Edgelings

Takin' It to the Stream

by Scott Budman



You don’t know me, but I’m your router…

I’ve done some long, strange, trippy interviews before, but sitting with the Doobie Brothers, as they got ready to stream their first concert in ten years, was one of the strangest.  I pointed out that their last album came out when the iPod didn’t exist.

“Yeah,” said Tom Johnston, “we actually thought about that.”  “Had to go there, didn’t you?” Pat Simmons chimed in.   The Doobs are known for having a certain something at their concerts, and it’s not live streaming video technology.  They’re world famous for hitting the road and bonding with loyal fans, but decided to take a much different route with their latest tour.  They’re starting not in a winery or arena, but inside the headquarters of a Silicon Valley technology company. Rockers, meet geeks.

Cisco Systems played host to the band, who played in front of about 300 people at Cisco HQ, and (we assume) many more thanks to Cisco’s TelePresence video streaming.   In case you’re wondering, they still sound great:  www.qik.com/budman. This is not an entirely new idea.  Shortly after 9/11, the indie band Cake decided hopping on planes for the European leg of its world tour was not such a great idea, so they gathered at Yahoo headquarters, invited fans to tune in via the web, and broadcast their entire show online.

We were there for that one, too, and while a little strange (and, because it was about 8 1/2 years ago, a little bit herky-jerky), the whole thing felt intimate and original.

So, can an old-school rock and roll band mesh with newfangled technology?  After all, if it works for a bunch of guys in suits taking a meeting in China, why not a bunch of rockers playing “China Grove”? There was something kind of strange stepping out of the conference room-turned-concert stage to fire up the UStream download, but then again, if you’re the Doobie Brothers, even your die-hard fans have iPods and Android phones now.  They’re also more than likely to sample the new album (yes, available in vinyl) song by song on iTunes than go into an actual store and buy it.

Instead of fighting it, the Doobs went along with it. “It’s not the medium that matters, it’s the music,” says Johnston, “although we understand that’s how people get their music.” They then took the stage, ripped into both old and new songs like they’ve been doing it every day for the last decade, and didn’t seem at all put off by the fact that their fans were holding up cell phones, and not lighters.  Yes, it’s still about the music; there’s now just a little more hardware that goes along with it.