Rochester Teen Empowers Youth Music Community with ROCKchester Festival

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesy of ROCKchester Festival.

Teen musician Dylan Hilliker has ambitious dreams for the youth music community in Rochester. Last May, Hilliker launched an eight-hour music festival featuring local teen musicians, curated entirely by teens, called ROCKchester. The event brought in over 350 attendees in its inaugural year and will be back for the second edition this July.

Although he’s only eighteen-years-old, Dylan Hilliker has played music for most of his life. A native of Chapel Hill, he began playing the guitar at age seven. Shortly afterwards Hilliker discovered his true musical passion: drums. After his family moved to Rochester in 2008, Hilliker began taking lessons at Pure Rock Studios, a music education and entertainment facility in Rochester, back when owner Ryan Utterback was still teaching out of his garage. Hilliker’s love for music propelled him into his school’s jazz, pep, and marching bands, as well as the pit orchestra. He played in three teen bands in Rochester during middle and high school, releasing several EPs and full-length albums. This past fall, Hilliker headed off to college in Nashville to study Music Business. But even in this new music scene he continues to perform.

It’s fair to say that Hilliker is an expert on the Rochester youth music community; he’s immersed in it. He recognized the immense musical talent festering among Rochester’s teenagers. However, there was a distinct lack of teen-friendly music venues for these artists. Coffee shops like Café Steam were a great place to start, Hilliker said. But people did not typically visit those places for the music. “I wanted to have a venue and an event that could really showcase the talent that Rochester has,” he explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester.

To address this need in the teen community, Hilliker launched the very first ROCKchester Festival last May, “to get our voices heard and get our music out there on a more professional platform.” The first ROCKchester took place at the Wicked Moose. The event contained over eight hours of music from six local teen bands and five teen singer/songwriters, encompassing all genres of music, including rap, jazz, rock and roll, indie, and electronica.

“It’s just so cool to see that we have kids in Rochester that are doing more than the hard rock and the country and things you typically see around town,” Hilliker said.

ROCKchester also featured several local teen artists.  

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This inaugural music festival had a two-part mission. The first was to encourage teens to share their music- get them playing somewhere outside of their basement or bedroom- to an audience on a professional platform. “It’s not art unless you put it out there. You have to be able to project your work into the community and into the public,” Hilliker explained.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

Photo courtesty of ROCKchester Festival.

The second goal was to educate teens, and adults, about the youthful music community in Rochester. “We want kids to see, basically, the best of what Rochester has in the teenage and the college age range so that they can see what they can become,” Hilliker said.

Hilliker thinks we have the capacity to create a professional music culture in Rochester similar to that of the Twin Cities or Duluth. But right now, the lack of venues in Rochester is affecting teen and adult musicians alike. This limitation is chewing away at the professional music scene here and restricting career choices among the youth of the city.

Hilliker has come across many talented teen musicians in Rochester. He wonders, “if they would have aspired to be professional musicians if they would have had more opportunities to play and had venues that were friendly towards teenagers and friendly towards kids who are coming up through the ranks.”

This year, the second edition of ROCKchester will take place in the brand new Pure Rock Studios performance space. To Hilliker, this is the perfect match for the music festival. Studio owner Ryan Utterback is a music mentor to Hilliker and many other kids, and adults, in Rochester, who is helping to get teen musicians heard. This year’s ROCKchester takes place July 15th and will include teen musicians, teen artists, and even a food truck lineup. The organizing team is still looking for local artists to play at the event. More information can be found on the ROCKchester Festival website.

However, Hilliker’s vision for music in Rochester extends beyond this mission with ROCKchester. He wants to use music to give back. Over winter break this year, Hilliker and friend Andy Furness put on a Unity through Music event series. This sequence of house shows featured teen musicians and even included an open mic night at the Rochester Art Center. At a time with much social unrest, this event celebrated community, understanding, and compassion and was completely organized by teenagers. The Unity through Music series raised over $350 for local charities.

“[Music] is really something that can do a lot of good and can teach kids not only to love music, but to love giving back and love helping others,” Hilliker affirmed.