It’s that time of year when Dylan Hilliker spreads his arms wide, summons forth the best and brightest young musicians and artists from SE Minnesota and surrounding midwest, and provides us with a vehicle to launch us into summer. That’s right, it’s ROCKchester time, friends, and Part IV is set to be the best yet.
ROCKchester was born in the mind of 16-year-old Hilliker, a high school student discouraged by the landscape of the music scene in Rochester, particularly for young musicians like himself. Instead of idly lamenting the culture around him, he decided to band together with other young creatives and community mentors to cultivate an event that celebrated musical and artistic youth and gave them a chance to showcase their talents for the public.
Hilliker, now 20, is finishing up his music business degree from Belmont University in Nashville. What has resulted from his carefully tended mindseed is an annual summer kickoff that celebrates up-and-coming music, art, and ideas. Each year, the festival has grown, and this year finds it sprawled out among four important Rochester arts venues—the OG, Pure Rock Studios; the veteran, Rochester Civic Theatre Company; the cool kid, Canvas & Chardonnay; and musician’s Mecca, Carpet Booth Studio.
Also included in Part IV is a Community Arts Panel and Discussion, in partnership with Destination Medical Center. This will include discussion with a panel of community arts leaders on how to best continue vibrant, sustainable growth for arts in our city, as well as create an opportunity for connection between the different working parts of Rochester’s arts and leadership scene. It will then continue with a Global Cafe led by Rochester arts youth in which all participants can contribute to the conversation. Do you want to find out what the Rochester arts leaders have on their minds? Do you want to add your thoughts and ideas? Find out more, and don’t forget to RSVP—it’s free! You can do so here.
“Yeah, yeah,” you may be thinking, “that’s all great, but what’s the lineup?”
So glad you asked. Brace yourselves.
(Bio blurbs provided by Dylan Hilliker/ROCKchester.)
NIGHT 1, JUNE 14TH
Rochester Civic Theatre Company
6 PM – 11PM
Gully Boys is a project fueled on determination, self-assuredness, and a DIY mentality. Formed in 2016 when none of the members knew how to play their respective instruments, the group has experienced a meteoric rise to the tune of a sold-out First Avenue main room and City Pages’ title of “Minnesota’s Best New Band”. All you have to do is pick up an instrument and start playing, kids. The rest is history.
DREAMS WE’VE HAD
The name says it all. Dreams We’ve Had is the dream/synth pop project of Bennett Blumberg. A wizard in the modular synth world, Blumberg creates atmospheric, luscious environments for his songwriting to live in.With the release of their first EP after Blumberg’s shift to vocals, Dreams We’ve Had garnered the attention of Spotify, receiving several editorial playlistings and a national following. The sound can fill a room fast—it’s entrancing.
PARKWAY & COLUMBIA
Emotional. Honest. Straightforward. Founded by vocalist Tyler Floyd, Parkway & Columbia is an emo-adjacent indie rock band with roots in early 2000s alternative rock and Midwest emo. Kind of like early Death Cab For Cutie reincarnated. Their new album, “Wanderer,” is out now.
With seven appearances at last year’s festival, Wyatt Moran has taken a step back this year with the stripped back material to prove it. We all grow into and out of phases in our lives. If you follow Wyatt’s progression through his releases, you’ll hear it. It’s more thoughtful, more calculated, more poignant when it needs to be and more biting when it doesn’t. His most recent EP, “In Another Life”, is out now. ROCKchester will be the release show for whatever else he plans to share…
The project of Rochester multi-instrumentalist, Isaac Jahns, Greentop is named after a small town in Missouri along Jahns’ commute to college. It signifies a more-than-halfway point, a move away from negative mindsets and towards self actualization. With the release of his first full length record and a Midwest tour under his belt, Jahns hopes to continue the momentum into ROCKchester and plans on releasing new music very soon.
“We’re all gonna die—all of us.” As damning as that seems to most, Alexander Natalie seems at peace with their brand of nihilism. Finding meaning in miserable situations is always better said than done. With the release of their first full length album, “How Much Could You Ask Of Me?”, songwriter Noah Topliff doesn’t try to make anything sound too “pretty.” Instead, he combats the somber and desolate with matter-of-factness—offering comfort in certainty and consolation in pain.
NIGHT 2, JUNE 15TH
Rochester Civic Theatre Company
6 PM – 11 PM
Foxy. Funky. An all-around good time. Jazz-pop group Early Eyes combines angular riffs with a smoothness unmatched by any other group in the Minnesota music climate. Fresh off two new releases, Early Eyes is back for their second appearance as ROCKchester headliners. Get your dancing shoes ready.
