Around the Horn

Inside Around the Horn’s updated theme; TOC begins

We were fans of Around the Horn long before we ever stepped into the studio.
Joel Cummins, keyboardist for Umphrey’s McGee, the band behind the show’s updated theme

ESPN’s Around the Horn (ESPN, weekdays 5 p.m. ET) introduced some new things recently.

Don’t worry. No one is silencing host Tony Reali’s mute button, but the show did get a brand new open animation package featuring music played by Chicago-based band Umphrey’s McGee.

Longtime ATH coordinating producer Aaron Solomon, who led the effort to refresh the look and sound of the show – now in its 13th year – proposed the idea to members of the band more than a year ago while backstage at one of their concerts.

Umphrey’s McGee keyboardist Joel Cummins, one of six members of the group, talks about the project and the friendship they’ve developed with ATH.

How did the opportunity to work with Around the Horn come about?
Back in 2010, Aaron Solomon reached out and invited Umphrey’s McGee to come by the show and watch everything unfold live. Aaron was a fan of the band, so we took up his gracious offer and a couple of us made the trip to the studio. We immediately hit it off with both Aaron and Tony and had some great conversations about music, sports, but most memorably fantasy football.

Since then, we have visited the show numerous times and even had Tony sit in with us last year [as a percussionist] at the Fillmore in DC to play the Derek & the Dominos tune “Layla” (a favorite of Tony’s). He remains the only person to ever sit in on both percussion and keys on the same song.

Probably a year ago, Aaron had mentioned to us that they were interested in updating the ATH theme and accompanying music. We told them we’d love the chance to create something unique for them and gave it a shot.

We really wanted to create a funkier, hipper vibe than what they currently had going on. We were very pleased with how things turned out.
Joel Cummins, keyboardist for Umphrey’s McGee, on the updated ATH theme

What was the sound you and the ATH crew were hoping to create with the new music?
Aaron wanted something with a little more punch, authenticity and driving funk. We did a few things, including re-recording and updating the theme song many know and love and creating some specific break music for going to commercials. With the breaks we did, Aaron actually identified an improvisational section of music Umphrey’s McGee had already previously performed as “the perfect break music.”

With that, we recreated something we had done live a few years ago and changed a few small things to give it a little more pop. So, we really wanted to create a funkier, hipper vibe than what they currently had going on. We were very pleased with how things turned out and thrilled that the ATH crew were into what we created.

How does creating the ATH music rank among everything Umphrey’s McGee has accomplished?
Without a doubt a career highlight, albeit in a much different sense than a live show. Many of the guys are huge sports fans. We were fans of Around the Horn long before we ever stepped into the studio. Since then, we’ve also become friends with Tim Cowlishaw, who is always eager to note that he was an Umphrey’s fan first, and Kevin Blackistone, who we had the pleasure of dining with and having him out to our last show in DC. Everyone we’ve met associated with ATH has not only been amazingly brilliant in sports analysis, but equally interesting and kind people. For me, that just adds to the coolness of the whole thing.

Around the Horn “Tournament of Champions”

This is the final show week of the year for Around the Horn before its annual winter hiatus. That means ATH’s much-ballyhooed (and tongue-in-cheek) “Tournament of Champions” is back. The winners of the next four shows (Wed. through Mon., Dec. 22) will meet Christmas Eve (Dec. 24, 5 p.m.) when that day’s ATH champ will be crowned the “Tournament of Champions” winner. This tradition began four years ago. Past winners include Pablo S. Torre (2013), JA Adande (2012) and Kevin Blackistone (2011).

Longtime coordinating producer Aaron Solomon said: “We came up with the idea as a way to pay off the last shows of the year. Consistent with the history of our show, the idea kinda stuck – and now we may be stuck with the ‘Tournament of Champions’.”

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