This year, ROCKchester puts a final candle on its cake.

The youth music and art fest has grown up a little over the past five years, but its mission hasn’t changed. It’s still letting young people of all stripes deliver their music and art to the world — and compensating them for their creations. However, as its founder, Dylan Hilliker, ages out of the “youth” moniker, the fest is coming to an end with a weeklong series of performances, July 20-28.

“I started this festival at 16, as a young musician in a band where we didn't know how to play our instruments until we started playing together,” Hilliker said. “It has been amazing to see the growth of this festival over the past five years.”

Related: Under the Pavilion wants to raise your musical standards

Dylan Hilliker (contributed photo)
Dylan Hilliker (contributed photo)

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Because of the danger of spreading COVID-19, ROCKchester’s last hurrah will be a digital one. Two different acts will be streamed each night at 6 and 9 p.m. The performances will be streamed from the ROCKchester Facebook and YouTube pages, live from Carpet Booth Studios. Treedome Productions will capture the shows on video.

This year, the festival will feature well-known acts like the Bad Bad Hats, alongside local acts like Amateur. The music included will range from hip-hop to pop-punk, and will include acts that have gained strong followings like the Gully Boys, who won the City Pages “Picked to Click 2018: Minnesota’s Best New Band” award.

The Gully Boys play at ROCKchester Part 4 in 2019 (contributed photo)
The Gully Boys play at ROCKchester Part 4 in 2019 (contributed photo)

The fest will also feature young visual artists in a digital gallery during the event.

The shift to a virtual fest was a tough one.

“Live music is so healing and restorative for myself and others, so it's a shame that we can't bring the community together for a big show like we did last year, especially in times like these,” Hilliker said.

However, he didn’t want to cancel altogether — this year’s lineup is one of the best yet, he said, and the fest is still a way for emerging artists to earn some income, and create audio and video promotional materials that are essential for success, especially in the lean times the artistic world is currently facing.

Why Not (contributed photo)
Why Not (contributed photo)

Of course, plenty of the work needed to pull it off came from team members Andy Furness, Isaac Jahns, Bri Colvin and Kristen Brown, and mentors like Hilliker’s mother, Terri Allred, and Ryan Utterback from Pure Rock Studios.

“Rochester has made a dramatic shift in the way it supports art, and I am proud to say our festival was one of the catalysts of that shift,” Hilliker said.

ROCKchester’s end came about after Hilliker’s team experienced hardship balancing funding needs, creating good programming, and taking care of full-time responsibilities outside of the event. But he thinks its legacy will contribute positively to the Rochester art and music scene.

Yam Haus (contributed photo)
Yam Haus (contributed photo)

“My hope is that kids who have come to the festival see people like them playing music and think, ‘OK, I can do that as well,’ regardless of their race, gender, sexuality and musical ability,” Hilliker said. “I hope that in the future, young kids will continue to use our festival as an example and me as a resource to continue putting on shows and building community.”

Hilliker hopes the end of the festival will also spur conversation about how Rochester can continue to fund arts and culture in a sustainable way.

“The biggest lesson I've learned throughout the years of working on this festival is that the most rewarding thing you can do in life is to serve something bigger than yourself,” Hilliker said. “We will not make it as a community, or as a country, for that matter, without shifting our focus towards the needs of the broader community.”

If you go

What: ROCKchester Part 5, a virtual youth music and arts festival

When: 6 and 9 p.m. Monday, July 20, through Tuesday, July 28

Where: Stream at and

Cost: Free, but donations appreciated

More info: