For 35 years, Charlie Salerno and the Clam Diggers entertained legions of Yale Athletics fans making their way into the historic Yale Bowl. But late last fall, the music stopped.
Visitors to the Yale Bowl might have noticed the Clam Diggers, a group of professional musicians sporting red-and-white striped outfits, playing outside of the Bowl during football season. With a wide range of music styles, they also played at various venues around Connecticut. Though some longtime fans believe that the Clam Diggers have come to represent a Yale tradition, the Yale Athletic Department sent them packing just two games shy of the end of the 2018 season.
“We are grateful that it lasted all this time,” Charlie Salerno, the leader of the Clam Diggers, said. “We would take tambourines and maracas with us and have [fans] join in playing with us and singing with us and dancing with us…the thing was to get them involved and play the music that they wanted to hear and to entertain.”
Salerno is a local who has inspired crowds for many years through his engaging, fun music. But Salerno’s role in the community is not limited to the music he makes.
Recently, he was awarded the Korean Service Medal with one Bronze star as well as the United Nations Service Medal for Korea in recognition of his service in the military between 1942 and 1952. Charlie’s reputation precedes him — he has been asked to play at Yale Alumni Association events and even played with Stan Wheeler, the late Yale law professor and noted jazz musician.
“[Salerno] can play anything,” Joan Mazurek, a local resident and longtime friend of Salerno, said. “A lovely man, and he’s so energetic you can’t believe it… people love him.”
Senior Associate Athletic Director Jeremy Makins declined to give exact reasoning for why the department sent the Clam Diggers packing, stating that Yale Athletics is always seeking to offer the best game day experience possible to students, fans and alumni.
Fans of Yale football interviewed by the News said they are grateful for Charlie’s time as a tailgate entertainer and expressed worries as to why he was asked to leave, who will replace him and what the move means for the trajectory of local football culture.
Longtime Yale fan Stu Cohen, who attended his 300th Yale football game at the Bowl in the fall, remembers frequently seeing the Clam Diggers play after he attended tailgates across the street.
Last year, Makins wanted to let go of Salerno, but Mazurek spoke to Makins about the lasting, positive impressions that Salerno had left on all of the fans in the stadium. Makins eventually caved and, Mazurek said, promised Salerno and his crew that they would be allowed to continue playing at the games indefinitely, as long as they desired.
Although Cohen told the News that the end of the Clam Diggers is not “a major” enough reason to stop him and his friends from attending Yale football games, he believes it is a loss to the fan community and that the entertainment the Clam Diggers provided was justification enough to allow them to keep playing.
But after Week Eight of the 2018 football season, the Clam Diggers ceased to be a part of the classic Yale Bowl tailgates.
Without the Clam Diggers, Mazurek noted that the atmosphere of Yale football games has noticeably changed.
“We were sitting there watching [a Yale football] game — win or lose, we love them — all of a sudden this hard rock music blasts out of the speakers, I couldn’t believe it,” Mazurek said. “First of all, you look around the crowd at the games… there’s young kids there, and there’s Yale students there, and there are a lot of seniors there… that’s not the music for the Yale games. It doesn’t even make you feel like you want to see football… Nothing to do with football, nothing to do with Yale… They’re starting something that I think is going in the wrong direction.”
The Yale Bowl opened in 1914.
Cristofer Zillo contributed reporting.
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