ROCKchester turns the amp up for year four
The ROCKchester music festival — hatched as a one-off, day-long event — has blossomed into a multi-venue musical experience. Founder Dylan Hilliker was 16 for that first celebration of local youth music, and most of the acts were comprised of people around that same age. Now, Hilliker is a few weeks away from turning 21, and the size and scope of this year’s installment reflects his growth as a festival planner and talent booker.
With nearly 30 different acts from across the Midwest converging on the Rochester Civic Theatre, Canvas & Chardonnay, and Pure Rock Studios this weekend, who are the must-see acts? Which local groups are set to explode? We talked to Hilliker on his picks to bring the house down (“all of them, literally all of them!”) — and we have a few of our own.
Friday Main stage (7-11 PM) at the RCT Black Box
Alexander Natalie (St. Paul)
Wyatt Moran (Rochester)
Parkway & Columbia (Ann Arbor, MI)
Dreams We’ve Had (Minneapolis)
Gully Boys (Minneapolis)
The only two Rochester-based bands to play the main stage come early Friday night, as Greentop (disclaimer: the author’s own band) and Wyatt Moran hit the Black Box back-to-back. The night’s headliner burst onto the scene in recent years, as Gully Boys were named “Minnesota’s Best New Band” by Minneapolis publication City Pages last fall.
“Alexander Natalie’s got such a cool sound,” Hilliker said. “And Parkway & Columbia sounds like an early Death Cab for Cutie, plus they’re coming from so far away.”
Friday night on the side stage
Tessa Stites (Rochester)
Ivory James (Iowa City, IA)
gemini season (Rochester)
Son of Michel (Austin, MN)
It’s an eclectic group sharing the side stage on Friday, from Tessa Stites’ country-pop to Son of Michel’s acoustic hip-hop fusions to gemini season’s laid-back, loose electro-pop.
Friday after party (11 pm) at Canvas & Chardonnay
Glitter Moneyyy (Chicago)
Jayso Creative (Minneapolis)
Rochester’s Art Heads and the #goosecrew combined forces here for one of the Med City’s first dedicated hip-hop shows. Glitter Moneyyy, fresh off dropping a new single Thursday, bring their energetic, unapologetic feminist brand of rap to Rochester. Tabby, the night’s headliner, also has a new record out.
Saturday Main Stage (7-11 PM) at the RCT Black Box
Jack Pfeffer (St. Paul)
Mister Wes (Stillwater, MN)
Karate Chop, Silence (Winona)
Why Not (Minneapolis)
Early Eyes (Minneapolis)
Festival veterans Why Not and Early Eyes return to Rochester after beefing up their respective discographies — the former, a math-punk trio with a penchant for turning things up to 11, dropped a four-track EP (titled… “EP”) and the latter added a six-track EP to their streaming service collection. It’s another musically diverse group, bookended by two must-see artists that were won over by Rochester’s music faithful in their last outing.
“Why Not is going to be so loud… but so good,” Hilliker said. “When they play ‘Ready 4 the World,’ I’m gonna lose my mind.”
Saturday night on the side stage
Nikola Hamilton (Rochester)
Levi Henry (St. Cloud)
The Goodnight Sequence (Minneapolis)
Mike Kota (Minneapolis/LA)
If you saw Good Luck Finding Iris at last year’s ROCKchester, you surely remember the voice of Mike Kota, who was invited back for two separate side stage performances on Saturday. Why Not lead singer Henry Breen’s solo project The Goodnight Sequence makes an appearance as well.
Sunday’s Emerging Artist Showcase (5-9 PM) at Pure Rock Studios
Pure Rock Studios Teen Group
Atomic Cafe (Minneapolis)
Charlie Burket (Rochester)
Bad Advice Club (Northfield)
This free show includes some of the best up-and-coming talent in the region, including Rochester’s own Charlie Burket. In addition to playing bass for Wyatt Moran on Friday, he’s playing Sunday to support his new EP “Endeavor”... and he’s still got a year of high school left to go.
Tickets are available at the door or through My Town My Music.
Isaac Jahns is back in Rochester this summer covering arts and entertainment for Med City Beat. The Mayo High School grad studies journalism at the University of Missouri. His main passions are writing music and telling people’s stories.
All photography by Emily Nelson