What’s Up With the Green Machine?

Posted: November 7, 2011 at 2:12 pm

By Erin Cushing

The Green Machine's members are as eclectic as the music they play. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services

They’re flashy, enthusiastic and immensely talented. But first things first: Don’t call them “just” a marching band. While Mason’s Green Machine pep band doesn’t march, yet, they certainly rock, as more than 1.5 million YouTube viewers have discovered.

A video of Director of Athletic Bands Michael “Doc Nix” Nickens leading the Green Machine in a medley of Rage Against the Machine’s songs “Bulls on Parade” and “Killing in the Name” garnered widespread attention after its debut on the popular video sharing site last February.

The medley, which was arranged by Jeremy Freer, assistant director of athletic bands, is a creative mash-up of two songs by the rap-metal group, transformed into an ensemble piece. The video was shot by a Green Machine booster on his iPhone and uploaded to YouTube. Viewers weighed in with comments praising the band’s inventiveness and the enthusiasm each member showed.

“Doc Nix creates an open environment. When you form a group based on inclusiveness, people respond,” explains Freer.

The Green Machine’s approximately 100 members represent more than 50 different areas of study, with about half representing the School of Music. Participants include undergrads and graduate students, as well as community members seeking a creative outlet.

Music majors can use their participation for course credit in their major, while non-music majors can use it to fulfill a fine arts general education requirement. Some students even receive scholarships for the role they play in the Green Machine.

Students from Virginia, Maryland and the District of Columbia also flock to campus to perform in Mason’s world-class drumline, the Mean Green, which performs at special events alongside the Green Machine. Others are involved with the Mason Declaration Color Guard, which will re-start this year. But no matter where they fit into the organization, the Green Machine members all have the same drive, determination and attitude.

“The number one thing we look for in a member is attitude. We want good people and positive energy,” says Freer.

Musicians of all levels of experience and instrument specialties are welcome. The only positions that require auditions are in the rhythm section (guitar, bass, keyboard, vocals and drum set). This inclusive approach is really what sets the Green Machine apart from other school bands, Freer says.

“Doc has always had an open, inclusive outlook,” Freer says. “It makes my job harder as an arranger, but I love the fact that no one gets left out if they have a great attitude and are willing to work a little and play a lot.”

That inclusiveness has brought bassoon players, string players and vocalists, which are rarely seen in athletic bands, to the Green Machine. This welcoming attitude is a great benefit for the group, as evidenced in their newest piece.

The Green Machine, along with the Mean Green and Mason Declaration, performed their own version of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” at the 2011 Mason Madness event in October that celebrated the beginning of basketball season.

The charismatic "Doc Nix" has an inclusive approach to managing the Green Machine pep band. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services

Masonette dance coach Michelle Chin choreographed the first ever combined performance with the Green Machine, Mason cheerleaders, Masonettes dancers, several basketball players and the student break-dancing group Urbanknowlogy. Each group had their own moment in the spotlight, but what made the performance so special was the way in which every organization blended together seamlessly to dazzle the crowd.

The Green Machine has been a fixture at home football and soccer games, where they pump up the crowd with their repertoire of classic standards and converted hits. Their current playlist includes Kanye West’s “Power,” a new mash-up of Lauryn Hill’s “Doo Wop (That Thing”) and Jay-Z and Alicia Keys’ “Empire State of Mind.”

However, they do more for Mason than energize its sports crowds. The Green Machine plays at admissions events and open houses to show prospective students a dynamic side of campus life. They also appear frequently with the Mason cheerleaders, the Masonettes and the Mason mascot, the Patriot, at campus events such as Welcome Week to spread their Mason spirit to the rest of the student body.

And while the “Rage” video broadened the Green Machine’s audience, the band has always had some notable fans in its corner. Chief among these are long-time Washington Post sports blogger Dan Steinberg and actor Bill Murray, who was on hand at the ESPN Charleston Classic in November 2010 where the Green Machine appeared with Mason’s men’s basketball team. After listening to the band throughout the first half of a game, Murray strolled over to offer his admiration. He even took a turn at conducting with Doc Nix’s emerald-topped cane.

The Green Machine is a tight-knit group that is committed to the school and the community. Alumni presence is large, with former members often dropping in at games to perform. Band members take care of every aspect of traveling and performing, from maintaining instruments to washing uniforms and coordinating meetings.

“It’s a family,” says Freer.

Nickens, the charismatic director, set the tone for the band when he joined Mason in 2006, bringing a unique style and boundless enthusiasm. Although he is currently on study leave, he is still directly involved in Green Machine activities, and he was on hand for the October Mason Madness performance. While on leave he is writing music, touring and performing on the tuba — and dreaming up new and exciting opportunities for Mason’s athletic ensembles.

The Mason men’s basketball season kicks off on Friday, Nov. 11. The Green Machine will perform at all home basketball games and will perform in support of the women’s volleyball team on Saturday, Nov. 12.

What songs will be performed this season? Freer is tight-lipped.

“We’ve been working on some new stuff. You’ll just have to come out to games to see what we have in store.”



Write to mediarel at gazette@gmu.edu