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September 24, 2018

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Golden sound: VGK music director spins soundtrack to a winning season

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Patrick Ruhilg

Vegas Golden Knights Music Director Jake Wagner is shown at T-Mobile Arena.

During the first round of the playoffs against the Kings, the Beach Boys hit “Surfin’ USA” played over the mammoth sound system at T-Mobile Arena. The audience did the wave in time to the music and Golden Knights goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury joined in with the crowd, making for a memorable moment.

Golden Knights Music Director Jake Wagner has countless memories from the team’s debut season, but the Fleury-wave is one of his favorites. That and the Oct. 10 home opener. “I still get chills thinking about it,” Wagner says.

“It’s been really special, like soundtracking a movie in real time,” Wagner says about choosing the music for the Knights' astronomical rise. He also plays organ/keyboard, books multiple DJs across the arena and helps with production content when needed. “(It’s) one of the best stories in the history of sports.”

So how does he choose music for games? It’s an art that happens in real time.

Jake Wagner’s favorite songs to play at Golden Knights' games

Arcade Fire, “Signs of Life”

Avicii, “The Nights”

ASAP Rocky & Skrillex, “Wild For The Nights”

Greta Van Fleet, “Highway Tune”

Tiesto + The Chainsmokers, “Split (Only U)”

The Black Keys, “Gold On The Ceiling”

Papa Roach, “Born For Greatness”

Gizzle, “Get Loud For Me”

Alice Merton, “No Roots”

Steve Aoki, “Delirious (Boneless)”

Imagine Dragons, “Whatever It Takes”

John Wick Mode, "Le Castle Vania" (team entrance track)

DJ Shadow ft. Run The Jewels, "Nobody Speak (instrumental)" (team walk-off track)

WWE Intro Themes (Bobby Roode, Shinsuke Nakamura, AJ Styles and more)

Penguin Prison, “All Night Long” (Lionel Richie cover)

Welshly Arms, “Legendary”

Thirty Seconds to Mars, “Hail To The Victor”

Jax Jones, “Yeah Yeah Yeah”

Wolfmother, “Victorious/The Joker and The Thief”

J Balvin, “Mi Gente (remix)”

The Score, “Unstoppable”

Junior Senior, “Move Your Feet"

Major Lazer, “Light It Up (remix)”

Poolside, “Do You Believe" (intermission track)

Classic anthems by artists such as DJ Casper, DJ Kool, Queen, House of Pain, Led Zeppelin, The Bee Gees, The Ramones, Michael Jackson, The Isley Brothers, Kanye West, Black Sabbath, The Clash, ACDC, The Village People and Lil Jon.

“I try my best to complement the in-game situations and love telling a lyrical story when possible,” Wagner says. “You definitely want songs that have a lot of energy and make you move. The main goal is to leave everyone with a positive experience, regardless the outcome of the game.”

Some songs are already tradition. When the Knights score a goal, expect to hear Panic! at the Disco's “Vegas Lights.” When the Knights win, naturally it’s Elvis’ classic ode to Sin City: “Viva Las Vegas.” And when Fleury makes a great save, “The Man” by Las Vegas’ own The Killers helps fans celebrate.

On game days, Wagner takes requests via Twitter (@jakewagnermusic), trying to work a few fan picks into each game.

“It’s really cool to see what everyone would like to hear,” Wagner says. The “classic stadium stompers” are most requested, but other favorites include Black Sabbath’s “Neon Knights,” Kiss’ “Crazy Nights” and Scorpions' “Big City Nights.”

The Golden Knights are known for their deep connection to the local community, and the game music is no exception. A variety of local artists have been played: Trade Voorhees, The Dirty Hooks, Mercy Music, Chop 808, Sober Junkie, Silversage and more. During pregame warmups, local DJ Joe Green spins.

For Wagner, the best part of this dream gig is seeing the joy on the faces of young fans.

“It’s so cool to know they could grow up and end up taking their kids to a Knights game,” Wagner says. “It’s building a tradition that’ll be felt in the community for decades to come.”

In the ’90s, Wagner was one such young fan. He learned to love hockey from watching the now-defunct Las Vegas Thunder play. He says it’s the reason he became interested in soundtracking live sports. “They’d play ‘Thunderstruck’ each time the team took the ice and it blew my mind,” Wagner says.

His path to the Golden Knights has been a life-long journey. He learned piano and guitar in school and played in local bands around town. He worked as a stage manager for the Cab and was the music coordinator for the Life is Beautiful festival in its early years. Thanks to his passion for sharing new music and artists, he works with Nevada Public Radio’s music discovery channel in Reno (NV89). Before the Knights, Wagner curated music for the Las Vegas 51s baseball team and he will also be soundtracking the Las Vegas Aces' WNBA basketball games for their 2018 season.

What music can we expect to hear during the rest of the short season? “I can’t say much about the final playlist,” Wagner says. “Each game has a unique feel and I don’t usually select music ahead of time. I can say that we’ve got a few surprises in store.”

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