LITTLETON – He has been on the ice for more Avalanche games than Joe Sakic, more than Peter Forsberg, more than Nathan MacKinnon, more than. … come to think of it, more than any one player in team history. From the Avs-Red Wings “Blood Feud” days right on through to Saturday night’s game with the San Jose Sharks, Jake Schroeder has seen it all – and sung it all – as the team’s official national anthem performer. Saturday’s rendition was the 1,000th of his Avs career.
“I’m not going to be signing autographs and walking around the arena waving to fans. But, yeah, it’s special to me and I’m really grateful, really glad to be a part of this team and this community for so long,” Schroeder said over coffee on a recent day near his Littleton home. “People have been so nice. The other day I had some guy come up to me and say, ‘I’ve been seeing you at games since I was, like, 5 and you’re like a part of the team to me now.’ What a cool thing to say.”
Schroeder’s setlist is composed of only one song, sometimes two when a Canadian team is in town. But, far from a tired, one-hit-wonder act, the 53-year-old native of Boulder approaches every anthem with the same passion he felt before his first anthem, which actually came in 1985 before a Nuggets game. He is an accomplished singer and musician, with six albums to his credit from his days as lead singer for the band Opie Gone Bad. He has worked with musicians such as Hazel Miller and bands such as The Persuasions.
The “Star-Spangled Banner” is what it is – an iconic song written by Francis Scott Key in 1814 that is played before pretty much every sporting event of any kind in this country. To some people, it’s an act of jingoistic drudgery to have to stand for the anthem and listen to the lyrics that pretty much anyone who has attended more than 20 sporting events in their life can recite at least in part or in full. For hardcore fans and for pro athletes, it’s probably the song they’ve heard the most in their lives.
For Schroeder, it’s a labor of love every single time (it’s certainly not for the money, as the only compensation he gets for the job is two free tickets to every home game). And not just because it’s a thrill to stand in front of 18,000 fans and get a literal standing ovation for every performance. It’s because the song, and what it symbolizes, has deep meaning for him.
His father, Jake Schroeder III, served in the Air Force in Vietnam. As part of his duties, he witnessed dead countrymen being loaded onto airplanes for trips back home. Before every takeoff for the somber ride home, the national anthem was played in their honor. At a CU Buffs football game when he was a kid, Schroeder said the first time he ever saw his dad tear up was during the national anthem.
“Otherwise, he was never an emotional man at all. But after I saw that, the anthem just became so much deeper to me. I still think of him every time I sing it,” Schroeder said. ”
As his main occupation these days, Schroeder runs a nonprofit agency called the D-Day Leadership Academy, whose mission is to “create strong communities by providing under-resourced children with opportunities, exposure, and experiences with the intent of changing young people’s lives in a positive way while keeping the important stories of WWII and D-Day alive.”
For as many as two to three months a year, Schroeder is in France, walking the beaches upon which the U.S. and Allied Forces stormed in 1944 to beat back the Nazis, helping educate kids and others who want to join in.
On Schroeder’s website is the French phrase “N’oublions Jamais Leur Histoire” – “Never Forget Their Story.” What started in 2015 as mostly a personal trip to Normandy to see it for himself turned into a passion project that occupies most of his working day. But nights during Avs season are still reserved for walking the red carpet on the Ball Arena ice and singing the anthem.
Schroeder’s anthems are not full of vocal tricks and gyrations. He doesn’t do long, drawn-out anthems like some (which, truth be told, players have to stand for physically but can’t stand personally). The one aspect of Schroeder’s anthems that have become a “thing” is the part when he gets to …”that our flag was still there.”
Some fan – and nobody really knows who – started doing that at Denver Grizzlies games in 1994, and that fan continued doing it at Avs games for years until the rest of the crowd caught on and started yelling it too.
“I always feel good after singing it,” he said. “I don’t get nervous beforehand anymore. But I get asked to sing it sometimes at funerals for World War II veterans and I have a really hard time getting through it.”
Schroeder was asked on one of his most recent trips to Normandy to sing the anthem right on Omaha Beach and at flag-lowering ceremonies at Normandy American Cemetery, an experience he called “profound.”
“I remember telling myself, ‘Just look at the flagpole, just look at the flagpole, don’t look around at everyone around me’, because it’s just so emotional,” he said.
With all this patriotic stuff in his life, which tends to tilt conservative, you might think Schroeder has led a buttoned-down, toned-down kind of life. But that would be wrong.
From his early 20s on to just a handful of years ago, Schroeder led a real rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle. As lead singer of Opie Gone Bad, Schroeder was on the road a lot, playing regular gigs in cities, along with Denver, in places like Los Angeles and Houston and Omaha (Omaha? “Yes, there’s a crazy music scene there,” Schroeder says), singing and, yeah, partying til about 2 in the morning most nights. His first marriage didn’t survive that kind of lifestyle, but Schroeder was too ambitious about his music career to want to stop.
“I made my living playing music. I was making like $35,000 a year playing music back then, late ’80s, early ’90s. For a 21-year-old kid without a brain in his head, I was doing pretty well. If you told 25-year-old me that I would ever be OK with not being in a band and traveling and doing all this stuff, I would have told you that you were insane,” Schroeder said. “That’s all I ever wanted to do. I just always loved performing, you know? I was in plays as a kid. Then, when I started an a cappella group in high school, I discovered that girls really liked it when you’re in bands like that. That was a prime motivator for many, many years right?”
When the band broke up around 2013, though, Schroeder realized he wanted more of a real family life. Since then, he’s had it, with a new marriage and being a father to three girls. He recently just walked one of them down the aisle in her marriage.
Schroeder is friends to many Avs players, especially to some of the longtime ex-players such as Shjon Podein and Peter Forsberg. He partied right along with them at the Denver Chophouse at their Stanley Cup victory parties in 1996 and 2001. He first got to know many players when he was a bartender at the Chophouse in that first Avs season in town. Along the way, he got to know more people connected with the team until he was asked, in 1997, if he wanted the gig as the regular anthem singer. He hasn’t stopped since and has no plans to anytime soon.
The flag, and Jake Schroeder, is still there.
“It’s always been an honor, doing this, and being around the organization. I’m just 100 percent ‘Go Avs,'” he said.