ROCKchester Festival. What is it? Well, Patrice, I’m glad you asked. It’s a weekend full of varied music and art at Pure Rock Studios. The commonality between it all? The musicians and artists are youth or young adults, as are the founders/curators of the festival. Their mission statement sums it up quite nicely:
“Our mission is to energize the creative arts landscape in the southeastern Minnesota region, not just for young adults, but for anyone in the area who is passionate for creation and consumption.” – Dylan Hilliker
Dylan Hilliker is a Rochester native, currently earning his degree in Music Business at Belmont University in Nashville, TN. He is the creator and leading force behind the festival, now in its third year. What started as an event focused on showcasing bands from Rochester has since spread its reach to all of SE Minnesota.
Though Dylan is the mastermind, after two years of taking on the majority of the work himself, he realized letting people in on the process makes for a richer, more dynamic experience – and less stress and strain for him. So, for 2018, he has recruited a supergroup of his friends, a slew of young creatives eager to foster artistic and musical expression:
- Andy Furness, Graphic Designer and Branding Consultant
- Blythe Colvin, Graphic Design Consultant
- Emily Nelson, Chief Photographer and Visual Art Consultant
- Kevin Andrews, Festival Emcee and Social Media Consultant
- Isaac Jahns, Social Media Guru
- Jack Hilliker, Teen Consultant
Along with this team, there exists the group of ROCKchester Ambassadors, active community members who support its mission and help spread the word in the community:
- Terri Allred
- Ryan Utterback
- Drew Medin
- Zach Zurn
- John Sievers
We wanted to know what’s rattling around in The Creator’s mind. Dylan sat down and answered our burning questions:
What inspired you to start ROCKchester?
I started playing drums when I was 8 and formed my first band when I was 12. Since I had quit playing basketball (my other passion at the time) during my sophomore year, music became the only thing I thought about. I recorded and produced a record with my best friend, Kevin Andrews. We were discouraged about the response to our record and the music scene in Rochester. We often felt we were the only ones doing it. After meeting Sam Butterfass at the end of my sophomore year, I knew Rochester’s young music scene could become a community. After a period of stagnation, I spent the rest of that year meeting local musicians and befriending people my age who were playing music. The talent that surrounded me—and were around the same age as me—was my biggest inspiration in starting the festival. I felt that we needed to make a statement; ROCKchester was that. My inspiration has always been to gain credibility and recognition for the young bands that don’t often get their turn in the spotlight.
Why is it your passion project?
I believe that if you’re passionate about someone’s art, it’s your responsibility to share your passion with those people. Supporting local artists is the best way to encourage a new generation of national-level talent. Recognition is the biggest compliment to a creative. I’m passionate about showcasing the artists I’m passionate about and giving them the recognition they deserve.
What are some challenges you’ve faced putting it all together?
Budgeting has been our biggest challenge. As a grassroots music festival with no investors, we rely on community support to fund our event. Thanks to our cash and in-kind sponsors and our GRACT grant, we have been able to keep this event going for three years and pay every member of every act that plays at the festival.
Another challenge is advanced ticket sales. Concert promoters often judge whether they can make a show happen or not based on pre-sales of tickets. It’s always been a risk putting ROCKchester on because no one buys tickets before doors. Thankfully, we have never lost money on a festival date yet. (Basically, Rochesterites and others need to buy pre-sale in order to keep concerts coming to the area.)
What part has been the most rewarding to you?
The most rewarding part has definitely been the relationships I’ve been able to cultivate while working on this festival. A lot of my closest friends have been made just from showing up to events. (The best thing you can do is show up and experience it.) One of my favorite things we’ve done is the In Their Element series. It was such an intimate process and brought me closer with the artists and the people behind the scenes. Also, it’s been cool to see the success of bands like Vansire who played their first real live show at ROCKchester and now have over 100,000 monthly listeners on Spotify.
Any words of advice to young musicians?
You have the tools in Rochester to become a great musician. Take lessons at Pure Rock Studios, intern at Carpet Booth, play at Cafe Steam and Thursday’s and everywhere. Keep grinding and make your own opportunities. Then, move out of here and go get a real music industry job.
Having a unique event like ROCKchester in our community is momentous. It has the potential to have a profound impact on young artists who participate. They are able to get experience on stage to hone their craft and their live performances, allowing them to gain confidence in what they do. It provides a platform for these up-and-comers to have their voices not only simply heard, but prominently featured. Undoubtedly, it will encourage and inspire other young musicians who may have lacked the bravery to bring their music to the public eye to do so.
