O say, can you sing?
By the mic’s early guide?
If not, don’t bother showing up to a Charlotte FC match until after the national anthem plays and the tifo is raised. There have been three Major League Soccer games played in Charlotte, and already a new tradition has been established to show unity.
When “The Star-Spangled Banner” plays shortly before kickoff, it’s not the job of the talented performer on the field to sing it but to conduct the crowd of 30,000-plus fans in harmony.
“O say, can you see … “ belted Danny McHugh, who has the difficult job of swinging as the understudy for 11 roles in the traveling production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” at the Belk Theater. And that’s all he sang before lifting his hands and becoming the maestro ahead of the match against FC Cincinnati.
“It took me a second to process because of the tradition of everyone standing, removing their hats and listening to someone like me sing the national anthem,” said McHugh, 38. “It was a very novel and cool feeling of having these thousands of voices coming back at me.”
Quick background for the uninitiated: This isn’t originally how national anthems at Charlotte FC matches were supposed to work. Four weeks ago, when an MLS-record crowd of 74,479 packed Bank of America Stadium for the first home match against the LA Galaxy, Michelle Brooks-Thompson stood in the middle of the stadium and got so far as “whose broad stripes and bright stars …” before technical difficulties silenced her strong voice. The crowd, which was mumbling along to that point, suddenly stepped up and brought it home in what Brooks-Thompson later told The Observer’s Scott Fowler was “a magical moment.”
There weren’t technical difficulties last week when Adam Lee Decker from American Idol led the Charlotte crowd in the anthem, nor were there Saturday when McHugh got his moment. But hoping to turn a fluke into a long-term positive, the Charlotte FC match-day experience team asked Decker and McHugh to only sing the first line and see if the crowd can follow through with the rest.
Both obliged and helped create one of the coolest new traditions in sports.
“Not at all. If anything, it took the pressure off, especially when the song gets high. I let the crowd handle it,” said McHugh, when asked if he had any reservations about letting the moment not be about him; singing the national anthem at a major sporting event can be a significant milestone in a performer’s career.
“I’m sure it’s really cool for fans of the Charlotte Football Club to bring them together as a fandom.”
It has. And, perhaps not coincidentally (but probably so), Charlotte FC is 2-0-0 since the tradition began.
As long as it keeps working, Charlotte will keep singing.
This story was originally published March 26, 2022 8:13 PM.