Behind the gameday music: Basketball DJ leads fans in celebration and song

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Behind the gameday music: Basketball DJ leads fans in celebration and song

James Graves, who goes by DJ Barefoot, is WSU's men's basketball game-day DJ. Here, Graves works his equipment at The Venue - Distillery 244 Old Town.

James Graves, who goes by DJ Barefoot, is WSU's men's basketball game-day DJ. Here, Graves works his equipment at The Venue - Distillery 244 Old Town.

Eduardo Castillo

James Graves, who goes by DJ Barefoot, is WSU's men's basketball game-day DJ. Here, Graves works his equipment at The Venue - Distillery 244 Old Town.

Eduardo Castillo

Eduardo Castillo

James Graves, who goes by DJ Barefoot, is WSU's men's basketball game-day DJ. Here, Graves works his equipment at The Venue - Distillery 244 Old Town.

Wichita State has the best men’s basketball arena atmosphere in the American Athletic Conference, according to a 2018 survey of veteran coaches around the AAC. The crowds at Koch Arena are notoriously raucous.

Last year, WSU invested in a new deejay, DJ Bearfoot, who purposefully avoids the same tired beats heard on shuffle and repeat at American sporting events. 

James Graves, or Jj, goes by DJ Bearfoot most days. He’s not a part-time performer. This is his real job. And his music choices can make the difference between an okay game and one that feels like party time. His goal, he says, is to serve fans an endless round of excitement, anticipation and when they’re down, comfort. 

In the upcoming season, when someone buys a ticket to a WSU basketball game, they’ll also gain entry to one of the hottest shows in town.

On-the-spot tunes, which feed off of each event’s personality and mood, is what deejaying is really about.

Now in his second year working as the gameday deejay, Graves has shown he’s got the chops for this job, and he’s known for his ability to read and play to the crowd.

 

A Cinderella story

Graves has had a bit of a Cinderella career story. His first gig in Wichita was an accomplishment in and of itself. 

About five years ago, Graves arrived in the city to follow a girl with little to his name and no professional or personal connections. 

Getting work in the music industry is notoriously tough. Few people who pursue music end up doing it professionally. Fewer still get the kind of lucky breaks that allow them to do music full time. When Graves arrived, he started looking for work immediately. 

But it was a long shot in the beginning. 

“I kind of went from being homeless — sleeping in my car, to meeting somebody, and then it happened,” he said.  

Graves was working at Wasabi’s at the time, and he took a chance on a random man he passed on the street nearby.  

“I met this really big guy who came in here and he’s like, really big,” Graves said. “I was like, ‘Hey, do you do security around here? I’m a DJ, and I’m trying to, you know, get into a club.’”

The guy did happen to work security at a club right down the street and heard Graves out. When he took down Graves’s contact information, he noticed his phone number didn’t have a 316 area code. 

“He was like, ‘What are you doing with a 510 area code?,’ Graves said. “I was like, ‘Man, I’m from Oakland.’ He was like, ‘What, I’m from Oakland, California.’ We just kind of clicked off, and so it happened to be that he was part of one of, if not the biggest music group in Wichita. It’s called Buckhead.” 

As a result of this meeting, three days later, Graves was given a shot to make his mark on Wichita’s music scene. He ended up on stage with Waka Flocka.

“Literally, I went from sleeping in my car to like three days later, I was on stage with the first major artist I deejayed for — Waka Flocka,” Graves said. “And then, three days later, it was Tech N9ne.”

And that was the beginning of his journey. 

“Pretty much like nobody had ever seen me play before. But like off of my personality, everybody just kind of like took me in at our first show together,” Graves said. “It was like I never missed a beat, though we had not rehearsed one time. Not one time, and the show was insane.”

He started working shows at Rock Island Live, where he still deejays every Wednesday and Friday. When he started, he said there were maybe 15 people at the venue each night he worked. Then it quickly turned to 60 people. Then that doubled and so on until he was playing to a packed house.

“For almost four years, it’s been the number-one place to party on a Friday night in Wichita,” Graves said. 

Graves said it was hard to imagine things getting any better — but they did. Three years ago, he had the opportunity to deejay with the 93.5 Powerhouse Jam concert in Wichita. He played in front of thousands of people, including Wiz Khalifa, Yo Gotti, and Kevin Gates. 

The event opened the floodgates for Graves.

Reggie McIntyre, director of marketing and fan engagement for WSU Athletics, made the call to hire Graves last season. He ran it by a couple of people including Coach Gregg Marshall. They were all for it. 

It was all part of an effort to give fans and players more — more fun, more excitement, more entertainment at games. 

“One of the coaches, he saw Jj at an event, and I was like, ‘You know what? I need to go see for myself,” McIntyre said. 

Jj wasn’t aware McIntyre had seen him perform prior to when the two discussed the job opportunity.

McIntyre said he liked the way Graves worked the crowd and could really get them into the show. He hoped Graves would have that effect on the 10,000-person-strong gameday crowds at Koch Arena.

“I knew our students wanted something extra to enhance the basketball game day a little bit extra on game day. They wanted more music,” McIntyre said. “They want a blend, and he could play to all crowds. You have to . . . be able to reach everybody. Right? Our crowd has a lot of demographics.”

From there, it was history. 

“The first and coolest thing that happened to me because of this gig — it was the first game last year and Kansas.com’s Taylor Eldridge shared a Tweet about me saying that the talk of the game was the new deejay for Wichita State,” Graves said. “It was crazy. It was freaking insane. That was everywhere.”

After that, fans knew who he was and started telling him how much they enjoyed his gameday presence.

Graves and McIntyre coordinate everything together now. During a game, Graves has a headset in so he can talk to everyone, including McIntyre and the camerapeople. He said a game is extremely collaborative. He knows when his cues are and what is needed from those behind the scenes.  

Graves had another moment in the spotlight last season when a recording he made got picked up by news agencies.

“After our first big win, it was my first time in the locker room, and Coach, well I recorded Coach Gregg Marshall in a snap post on my phone. He did this dance and like, he was super hyped and it went viral. ESPN and all of them played it,” Graves said.

McIntyre said Graves has added another layer to the already impressive reputation of Shocker basketball fans, who are already die-hard enthusiasts of the team.

“You can feel how loud the Roundhouse is. You can feel that pop,” McIntyre said.  “Coach Penny Hardaway came last year with Memphis and said that we had an NBA atmosphere.” 

McIntyre agrees that Koch Arena has an NBA atmosphere in part because of Graves’s work.

“You know, we have the best fans in the country. And I’ll put our fan base up against anybody,” McIntyre said. 

The man behind the music leads fans in celebration and song. 

The best part, Graves said, is that he can now work on music professionally, fulltime. He doesn’t have to do it on the side anymore to get by. 

“A lot of people like music. They will say they love music, but I love music like I love life,” Graves said. “It is my life.”

McIntyre said he plans to keep Graves in the position as long as possible. 

“As long as I’m here, as long as I’m working for WSU Athletics, he’s my guy,” he said.