Relentlessly energetic. The Why Not boys draw influence from punk, math, progressive, and indie rock music and push it to new limits for a dose of headbanging and pop sensibilities that is beyond their years. With the release of their newest EP produced by Normal Parents’ Caleb Hinz, the group dives into new, more experimental territory. It’s going to be loud, but hey—isn’t that what you signed up for?
KARATE CHOP, SILENCE
Groovy and theatrical. Karate Chop, Silence combines their jazz training with inspiration from funk and classic rock to create a sound unlike most. Their 2018 EP, “No MSG”, is genre-bending and toe-tap-inducing. With a live performance full of twists and turns, KC,S is a band to look out for this year.
With reckless abandon, Swatches most recent release “Youth Can If You Wanna” rips through themes of love and growing up. The band is a perfect college radio singalong, akin to names like Vampire Weekend, The Shins, Tokyo Police Club, etc. There’s nothing that will make you feel more refreshed than the boyish throwback charm of Swatches. Their newest single, “Caffeine Dreams” is out now.
Punk in its finest form. Mister Wes howls, yelps, croons, and screams at the top of their lungs in their debut single, “Wazoo (College Cult)”. It seems they draw influence from anywhere they can get it. From post rock pioneers Joy Division to modern skate punk groups such as Car Seat Headrest and Rozwell Kid to experimental punk influencers Pile, Mister Wes is an amalgamation of alternative punk goodness. Their new record, “Fairway Rd N,” is out now.
Jack Pfeffer’s songs are the equivalent of snapshots an old film camera. Drenched in reverb and nostalgia, Pfeffer drones through his most recent release, “Night Drive”, to the tune of grainy, textured tracks and warbling guitars. It’s a bedroom pop, slacker rock hybrid—perfect for the times we live in. Kick back. Chill out.
AFTERPARTY, JUNE 14
Canvas & Chardonnay
11 PM – 1 AM
Although known primarily for his YouTube celebrity, Tabby has shown the seriousness of his music career with two full length albums and a single that has racked up over a quarter of a million streams. With a devastating sense of humor and aversion to hyper-masculinity, Tabby puts it all out there. No topic is too contentious for commentary. The opinion is a valuable thing to possess; for Tabby, it is both a weapon and a release.
Loud, equality-demanding, and politically pissed. Queen Trashley and TayyySlayyy are the anarchist rap powerhouses that make up Glitter Moneyyy. Originally from Florida, G$ set up home base in Chicago, earning “Best New Band of 2017” by the Chicago Reader. Akin to an equally-anarchist, equally-profane female Run the Jewels, Glitter Moneyyy makes smashing the patriarchy a total party move.
DJ HOT DONNA
A man of many talents, Luc Hans Larson studied jazz at University of Wisconsin—Eau Claire before directing his talent towards producing music as w e s t k o r e a and spinning records as DJ HOT DONNA. The life of the party, DJ HOT DONNA is sure to provide the afterparty with a vibrant atmosphere and equally vibrant sounds.
Known for her fluid, laid-back delivery, Jayso Creative has performed at the biggest hip hop festival in the country, Soundset, and has won Go 95.3’s #ShutUpAndRap season 3. Her credentials also include an opening slot for Tech N9ne and several high profile performances in Minneapolis.
Son of Minneapolis rapper and co-founder of the Doomtree collective, P.O.S., Hard_R is paving a path for himself. Aggressive, combative, and ferocious, Hard_R has a punk rock mentality with a rapper’s fluid delivery, which isn’t surprising considering he has shared bills with fellow performers and punk rockers Why Not. Watch the come up from this young Minneapolis rapper.
SIDE STAGE, BOTH NIGHTS
Rochester Civic Theatre Company
6 PM – 11 PM
KEVIN & THE KEEPSAKES
Born entertainer and the co-founder and emcee of ROCKchester, Kevin Andrews will be playing with his big band to open up the festival both nights. With Vegas-level grandeur, Andrews and company put their spin on contemporary and big band classics. Come early for all the dancing, all the fun, and a couple of surprises along the way.
Frontwoman of ROCKchester alumni, Good Luck Finding Iris, and a co-founder of the Ffake Ffriends Collective, Mike Kota is one of the most unique voices you will ever hear. Smooth and serene, Kota’s voice floats above the track of her first release, “Wasted Time”. The rain is the backdrop for contemplation. The rest is for us to decide.
VILD is the creative project of ROCKchester’s own Emily Nelson. Driven by fluidity, malleability, and freedom of expression, Nelson’s songwriting is spiritual—calling on us to chant and contemplate. With the help of producer Zach Zurn at Carpet Booth Studios, Nelson released “Why/Fall” in 2018 to regional acclaim. Since then, she has played a number of shows around Minnesota with a rotating cast of musicians including opening for Hippo Campus at the Super Big Block Party in Duluth and Con Davison of Bad Bad Hats in Rochester.
THE GOODNIGHT SEQUENCE
The Goodnight Sequence is the solo project of Why Not’s Henry Breen. His first release under the moniker is a genre-fluid test trial, breaking all traditional songwriting norms and finding freedom in experimentation. For fans of folk and pitch shifting.
SON OF MICHEL
Son of Michel’s bio reads, “I am the son of Michel. Michel is the son of Cyril.” Lineage is something us Midwesterners find valuable; family tradition is key. We all have something to pass down. “Entering the X Site” is Shaun Case’s (aka Son of Michel) futuristic, unorthodox low-fi hip hop / electronic offering to the next generation.
Soundcloud queen gemini season (Sarah Hutchison) has been a yearly performer since the festival’s beginning. The growth we have seen and have yet to see is a testimony to the empowerment felt when giving kids a stage to share their art. gemini season is a time typically characterized by drama and general peculiarity. However, Hutchison is steadily creating and improving—finding her voice amidst the chaos.
80s throwback nostalgia, bedroom pop, and self-proclaimed “Prince worship” combine with the silky voice of synth-master and singer-songwriter Avery Mossman to form Ivory James. Their high energy live shows are equal parts universal and personal, with Ivory James leading his band of misfits—shirtless, clad in lipstick and tight pants.
Minneapolis singer/songwriter Levi Henry has found the grit of Minnesota folk forefathers Mike Munson and Charlie Parr and given it a modern, emotional twist. Midwestern folk in itself is a different breed of music—it is formed in snow and dirt and hardened in ice. Henry’s most recent release, “I’m Okay”, opens up that cold struggle and speaks plainly about love, loss, and surviving.
Nikola Hamilton aka Nik aka Summer Nik aka Nuk is a solo singer/songwriter, intern at Carpet Booth Studios, and barista at Café Steam. He is going to play some songs for you. That is all.
Tessa Stites is a country pop singer/songwriter and a Pure Rock Studios student. With a variety of open mics and shows under her belt, Tessa played ROCKchester’s Emerging Artist Showcase last year and will be joining us again this year. She is currently recording at Carpet Booth Studios and hopes to have music out soon.
EMERGING ARTISTS SHOWCASE, JUNE 16
Pure Rock Studios
5 PM – 9 PM
BAD ADVICE CLUB
With catchy melodies and bouncy, staccato instrumentals, Bad Advice Club is the Minnesotan equivalent of Vampire Weekend. Fronted by lead vocalist/guitarist and force-to-be-wreckoned-with, Ben Dyleuth, Bad Advice Club’s most recent release, “Juniper”, crescendos and belts out with unguarded enthusiasm. All in—all the time.
Multi-instrumentalist and wiz kid Charlie Burket has been playing shows in Rochester since the ripe age of 14 with local jazz and folk groups. Often playing with musicians decades older than him, Burket stepped back and wrote a record for himself this past year. Mixed and mastered by Kevin Andrews, “Endeavor” is the first effort at songwriting for the high school junior—and a fine one at that.
Atomic Cafe was formed as the recording project of Harry Miles and Nathaniel Essma and further expanded to their current 5-piece lineup. Inspired by modern garage rock bands such as Thee Oh Sees and Twin Peaks, the band began their career playing shows in basements and garages. With the release of their EP, “Further”, the band has shifted from garage rock and noise roots towards a more polished, psychedelic pop sound. Their new EP, “Flamingo,” is out 5/17.
Torquemada is a three-piece progressive/math rock group formed by high schoolers from the Minneapolis area. It’s fast, energetic, and heavy. The three best adjectives for great punk music.
PRS TEEN GROUP
The kids are alright. Pure Rock Studios is an independent lesson studio and performance facility in Rochester. By incorporating live playing and group classes, students are able to take techniques learned in private lessons and apply them to a “real band” setting. Lessons and performance opportunities are available for all ages but the teen group will be representing Pure Rock Studios at the Emerging Artists Showcase!
Whew. If the words don’t convince you, buy a ticket. Tell your friends to do the same. Immerse yourself in ROCKchester and let the music show you where the magic is.