Promoter with moxie putting Greeley on music bandwagon

GREELEY — Ely Corliss loves music, and he loves Greeley.

The founder of The Crew Presents, a local music promoter that runs The Moxi Theater and BandWagon Magazine, came to Greeley as a student at the University of Northern Colorado.

He played in an alternative-rock band but had a hard time finding venues where they could play locally. In 2007, he began actively organizing shows at local bars such as A.F. Ray’s, Sky Nightclub, Whiskey River, Island Grove Event Center, The Beetle in Greeley and Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins. He also booked numerous shows at The Atlas Theater in Greeley so that his and other local bands would have some semblance of a concert scene.

Fast forward nine years, and Corliss still is fighting to get good concerts in Greeley. To that end in 2011, he and some friends started BandWagon Magazine, a publication that promotes events and cultivates the arts and music scene in Greeley. He also bought the former Union Colony Dinner Theater in Greeley two years ago and remade it into The Moxi Theater, a venue for local music.

Ely Corliss and some friends in 2011 started BandWagon Magazine, a publication that promotes events and cultivates the arts and music scene in Greeley.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit,” Corliss said. “I used to mow lawns in high school and middle school and I had my own landscaping business. My dad is an entrepreneur and has always been self-employed. I didn’t have a doubt I could do it.”

Corliss began building connections in the business community when he started the 16th Street Block Party, a back-to-school event for the University of Northern Colorado that included live music from local bands. The block party has become The Crew Presents’ flagship event. In 2012, the event featured 14 bands on two stages and attracted more than 5,000 people.

Chasing sponsorships for the Block Party gave Corliss the connections he needed to start BandWagon. He wrote the stories and designed the pages himself for the first year or so.

“Our first issue raised $1,000 in advertising, and it has paid for itself ever since,” Corliss said. It was eight pages long. His longtime friend Jed Murphy signed on to be editor of the publication and helped write for it for many years.

“We slowly recruited friends and other students,” Corliss said. “Now we are both graduated. I like to say it is student run. We have interns from UNC every semester. We’re very tied in with that student population, and we try to make sure that it is a big distribution point.”

The paper is growing quickly. It distributes 15,000 copies a month from Fort Collins and Greeley to Cheyenne, Wyo. It mails 2,500 copies in the Greeley area alone. He now has 12 staff writers who submit stories and don’t limit themselves to local band interviews. Corliss prides himself on the fact that his magazine has published interviews and album reviews of some of the music scene’s greatest artists, including Mac DeMarco, Derek Smith (also known as Pretty Lights), Modest Mouse and The Burroughs, a band which got its start in Greeley.

“These acts have hundreds of thousands of followers,” Corliss said. “One retweet of your blog and you get thousands of hits for your website. That has been fantastic.”

More publications are shifting to digital. Corliss said that’s been hard but “we’ve been fortunate to have advertisers and have that advertising base.”

He built personal relationships, and those are keeping his newspaper afloat.

“We’ve just been taking it one month at a time and doing our best to make sure we get it into people’s hands,” he said. BandWagon had a large presence at Riot Fest in Denver and the Arise Music Festival in Loveland.

Ely Corliss bought the former Union Colony Dinner Theater at 802 Ninth St. in Greeley in 2013 and remade it into The Moxi Theater, a venue for local music.
Christopher Wood/BizWest

The Moxi Theater opened up even more doors for Corliss and contributed to the success of local bands such as The Burroughs, a nine-piece funk and soul band from Northern Colorado.

Johnny Burroughs, lead singer of The Burroughs, began booking shows with The Crew Presents six or seven years ago. Denver concert promoters made it seem as if it was a “gift” that local bands were allowed to play at their venues.

“With Ely, he was much more personable and really believed in music and seeing something happen,” Burroughs said. “He wanted to make something happen.”

Corliss’ support for The Burroughs “is incredible. His support when something is happening is incredible. I love the guy,” Burroughs said. “He is probably the sole reason there is a music scene in Greeley. He’s the driving force when nothing was happening and he continued to invest in it.”

The Moxi is The Burroughs’ second home.

“We’re not ashamed to be where we’re from. Our music sounds like where we are from,” Burroughs said. “All of our favorite shows were at The Moxi.”

His band recorded its first album, Sweaty Greeley Soul, during a live concert at The Moxi.

“It is our home and it tells the story of who the band is and we wanted to work with Ely so it was a no-brainer,” he said.

The Moxi has been well received in town.

“It’s not like booking concerts at a bar. We are able to take things a lot more seriously and the caliber of acts we are booking is a whole different ballgame,” Corliss said. “The last two years we’ve been doing that have been a really great, eye-opening, fun experience.”

Corliss raised $40,000 through family and friends and $10,000 through crowdfunding site Indiegogo to purchase the dinner theater.

“Over the last couple of years I’ve taken a lot of risks. Some have paid off and some have been good lessons. I want to continue to do that and continue to bring quality acts of all shapes and sizes to town and become more of a competitor on the Front Range,” Corliss said. “We would like to be seen as a great third market. A lot of acts will play Denver, Colorado Springs, Fort Collins and Boulder. I would like Greeley to be added to that list in the next few years.”

Pam Bricker, executive director of the Greeley Downtown Development Authority, said she has known Corliss since he was a student at UNC.

“From the time I met him, this guy is everywhere, doing everything,” she said.

When Corliss approached her about wanting to open a music venue in the former dinner theater space, Bricker said she immediately questioned him about whether he had the means or business experience to do it.

“He overwhelmed me with his passion,” she said. “I put in a good word with the people who owned the building. He made it happen. He is still juggling all the other balls he had in the air and is still getting BandWagon Magazine out every month. He is really creating a fabulous music scene in Greeley.”

GREELEY — Ely Corliss loves music, and he loves Greeley.

The founder of The Crew Presents, a local music promoter that runs The Moxi Theater and BandWagon Magazine, came to Greeley as a student at the University of Northern Colorado.

He played in an alternative-rock band but had a hard time finding venues where they could play locally. In 2007, he began actively organizing shows at local bars such as A.F. Ray’s, Sky Nightclub, Whiskey River, Island Grove Event Center, The Beetle in Greeley and Hodi’s Half Note in Fort Collins. He also booked numerous shows at The Atlas Theater in Greeley so that his and other local bands would have some semblance of a concert scene.

Fast forward nine years, and Corliss still is fighting to get good concerts in Greeley. To that end in 2011, he and some friends started BandWagon Magazine, a publication that promotes events and cultivates the arts and music scene in Greeley. He also bought the former Union Colony Dinner Theater in Greeley two years ago and remade it into The Moxi Theater, a venue for local music.

Ely Corliss and some friends in 2011 started BandWagon Magazine, a publication that promotes events and cultivates the arts and music scene in Greeley.

“I have an entrepreneurial spirit,” Corliss said. “I used to mow lawns in…