Aside from the support ROCKchester provides its artists, it benefits our community as a whole. The city gets a big, healthy helping of the tastiness that young adults contribute to the culture of the region. Creating awareness of the burgeoning music and arts scene in our city is something that is very important to us, and is one of the (many!) reasons My Town My Music is so stoked to be a ROCKchester sponsor.
The venue, Pure Rock Studios, in their own words, is a “one-of-a-kind music lesson and performance facility”. Founded by Ryan Utterback, PRS focuses on teaching students of all ages their desired instruments, and all are given the opportunity to perform with other students on the Pure Rock stage, and for a number of events around Rochester. These live performances allow students to get the feel of a real live band performance, which develops confidence in what they do and teaches them about working together with others to create a musical experience. It’s all about learning and growing through music. In other words, it’s the perfect space for this youth-centric festival.
Oh, and have we mentioned the lineup?
It’s a super fat stack of talent on the rise. Here’s the quick and dirty of each of the musical acts, artfully penned by Dylan, the man himself. Check out ROCKchester’s Lineup page for full bios.
NIGHT ONE, June 1
It’s rare that young adults are as aware of their mortality as Guytano is. Their debut album, “I Am Inside My Body,” exudes an existential urgency segmented between quiet piano chords and instrumental loops, expeditious changes, and pulsing walls of sound performed with anthemic intensity.
Fauna & Flora
There’s a grand piano upstairs and a pad synth downstairs in the Nelson household; each serve their purpose. There’s an alto voice on stage floating above sub bass patches, rhythmic loops, and percussive scratches, blips, and pops; all living together.
The air becomes denser by the downbeat. Each song by this Rochester trio seems to exist in a parallel universe—one where sound encompasses us like nature and we are drawn to contemplate and reflect with them.
Good Luck Finding Iris
Ours is the voice of youth, of light, of harmony; the voice that speaks louder, crying out in search of meaning. In search of a guiding melody that returns the soul to the forest. The Iris is that which is in all of us, growing, and changing.
Oranges, purples, pinks, and baby blues streak through the sky on a still summer night. Layers of the sky peel back until stars begin to appear. These songs are playing in the background on the car stereo—the feeling of motion.
Kevin & The Keepsakes
Kick drums and bass guitars pound and thump, pianos pulsate, brass bells cut, guitars jitter and whirl, cymbals sizzle, a man in a velvet suit croons and belts. It’s all part of the job; music is—most importantly—the act of moving people.
Opening the festival will be a band of brass, a horde of horns, a congregation of chord tones, a sleuth of swingers, a plethora of polyrhythmic pandemonium. All of these musicians are at the top of their game and itching to show it off. Worth it to show up early.
The newest project from local creative Kris Tremain. Come for the debut; he’ll pop up somewhere.
NIGHT ONE AFTER PARTY
For Wealthy Relative, the flow is stream of consciousness. Phrases repeat themselves, walk back on previous statements, and pause for emphasis as if they are still in thought as the track continues to quiver, wobble, and writhe. At times, Wealthy Relative is an omnipotent god in a computer world running simulations, tearing down thoughts and themes and rebuilding them as others. In the other moments, however, he shows his humanity.
Westkorea & Black.k Lagoon
A spoken word poet and a jazz student meet in an unfinished basement on a cold winter night in the heart of Minneapolis. They exchange pleasantries, profess their admiration for each other’s work, and proceed to perform alongside each other. Instantly, it clicks. The old soul and psychedelic samples sync up to the off-kilter beats that sync up to the muted trumpet that wails over the strings of words flowing fluidly into the microphone.
From living in poverty in his home country of Liberia, to living homeless without family in high school, to graduating college, Lil Kah is the definition of a self-made man. His newest single, “Never Alone. Casually Lit,” boasts a new persona—an iteration of Kah’s art with the most confidence and assuredness there has ever been. And he knows it.
What can be said that has not already been said before? “The defining artist of a generation.” “A lyrical mastermind.” “His songs got me pregnant and I don’t know how.” Rysenberg is a man worthy of folklore, worship, and admiration. His catalog is seemingly endless. Life lessons such as “I never trust a thottie,” “Churros sorta look like s**t,” and “Roast hand // I keep it ready” ring true in all of hearts of his loyal followers.
