It's time for teens who want to be stars to show their chops
By JOHN BENSON
WHEN THE LIGHTS went out after last year's Mountain Dew MDX High School Rock Off finals competition at The Odeon Concert Club for the last time, uncertainty surrounded the popular battle of the bands event.
This worry affected not only participants, classmates and parents but even the promoter, Live Nation (formerly Belkin Productions). Among the possible venues being discussed for the 2007 event were the Cleveland Agora, where the ballroom would have been used for the semi-finals and the expansive theater for the finals. Another option was the House of Blues but this became a problem due to the club's inability to promise a month's worth of Friday and Saturday nights.
"We were in a staff meeting and somebody in the office suggested why not look at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum," said Live Nation Senior Vice President of Marketing and Promotions Barry Gabel. "It was like a light bulb went off. It just made a lot of sense."
From there talks began with both sides eager to make this happen. Gabel said one concern was the facility being open to hosting five hours of live music four weekends in a row. The other thought was to ensure admission to the Rock Off included admission to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Both sides quickly agreed the best site for this year's 11th Annual Mountain Dew MDX High School Rock Off, which will feature 72 bands competing in six semifinal rounds (Jan. 5, 6, 12, 13, 14 and 20) and the finals (Jan. 27), was the Rock Hall.
"Every Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee started their career the first time they strummed a guitar, banged on a drum or belted out a song," said Todd Mesek, vice president of marketing and communications at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum." At that moment, when they first feel the spirit of the music, something magical happens for every great artist. The passion of the young artists in the High School Rock-Off reminds us of why we do what we do here at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame."
A different look
Added Gabel, "It's not your normal type of venue but the connectivity of these young musicians stands out. A lot of them get involved in music for many reasons but one of the major reasons is they've either heard music around the house or heard certain icons they're attracted to and what better way to start that vibe than in such an intense atmosphere like the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. It was a no-brainer. We just couldn't get a better opportunity for possibly people in Northeast Ohio that may not have been to the Rock Hall in a while, or at all."
This year's Rock Off experience will be different from past years. Not only is the Rock Hall's concert capacity of 1,200 patrons up from The Odeon's 950-person limit, but the event will take place on multiple levels. The Rock Hall's main concourse level will feature the concert stage, while the venue's lower level will house a full restaurant and catering area, as well as sponsor booths.
However, as far as the prizes are concerned, it's business as usual for the Rock Off with the winning band receiving 500 and a slew of topnotch equipment. In addition, the group will appear live on local television program "Crooked River Groove," and perhaps most importantly, have the opportunity to open for a national act. The winner's high school band fund will receive a 200 donation. The second place band will receive 200 and a 100 donation to their high school band fund while the third place group receives 100. All 18 semi-finalist bands will receive a 25 gift certificate to Sam Ash Music and will record one song at MetroSync Studios for the "Rock Off Volume 9" CD, which will be available for purchase at the finals.
Gabel, a veteran concert promoter, admits the move isn't without a risk but he's optimistic.
"We're going to see how it all works out this year," Gabel said. "The one thing I've understood in rock 'n' roll is that nothing is permanent and everything changes so while we love being at the Rock Hall, we're going to see how it goes and see how everybody enjoys it and see what the crowd likes and we'll go from there. But we couldn't be happier to have the event there this year."
He added, "It's a perfect fit for not only the event but also for what the Rock Hall stands for, which is not only celebrating the iconic and masters of rock 'n' roll who established what the medium is but to have these young kids from high school play in the shadows of their mentors and heroes is just awesome."
Tickets for the semifinals are 10 and include admission to The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum exhibits from 4pm until 10pm on competition dates. Tickets will only be available from the participating Rock Off bands and at The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum on Rock Off performance days if supplies are available. Only 1,200 tickets will be available for each performance day. The event is open to all ages.