What:Tri-C Rock Off
Where: House of Blues, 308 Euclid Ave., Cleveland
When: Jan. 11-Feb. 9
By John Benson
The Austintown Fitch High School group — Jake Stephens (bass), Jake Capezzuto (vocals, guitar), Brandon Fisher (guitar) and Seth Donchess (drums) — returns for its third Rock Hall City event. This year’s 17th annual battle of the bands takes place on weekends Jan. 11-Feb. 9.
“The first year, we just weren’t any good, but the second year we didn’t understand why they took off points for certain things, like that all of our guitars were black,” said Stephens, a junior at Fitch.
“Now we’re trying to figure out the best way to make it. We’ve done at least 30 shows in the last year. It hasn’t been in preparation, but we always think about the Rock Off. ”
The quartet feels its alternative and indie-minded sound may not be what the judges are looking for. Stephens said the group is influenced by the likes of The Pixies, Arctic Monkeys and The Cure, with new original songs — the mellow “I Don’t Know” and the happy “New Beginning” — catering more toward a rock- radio motif. There’s also talk of the group covering an MGMT tune at its 3 p.m. Jan. 19 slot at the House of Blues.
“We thought we could make it to the finals last year, but that’s just how it goes,” Stephens said. “This year, we think we can make it.”
If Northern Whale makes it, the group will be in for quite a prize package. This year’s winning band receives $1,000 cash and $200 for its high school music program, as well as the highly coveted opportunity to open up for a Live Nation or House of Blues concert. The act also will appear on Tri-C’s cable television programs “Crooked River Groove” and “Words & Music.” Second place get $250 cash and $100 for its high school music program. Third place receives $150 cash.
A total of 63 bands are entered in the contest.
Another local Rock Off veteran act is South Range High School’s No Clue — Luke Eusebio (guitar, sax, vocals), Tommy Kuhns (guitar), Trevor Lawless (guitar, vocals), Nick Scheetz (bass) and Adam Witmer (drums) — which performs at 3 p.m. Jan. 13 at the House of Blues.
“Last year, we were really into the pop-punk scene, which I think is a dying field,” said Eusebio, a junior. “So we’re trying to look into some more developed and intricate stuff. Last year, we got into the finals, and that was about it. We got our critiques back and had average ratings. So we’re trying to raise the bar this year.”
Part of raising that bar involved writing new original material, including an ’80s rock-meets-The Black Keys song called “Fly” and another powerful track that is currently untitled.
One thing the band believes will be in its favor is the fact it already has Rock Off experience under its belt.
“It helps to be familiar with the House of Blues,” Eusebio said. “Now we have a little more insight into what the judges are maybe looking for. And if we were to win it all, that would be a shock to the system. It would be awesome.”
As for Big Ginge and the Nobodies — Scott “Big Ginge” McMaster (guitar, vocals), Austin “Peaches” Bayer (bass) and Timmy Mook (drums) — the Boardman High School act makes its Rock Off debut at 3 p.m. Jan. 20 at the House of Blues.
“The band has been together about 21/2,” said McMaster, a Boardman High School junior. “We didn’t play the Rock Off last year, but we went. My brother [Danny McMaster] was in Deo Vindice. So we saw a lot of great bands and thought we have to do this show this year.”
The three-piece punk band plays angry, political music in the style of The Dead Kennedys, Anti-Flag and NOFX. Original songs the trio plans on playing include the fast-paced “We Need to Change” and the sentimental “Your America.”
When asked if Big Ginge and the Nobodies could win it all, McMaster said, “I don’t know. I guess there’s a chance. I think we’re definitely unique, so as long as that’s what the judges are looking for, we’ll do OK.”
Other regional bands in the Rock Off, with performance date, are: Two Days Until Tomorrow (Lakeview, Lowellville), Jan. 13; Hold No Grudge (Lowellville), Jan. 18; Boycott the Girls Room (Lakeview, Lowellville, Badger), Jan. 20; and The Cardboard Cutouts (Howland), Jan. 20.
For performance times and more information, go to kisscleveland.com/rockoff.