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Mojo Birds brings the funk downtown

Members of Mojo Birds perform Saturday at the annual iAM MUSIC Festival. (Finley Jeansonne/Special to the Herald)
iAM MUSIC hosts annual festival in Durango

From regional bands, like Mojo Birds, Stillhouse Junkies and ORA, to international performers such as Ethiopian band Zimbira, Durango recently saw a diverse slate of artists last weekend courtesy of the annual iAM MUSIC Festival.

Durango’s Mojo Birds, which performed a set at the fest on Saturday, uploaded their first album, “Live at Summer Fest – Durango, CO 2023,” to Spotify in December. According to the band’s website, the album is an eclectic blend of soul and a classic bluesy sound, not to mention a dazzle of funk and a mystical and entrancing rhythm defined by Peruvian and African influences.

The band features: Jesse Ogle on bass; Jay Harootunian on guitar and vocals; Alexi Leon on vocals and percussion; Brian Aherne on guitar and vocals; Ted Moore on drums and vocals; and Alex Taub on keyboard.

And the band shares an intimate link to iAM MUSIC: Some members of Mojo Birds are also instructors at the music school.

Ogle, co-founder of iAM MUSIC and the main man behind the festival – as well as Mojo Birds’ bassist – said when putting together the roster of artists for the fest, not only does he aim for a diverse array of musicians, he finds he learns something from those who perform as well.

“I always think it’s a great thing to just network and work with all these artists because you kind of pick up something,” he said. “For every musician, you learn something from them ... I’m kind of a product of everything.”

Ogle co-founded iAM MUSIC in 2013, and the festival followed soon after in 2015. He said the school continues to support Durango’s live music scene by continuing to teach musicians and bringing in performers from outside Durango.

Through iAM MUSIC, residents can take music classes for all levels for most instruments. More recently, students at Animas High School have had the benefit of taking free music classes at the school. These classes are taught by a number of iAM MUSIC instructors and Mojo Birds members including Ogle and lead singer and songwriter Jay Harootunian.

“We’re always supporting local, regional, national independent artists,” Ogle said, adding that when it comes to the annual festival, Durango is no stranger to smaller bands putting on a show. iAM has been able to find success through the years by bringing in independent artists who benefit the program and, in turn, have benefited from it, he said.

“It’s like a celebration, and we're really proud of our network,” Ogle said. “We’ve spent a lot of time on the network, tons of bands.”

Highlighting the process of making his “imprint” on the community, Ogle celebrates what iAM MUSIC has been building through the annual culminating event, defined by music audiences may have never heard in Durango.

And Mojo Birds isn’t done yet, Ogle said. The band is scheduled to headline the Where the Stars Collide festival on May 17 and 18 at Santa Rita Park. They’re also working on new music and a tour this summer.

“We're in the studio recording an album right now. It's almost done,” he said. “And that's the hope that will be released, and then we have a tour lined up in July.”

Finley Jeansonne is an intern at The Durango Herald. He is a junior at Animas High School.