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Meet the musical ambassador for the Charlotte Checkers: Greazy Keyz

Catch Jason Atkins aka Greazy Keyz at home Checkers games.
Courtesy of Jason Atkins
Jason Atkins, also known as Greazy Keyz, is the organist for the Charlotte Checkers.

Stepping inside Bojangles Coliseum for a Charlotte Checkers hockey game is a full sensory experience. There’s the brisk chill that hits your face from the ice. The buttery smell of treats and the tang of beer from the concession stands. The shouts of encouragement from passionate fans. And from section 127, the sweet sounds of a rumbling organ.

The man behind the music is Jason Atkins — a.k.a Greazy Keyz. Along with playing organ for the Checkers, he's also the organist for the Kannapolis Cannon Ballers baseball team and occasionally for the Charlotte Knights baseball team. And you can hear him play at various places around Charlotte, too.

Atkins has played the musical score for Checkers games since 2015. But playing on the emotions of thousands of fans is still a humbling experience.

"I try not to get too much in my head and to think 'Oh wow, I'm the only musician among 8,000 people.' I don't let that go to my head or else I would probably just freeze up and just fall over in the fetal position," Atkins said. "But I try to keep it lighthearted and feed off the energy of the game and the crowd around me."

Up on the jumbo screen for everyone to see.
Sarah Delia
/
WFAE
Atkins on the jumbo screen of Bojangles Coliseum at a Charlotte Checkers game.

As humble as he is, Atkins enjoys playing the long-haired-sunglass-shaded Greazy Keyz character. The row of seats behind him is left open every game so fans can come up and interact (the area he performs in is affectionally referred to as the "The Greaz Pit"). Sometimes they just sit and watch him play, other times, it’s a dance party. You might be able to give the players a quick fist bump as they walk through the tunnel. You can take a quick picture with the team mascot, Chubby the Bear, but then he’s on his way to the next fan. But you can hang out with Greazy Keyz. He even takes requests.

"I see myself literally as a team ambassador. So I always come in with a very positive attitude, welcoming attitude," Atkins said. "Every night is going to be someone's first time here. And if I can help encourage them, and make them feel comfortable, and take it all in and be a positive memory, then my job is done."

Courtesy of Jason Atkins
Jason Atkins, also known as Greazy Keyz, is the organist for the Charlotte Checkers.

He’s become a fixture. A Checkers game without Greazy Keyz just wouldn’t make sense.

The Checkers’ season ends in April, when baseball begins. But Atkins remembers last season when the Checkers made it to the playoffs. The problem? Atkins was already scheduled to play in Kannapolis at a Cannonballers game, which he did. But when the baseball game ended, he checked his phone and saw the Checkers … were in overtime.

"I hightailed it back to Charlotte from Kannapolis and walked in and sat down and played the overtime for the Checkers, and they ended up coming back and winning," he said with a smile. "Hockey fans are some of the most superstitious people. When I can come in and kind of bring in some positive energy they feed off that."


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It’s a high-pressure job but one he thrives in — Atkins says he always has three pieces of music ready to play, depending on what’s happening in the game.

Courtesy of Jason Atkins
Always playing, Atkins has quite the musical collection of instruments at home.

Whatever just happened on the ice, he wants to make sure the people in their seats keep up the energy and have a good time. That includes before the puck even drops. Fans can show up an hour before the game and hear Greazy Keys getting warmed up. He’ll even let you have a spin in his chair.

"If there's a young person who's maybe practiced a song and you wanna hear your song on the organ, absolutely. Have a seat," he said. "To instill something, like, just carries on the love of music and carries on the love of performing. And for me to inspire that, and for someone young to say, 'Oh my gosh, you can do music even at a hockey game,' it overwhelms me with joy. And to think that I can bring joy and happiness to other people just in doing what I love to do and being myself, ultimately, is just, it's amazing."

Sometimes, he points out, he only has about 15 seconds to play before the whistle blows and the game is back in action. He can’t get too caught up. Like the game of hockey — it’s up to him to make every available second count.

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Sarah Delia is a Senior Producer for Charlotte Talks with Mike Collins. Sarah joined the WFAE news team in 2014. An Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist, Sarah has lived and told stories from Maine, New York, Indiana, Alabama, Virginia and North Carolina. Sarah received her B.A. in English and Art history from James Madison University, where she began her broadcast career at college radio station WXJM. Sarah has interned and worked at NPR in Washington DC, interned and freelanced for WNYC, and attended the Salt Institute for Radio Documentary Studies.
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