The School of Rock’s inaugural Battle of the Bands for Friends of Feeney and Glastonbury Education Foundation transformed Blue Back Square into a high-energy concert on Aug. 20, 2023.
By Bridget Bronsdon
The young musicians of the Greater Hartford area took the stage in Blue Back Square this past Sunday to perform electric renditions of rock and roll classics for the first of what is planned to be an annual event.
As large crowds gathered to watch the future generations of music, the sounds of the sets could be heard throughout the square.
The facilitator of the event, The School of Rock, has provided musical instruction for years. The West Hartford location opened in 2021 in the center of town on Isham Road, The School of Rock provides classes for everything rock and roll related – learning instruments, songwriting, performance confidence, and much more.
West Hartford School of Rock owner Scott Rownin commented on the nature of the school. “The essence of our program at School of Rock is we teach through performance. So, this in fact was not only a Battle of the Bands, but was actually what we call a preview show for each of these bands for their live performance which is actually this coming weekend,” Rownin explained. While the students are gaining valuable practice for their upcoming show, they also earned a chance in the spotlight.
As August came around the corner, “any Greater Hartford area bands whose members are high school age (18) or younger,” was welcome to audition, stated the School of Rock website. For this particular battle, all eight of the participating bands were the performance groups from the West Hartford and East Hartford Schools of Rock programs – six from West Hartford, and two from East Hartford.
“Each of the groups is a program that the kids have signed up for called the performance program. Each of the groups is one of the rehearsal nights,” Rownin explained. The six bands within the West Hartford School of Rock “get together once a week for rehearsal as a band and then each of those students comes for a private lesson separately during the week to learn their parts and learn the instrument,” said Rownin.
Before even taking the stage the bands were required to either audition live or submit a video. However, the audition process was well worth it for the bands as they were able to achieve their starring moment on stage.
Energies were running high the day of the battle and students anxiously awaited to hear their band’s name get called up on stage. The eight bands were drawn out of a hat to randomly decide the order of performances. Once each ensemble got up on stage, they were able to perform a 15-20 minute set of about three songs. The students made sure to show up and show out as many of them performed in multiple bands, played multiple instruments, and sang on top of it all. Each set was complete with vocals, electric guitar, drums, tambourine, piano, and more.
Spirits were high throughout Blue Back as parents, families, and locals set up lawn chairs, recorded loved ones, and watched the phenomenal display of local talent. The eight bands – Green Day, 21st Century, The Clash, Steve Miller, Aretha Franklin, Fall Out Boy, One Hit Wonders, and Joan Jett/Pat Benatar – paid homage to popular rock icons with many groups performing classics like “Mr. Brightside” by the Killers, “Respect” by Aretha Franklin, and “Should I Stay or Should I Go” by The Clash.
While the festivities made sure to give all the students a chance to shine on center stage, a battle wouldn’t be a battle without a little bit of competition. Each group was evaluated by a trio of judges who graded the performances based on musicianship, stage presence, crowd engagement, feel/tone/style, and professionalism. The winning prize? A chance to perform at Hartbeat Music Festival in September.
The School of Rock also made sure to also shine a spotlight on the charities they supported throughout the event. Friends of Feeney, whose mission is to “help children and families who need assistance after heartbreak and tragedy,” proved to be an inspirational spark that started the Battle of the Bands tradition.
Rownin explained that upon moving to West Hartford he met Eric Feeney, creator of Friends of Feeney, and got to know him through the Chamber of Commerce. Since meeting, Rownin explained that he has been a “big fan” of Feeney’s work, the charity that he built, and wanted to support it. “I thought it would be great to do a music festival to support what he was doing,” Rownin stated.
Rownin said that an event partnership with Friends of Feeney is something both organizations have been hoping to create together.
The School of Rock also made sure to support the Glastonbury Education Foundation, which works toward “funding inspiring public education projects that improve the social and economic health of our community,” states the website. Rownin said that an East Hartford student had a connection with the organization and from there the partnership has since been a success.
“They’re a wonderful charity that again, supports kids and families in the area which is the essence of who we like to support and that’s what Friends of Feeney does and what Glastonbury Education Foundation does and so we’re happy to find those two organically and they’ve become great partners,” said Rownin.
While each and every band captivated audiences with outstanding vocals, guitar solos, and dynamic stage presences, only one could take home the win. Although all eight bands demonstrated a fresh take on popular rock classics, The Steve Miller Band took home the top prize and will play a set at the Hartbeat Music Festival this fall.
As a whole, Rownin praised his students to the sky. “It’s amazing, we’re always blown away! We know how hard the kids work and we see it coming together throughout the season, but the day of – to see all of them get up there …” He continued, “Some of these kids are pure beginners at the beginning of the season and a few months later they’re on stage performing – and the smiles when they come off the stage. Whether they’re perfect or not, we always say we like to encourage success over accuracy, so just getting up on stage and performing and keeping the song going is 90% of the battle,” Rownin raved.
“It’s amazing to see the growth that these students go through in just a few short months, just learning song after song and because they’re simply motivated to keep learning more because they want to play with their friends and ultimately know they’re getting on stage,” finished Rownin.
As the day wrapped up, the successes were immeasurable. The smiles on the students’ faces as they came off the stage said it all as they got their moment in the spotlight.
The School of Rock hopes to continue this tradition in the coming years to continue to support local charities whilst inspiring the next generation of musicians.
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