea of what they’re looking for when they get to Fenway.
He says his experience working during the 2013 World Series was likely his professional highlight, but it’s the duck boat parades that continue to amaze him.
“The 2013 World Series as a whole was pretty incredible, but the moments that are unlike anything else is DJing a championship parade,” he said. “That was an experience unlike anything else, and it’s wonderful that I’ve gotten to do it now a bunch of times. I have an opinion on how you should DJ a championship parade: How is that possible?”
Connelly recalls his favorite moment on one of the duck boats, when he was rolling through Copley Square and everyone was singing along to “All I Do Is Win.” There’s a pause in the chorus when there’s a brief moment of quiet, and then ...
“There’s the moment where ‘everybody’s hands go up’ – and the whole crowds hands go up – and everyone’s silent for a second … and then go back to screaming their faces off," he said. "I really love that. I love it when crowds sing along together. That’s a really nice thing in a lot of ways. That song will always be a parade staple for me, even if we’re not doing one every 11 months or whatever.”
Connelly serves as the backup for the Celtics, and exudes respect for their house DJ, Brek.One.
“I’m only trying to do a decent impression of him when I am there,” he said. “He has it all figured out – I have no interest in that job.”
He’s signed on to do some Revolution games when things start again, but with the recent suspension in play for MLB and the NHL, he’s spending his time waiting for professional sports again by hosting his own online radio show, which can be heard at uncertain.fm/live.
“This thing has been all-consuming,” he says of the daily show that features an awesome cross-section of music. “My girlfriend works as a nurse practitioner, and these days, that’s like 14 hours a day. I’m trying to the best support system I can. But the rest of the time, it’s all about the show.”
Connelly, who has the distinction of being the last person hired by WFNX before their format change in 2012, has deep roots in radio. He worked at WZBC, as well as WMBR. But the online show has taken things to a new level.
“I used to do radio three hours a week, but this is two to three hours a day. Doing the show and the prep work and everything else that goes into it, it’s a lot,” he said. “But I’ve been fortunate that people are still supporting me in this time when I’ve been effectively unemployed. I’m lucky I’ve been able to make this all work.”
Christopher Price can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter at cpriceglobe.