In 1993, Brett Barlow ran away to join the circus.

In 1993, Brett Barlow ran away to join the circus.

When the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus went from hiring local freelance musicians to supplement its core band members (something Barlow did for several years starting as a college student) to employing all of its musicians full time, Barlow had a decision to make.

"It was the only way to keep playing with the circus, so I did it," Barlow said.

"I love it."

He met his wife, a now-retired dancer and elephant rider, on the road with the circus. They began their family on the road as well, raising their two sons in the circus until his wife retired so the boys, now both teenagers, could be in sports and scouts and do things a typical kid would do.

"She understands the lifestyle," Barlow said of his wife's support of his work.

"And now the kids get the best of both worlds."

A trombonist by trade, Barlow switched to the trumpet about 10 years ago so he could be a bandleader.

"The music begins when the show starts and doesn't stop. We play the whole time, and you just hang on for dear life," he said.

The music of the modern circus band is suited first to the acts, and second to the audience.

"Our team of composers makes sure each act has original music suited specifically for it. As bandleader, if something changes in the act, I have to adjust and make sure no one in the audience knows it. I have to stay 15 seconds ahead to make sure we stay on cue."

There are always slight variances, but the entire show, Barlow said, rarely varies more than two minutes in either direction.

The other thing that drives the music written for and played during the performance is the audience.

"We are playing contemporary music for contemporary audiences. The music is high-energy and appeals to everybody. We have almost every kind of musical style."

For video of The Beat sitting in with the Circus Xtreme band, visit and "Like" The Beat on Facebook at