ROCKchester is eternally grateful to be the venue for Rysenberg’s final performance. We believe that this set will be not only the greatest of the festival, but the greatest musical experience of our generation.
EMERGING ARTIST’S LINEUP, June 2
The arts and sports are typically not aligned. But in this case, youngest brother Lucas Jahns puts together a rag-tag team of athletes-turned-musicians for indie rock goodness.
A frequent of Century High School “Backtrack” dances, Sterling Homard and band are emerging from the gym out into the world.
PRS Teen Group
Pure Rock Studios isn’t just the venue, it is also home to some of the most talented up-and-coming musicians in the area. It’s a home game for them. You’ll see them in their element.
A calm, controlled voice projecting over minimalist soul soundscapes. It’s the colors and the hues. It’s shapeless, full of air, sparing in the most virtuous ways.
Singer-songwriter drawing and blending influences from folk, rock, electronic and African music.
What you want to result from an open mic. A new artist growing, emerging from the woodworks. It’s the voice that makes it; you just have to be in the right place at the right time.
Reaching out, opening up. Covering the bases of pop, singer/songwriter, and country genres. We know what to expect, do you? If not, now’s your time to find out.
NIGHT TWO, June 2
Early Eyes was not supposed to last this long. A temporary pop-up ensemble, the band formed for a show that consequently cemented them in the heart of the Twin Cities music scene. It’s got all the late night sounds in crowded houses, all the happiness of that basement, overflowing onto Dinkytown asphalt. It’s got all the swagger of baggy shirts and cuffed pants, all of that hair flying to the tune of fuzzy, warbling guitars constrasting a smooth backbeat.
Sifting through their progressive rock sentiments, power pop choruses and math-y breakdowns, this high-school age trio formed just over a year ago has put the work and the thought in. They’re technical while remaining accessible; it’s difficult and simple all at the same time.
There is not a local artist that can seamlessly transition between power pop riffs and slinky acoustic ballads quite like Wyatt Moran. There is not anyone his age who is so candid in his musical expression. There are two words to describe the sound Moran is developing: devastatingly honest. Those two words feed off each other—the former heightens the latter’s power. Those two words are, at times, what we ought to be with each other and with ourselves.
Everything about the voice and the songwriting can be said and has been said directly to him. “What a beautiful voice you have.” “What a catchy tune you’ve written.” Although true, he’s past that. The music has always been more than the recognition. Always has, always will. Sam’s songwriting evokes the past tense, capturing that nostalgia in the late nights of a hometown, in the smell of coffee on the breath and snow in the socks, and in the lightness of day and all that it brings crouching behind the horizon. It’s the people and places and events and emotions that grind and infuse together to form the pieces of a puzzle to be put together by him—sometimes painfully, sometimes masterfully. If you caught Sam opening for jeremy messersmith at the Rochester Art Center on April 18th you know just how good he and his band really are!
Northbound EP is the For Emma, Forever Ago of the Rochester music scene—an origin story. It is the result of a college student’s retreat to Midwestern seclusion after a bout with depression and anxiety—a reassessment of the attachments made to places, relationships and periods of time. We are given the luxury (or the burden, depending on how you view it) of time in this stage of life for self-reflection and growth. With that, the ultimate goal is to achieve clarity and a way forward. Sometimes that comes in the form of a change in scenery. Sometimes that comes in the form of the conclusion of a relationship. In this case, clarity comes in the form of a collection of songs.
The ease of the music making is hypnotic. It pours out of her like it’s sparkling: there’s simmering in her whisper—growing and bubbling. It’s a crescendo we all expect but are never quite sure when it will come. But when it does…
In the auditorium of a midwestern public high school, you don’t expect that kind of voice to materialize in front of you. An old soul on a beaten down mini grand. Cut to present day. Smoke and breath settles just above the back patio as if not ready to face the frigid air above. It has to be the 100th time she has played in the same spot, but the look on her face is still the same—contentment.
Whew! Convinced, yet? Then hustle over and get your tickets! Several different options are available for purchase.
Want some more info? Get full details (lineups for each day, full artist bios and tracks, team bios, In Their Element video series, and scads more) on the ROCKchester website: http://www.rockchesterfestival.com/
You don’t want to miss this festival! Whether you are looking to dive into regional acts on the rise or are eager to experience what the hometown talent has to offer, the team has it all laid out for your consumption. It’s time for tanks and tees, sandals and sunscreen. Let’s get together, sing, dance, and revel in the magic that ROCKchester has in store for us.
We’ll see you there!