Frigid temperatures for the outdoor World Junior Championships game won’t faze The Billievers.
New Era Field’s house band has performed before every Bills home game the past two seasons, no matter the weather conditions.
“I’ve played a million gigs in a million different weird places, but nothing like that before,” bass guitarist Brad Robbins said about playing at the Bills game against the Indianapolis Colts on Dec. 10. “Outside on New Year’s Eve and some other places it’s cold, you might get a little snow. But this was literally like playing in a snow globe. There was a good 20 minutes where it was total whiteout.”
But the band played on, drawing one of its largest and most enthusiastic audiences of the season.
“People were feeding off of it, it was a really cool thing,” said Robbins, who also plays in local bands Gravy, Slip Madigan and ManBearPig. “It was the most Buffalo experience you can imagine.”
That type of fan experience is what the Bills envisioned when they approached local musician Zak Ward about starting a house band.
“In the past, we’ve always had different bands at our games,” said Katie Jordan, manager of event services. “We wanted to create something exclusive for our fans.”
Ward, leader of the band Third Ward, was tasked with signing the rest of the players for the stadium gig and coming up with a set list beyond the core request of “close with the ‘Shout! song.’ ”
“Zack has a really good reputation and has a great band that plays all around the city,” Jordan said. “We wanted somebody who was professional and we could rely on every game.”
The other two members of The Billievers are Buffalo Music Hall of Fame drummer Jeff Schaller and Third Ward keyboard player/backing vocalist Geoff Barone.
“I had the opportunity to make a dream team band of guys I knew who were more talented than me,” said Ward, who has also fronted the bands Son of the Sun and Kurt and the Loders.
“All of us play in three or four different bands but this is a whole different crowd than we normally play for. We don’t get to play a lot of these upbeat sports anthems, Queen and Neil Diamond songs very often.”
Pleased with the band’s performance in its debut season, the Bills built a new stage to feature The Billievers inside Gate 4 this year.
“We wanted to centralize them where its busiest and people can congregate,” Jordan said. “We tried to create a centerpiece there and I think we achieved it.”
The band started when gates opened at 11:30 a.m. and crowds grew as kickoff approached. Warm weather earlier in the season actually hurt The Billievers drawing power.
“I don’t know if you know this, but Buffalo fans have a tendency to stay out in the tailgate for as long as possible,” Ward said with a smirk.
But the increasing amount of entertainment offered inside the stadium could be a preview of the pregame scene for Bills games at a future venue.
“If you go to a game in another city, you see all this stuff going on inside the stadium,” Ward said. “It’s like a carnival. I would like to see more of that here. It makes it more of an event than just drinking in the parking lot.”