ROCKchester turns four this year and will celebrate by expanding its musical melee into four venues. From math rock to dream pop, the annual youth music and arts festival will host more than 32 acts over three days.
Dylan Hilliker, ROCKchester founder, planned the first festival when he was a 16-year-old high school student. He’d been playing in bands since he was in seventh grade and saw a dearth of opportunities for musicians his age to perform, so he did something about it. Though he had a lot of support from his mom, Terri Allred, and community mentors like Ryan Utterback, it was his mission to “energize the creative arts scene.”
“I want to make sure kids are getting the opportunities to play,” Hilliker says. He hopes the festival, which focuses on performers and artists age 25 and younger, is “teaching kids (that) if you love being around music, you can make a career out of it.”
Now 20 and finishing a music business degree at Belmont University in Nashville, Hilliker’s dream of providing youth performance opportunities has flourished. Last year, the festival attracted about 600 attendees. This year, Hilliker has a grant from the Southeastern Minnesota Arts Council and a wide variety of community partners, including Destination Medical Center, the Diversity Council, the Rochester Civic Theatre (RCT), My Town My Music, Pure Rock Studios, Carpet Booth Studios, The Current, and Canvas and Chardonnay, among others. His team of other young arts lovers includes Andy Furness, Emily Nelson, Kevin Andrews, Isaac Jahns, Kristen Brown, Jack Hilliker, Wyatt Moran, and Bri Colvin.
The festival will launch with a community arts panel and discussion in the Rochester Civic Theatre lobby from 3-5 p.m. on Friday, June 14. It will include important arts stakeholders and will center on improving communication with the goal of activating, supporting, and investing in Rochester’s arts ecosystem.
Musical showcases will take place at the RCT’s Black Box theatre from 6 p.m. to 11 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, June 14 and 15, with a side stage in the lobby. The lineups for these nights include a mix of local and regional acts with bands like Parkway & Columbia from Ann Arbor, Mich. and local favorites like VILD. Other stand-outs like the punky Gully Boys (recently voted “Best New Band” by the City Pages) defy the constraints of genre and as Hilliker says, “don’t sound like they can fit into any mold.”
Andy Furness, the ROCKchester graphic designer, is spearheading the official afterparty at Canvas and Chardonnay Friday night. “We wanted an opportunity to showcase hip-hop without needing to censor artists to make them family-friendly for our main event shows,” says Furness. Though excited about the whole lineup, he can’t wait to see the Chicago-based rap duo Glitter Moneyyy perform as part of the “one-time-only nightclub” he’s planning. “There’s always been live music in Rochester,” says Furness, “but over the last four years the scene has grown tremendously, and it feels so good to be a part of that with ROCKchester.”
Young visual artists will have their time to shine at a showcase from 3-4:30 p.m. in the RCT lobby Saturday. Kristen Brown curated the show and had artists from as far away as Portugal apply.
On Sunday, June 16, the festival will include an emerging artists’ showcase at Pure Rock Studios with six acts, including bands like Torquemada from Minneapolis and Rochester-based performers like Charlie Burket. Later that day, Carpet Booth Studios will present an in-studio session with limited seating for 25 guests. “If you want to experience a glimmer of what it’s like to be an artist in the studio, this will be a great look into that,” says Carpet Booth’s owner Zach Zurn.
“I absolutely love the heart behind the festival,” says Zurn. He wishes he’d had something like ROCKchester when he was growing up in Rochester.
To keep events like ROCKchester and other arts-oriented happenings strong, Hilliker has some simple advice. “If you want music and the arts to keep happening in Rochester,” he says, “you have to show up. That’s the only way.”