Tri-C HIGH SCHOOL ROCK OFF Cranking up the competition

By John Benson

Ask any local band and they’ll tell you competition is tough.

That will be very apparent at the 18th annual Tri-C High School Rock Off, which takes place weekends beginning Friday and concluding with the Final Exam on Feb. 1 at Cleveland’s House of Blues. Over the course of the competition, 55 bands — including several from the Mahoning Valley — will perform at five semifinal rounds, which is one less performance day than in recent years.

“Due to a scheduling conflict, it’s only five dates because of the bookings at the House of Blues,” said Barry Gabel, Live Nation marketing and promotion senior vice president. “We lost one of the dates because of a national show they booked, but it won’t impact the Rock Off. We’ll still have three bands making it to the finals from every round, which will give us 15 instead of 18 bands. Overall, I think the talent will be even better.”

That talent will vie for a prize package that has been dramatically improved over the past year. Most notably, the winning band will receive $1,000 cash and $250 for their high school’s music program, as well as the recently announced $1,000 gift card courtesy of the Ohio Music Shop to use toward the purchase of any Woody James product.

“So it’s basically $2,000, and of course they get to pound their chest as the greatest band in the land,” Gabel said.

The winning band also gets the highly coveted opportunity to open a concert for a Live Nation or House of Blues concert, and also will appear on Cuyahoga Community College’s cable television program “Crooked River Groove,” performing a 45-minute concert in front of a studio audience while being professionally videotaped and recorded.

In addition, the band will be featured on the three-time Emmy Award-winning program Words & Music, with an interview and unplugged performance.

The rest of the prizes include: second place, $200 cash and $150 for their high school music program; and third place, $100 cash. Furthermore, all 15 finalists will receive a $25 Ohio Music Shop gift card and record one original song compliments of Tri-C. These songs will be available as free downloads on at the time of the Final Exam.

For nearly two decades the High School Rock Off has acted as a platform for rising bands to not only get experience but also promote their music and explore a career in the industry.

“A number of alumni people have albums that come out,” Gabel said. “There was a drummer who went on the road with another group. Another band had songs on television show ‘Vampire Diaries’ and in some movies. So if you look, they’re out there trying to make a living out there.”

Gabel said over the years, he’s witnessed a familiar Rock Off scene involving creative teenagers crossing paths with peers to explore something bigger.

“It’s an opportunity to meet other young performers throughout Northeast Ohio so they can start to have a camaraderie and share musical experiences,” Gabel said “Because whatever is happening on your street or in your town, it could be so different from what’s going on in, say, Elyria or Medina or Youngstown. So with that in mind, I’m not shocked that the High School Rock Off continues on, because this is a great music town.

“Cleveland may not get 100 percent of all the national tours, but there are always kids who want to crank it up, whether they’re in garages or churches or in the basements of their homes throughout Northeast Ohio. Music is a big part of young people’s lives.”

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