Boy Playing Guitar in the 2017 High School Rock Off
Tri-C High School Rock Off / Live Nation

Rock 'n' Roll High School Rock Off's Final Exam Is Here

The scene is a familiar one to any rock fan:

Loud, packed crowds jump up and down as they sing along to the music they know. Fans wave their phones in the air in time with the music while also taking pictures of the musicians on stage or themselves in the crowd. The intense music emerging from the stage fuels the crowd’s energy. The vibe is young, exciting and impressive when you consider that the performers are mostly high school students competing to win the annual High School Rock Off at the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame.

Sponsored by Cuyahoga Community College (Tri-C) and the Rock Hall, the High School Rock Off is an annual contest that features student bands battling it out to win prizes and studio time. Bands are evaluated based on their musicality, stage presence and originality. Only the top three bands from four rounds make it to the “Final Exam” where the overall winner is crowned top performer. 

This makes the contest an incredible opportunity for artists to enter the music industry and possibly start a career – much like Irish rockers U2 did in 1978 when they entered a talent contest and won the chance to record a studio demo. 

Sometimes current HSRO competitors remind us of other famous bands that started young. The all-female group Last Minute is reminiscent of the Shangri-las, which formed in high school in the 60s and brought a bad-girl vibe and unique vocal sound to their recordings. First to Eleven parallels the early sounds of Rush through their intricate yet straightforward approach to music. Man Cried Wolf mirrors the charismatic energy of OutKast whose duo Big Boy and Andre 3000 signed a record contract in the months before their high school graduation.

Showmanship and onstage presence are important components to a successful performance for each HSRO band. Often, the audience can get a sense of how each young artist will perform based on the band’s first moments onstage. But performances are unpredictable and many of the performers in this year's contest have exhibited maturity and confidence onstage not often seen with young artists. 

Ultimately, not every band can make it to the “Final Exam.” This weekend will present itself as a make-it-or-break-it opportunity for the final bands competing. 12 bands will pull out all the stops to win this year’s High School Rock Off. With studio time, marketing opportunities, and concert tickets on the line, there could be a future career in the making. We’ll see if there are any future U2s or OutKasts in the mix. Maybe in 25 years, we’ll even see a HSRO alum inducted into the Rock Hall. 

To the top