In a tiny room high above the Bridgestone Arena ice, tucked above Section 310, "Krazy Kyle" Hankins plies his trade. Hair flecked with gray sticks out from under a Predators cap. He wears a jersey — maybe just a bit too big for his diminutive frame — bearing his alliterative nickname. It's nearly game time and Krazy Kyle is readying his repertoire. As the Predators' organist, Hankins brings some old-time hockey tradition to the New South. He's one of a dying breed: in-house organists in hockey barns. And he takes his job very seriously.
"Normally, I have just 10 seconds," he says.
And that makes song selection crucial — "a strong melodic line" is the key factor.
"This town is full of songwriters," he says, in a way that indicates he knows he has a tougher audience than most.
The songs have to be recognizable, something catchy, something that translates well to the organ. Sure, there are staples like the "Charge!" tune, but this is Music City and Hankins has a degree in theory and composition from Belmont. In Nashville, we expect more. Like an organ version of the viral "Bed Intruder Re-Mix."
Although, he admits: "Rap, I've learned, doesn't really work [on the organ]."
Whatever Hankins is doing is working, though. He's more likely, he says, to be recognized for his work on the Bridgestone Arena organ than before. Used to be, most people who stopped him in public remembered him from a wedding he played at their church.
His face is more recognizable partly because the Preds have made a conscious effort to incorporate him into the in-game entertainment. Every now and then, the camera flashes to his little booth and the 17,113 faithful are treated to Kyle, banging away enthusiastically, his head bobbing and jiving, his neck craning (depending on the puck's position, it's not always easy to see if the game has restarted).
And between periods, he gets requests from fans on the concourse.
It's an awful lot of fame for a guy who saw an audition announcement in the sports page back in 2002.
"I was a stay-at-home dad, picking up gigs here and there," he recalls. "I saw an ad. 'This is my ticket out of here!'" he jokes. He's now become as much a part of the atmosphere as "You suck!" chants, thanking the PA announcer for announcing there's a minute left in the period, and Gnash rappelling from the roof.
He and his fellow organists trade ideas — there's an email ring set up for that sort of thing — letting each other know what's working and what isn't.
It's a dream job for Hankins — but he's got one wish.
"If we had a real organ," he says, gazing at the electronic one he uses now. "That would be really awesome."