Music News

Virb Is the Word

The folks at Virb aren't the only ones to realize how difficult it's become for the average band to stand out from the MySpace crowd. Two Denver-based projects have debuted within the past year with a similar goal — and their common ingredient is jam.

Granted, founder Drew Ryan and company CEO Brian Funk didn't set out to create a jam-centric site. "We never want to restrict ourselves," Funk stresses. "We've got reggae, blues, jazz, hip-hop, electronic. We cater to all genres in the indie realm." At this point, however, he estimates that 65 percent of the more than 200 bands currently using MoBoogie fall into the jam category, and their supporters have followed. Over fifty fan groups are currently active on the site, which went live in November 2006.

Ryan came up with the idea for MoBoogie last year while residing in Los Angeles. "I wanted a site for people who love live music that had a lot of video components, like YouTube, but with the social networking of MySpace," he says. "And I wanted to have a place where there'd be a calendar for venues and bands, as well, so you could do a search on a city and find out who's playing on any given night."

"MySpace has become so broad that it's become kind of nebulous," Funk adds. "The trend now is to go to niche social networking for exactly that reason — and people into live music is our niche."

The scope of is also narrower by design. Mark Backus books and promotes jammy acts such as the Demon Funkies, and last year he grew frustrated that local publications, including this one, weren't devoting as much ink to his favorites as he would have liked. "I got this idea in my head about providing a spot for jam bands and their fans to come together," he says.

Launched in March, is "a work in progress," Backus concedes. Yet around forty bands have hooked up with the site to date, and, he says, "new members are signing up every day."

Right now, MoBoogie's Ryan and Funk are concentrating on gathering new, exclusive video content in anticipation of a major technical upgrade slated to be fully integrated around Halloween. Among the footage shot in the young company's Denver loft or on-site at venues and events are clips of artists interviewing other artists. For instance, one of the Neville Brothers quizzed New Orleans expatriate Henry Butler, and members of Grace Potter and the Nocturnals chatted with the men of Little Feat. In addition, the firm is spreading its brand to far-flung festivals, including Ashefest, a North Carolina bash staged earlier this month where MoBoogie sponsored a stage.

Backus, for his part, is keeping his focus closer to home. "I want people to get on board in Colorado," he maintains. "Sometimes jam fans have tunnel vision, getting all wrapped up in big names like Yonder Mountain. I wanted to create a platform where fans of the genre can embrace the jam-band way of doing things musically and support local bands, too."

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Michael Roberts has written for Westword since October 1990, serving stints as music editor and media columnist. He currently covers everything from breaking news and politics to sports and stories that defy categorization.
Contact: Michael Roberts