After having written lyrics for years and picking up the guitar as a freshman, Needham High School junior Sam Bruckner played a 20-minute solo show at Rock Off Main in Framingham late last year.
“I was nervous, but it was really awesome,” he said of the experience, where he had a chance to perform all original material before a supportive crowd of friends, family, and the general public.
Now Bruckner’s looking forward to headlining with his band, Trouble Made, at a Rock Off Main show slated for May as the long-running concert series for young bands comes back to Natick.
The volunteer-run Rock Off Main concerts, which started in 1997 as all-ages shows at TCAN in Natick Center, for the past 5 years have taken place at the Amazing Things Art Center in Framingham. Beginning on April 14 (7pm), Rock Off Main will take place at the Common Street Spiritual Center adjacent to Natick Common.
The first show back here features Ten Times Bright, Color Killer, Catching Arrows, and The Rock Star Graduates. The cost is $10 at the door.
“I am very excited to return the show to Natick,” says Diane Young, who started the program after her son and his friends started a band when they were teens. “Rock Off Main is now back off Main Street.”
Young says the format involves a few young bands performing, no auditions needed. “The mission is to give young musicians a place to play, regardless of their expertise, and to develop their skills and confidence,” she says.
Needham’s Bruckner lauded the community spirit among performers and volunteers at Rock Off Main.
“It’s crazy how tight of a community it is even if you’re not performing,” said Bruckner, whose musical inspirations include the likes of Ed Sheeran and Dean Lewis. “I really appreciated the opportunity to increase my online following and meet other people who shared my passion for songwriting and music.”
Bruckner even wound up recruiting a band he met and loved at Rock Off Main to perform at a recent benefit concert for Needham nonprofit Plugged In.
Annabel Hodson-Walker, a recent Boston College graduate who grew up in Sherborn, recalls “We used to PACK the Rock off Main venue–standing room only! Performing at Rock Off Main are some of the best memories of my life!”
She adds: “At the time, no kids were really performing in their own bands in our town so it was kind of a unique thing that we were doing.”
While not actively performing with a band or solo now, Hodson-Walker does still play guitar and sing by herself for fun in her free time. She was in BC’s University Chorale, and will get a chance to sing the National Anthem at Fenway Park with alumni at the end of April.
Hodson-Walker started a band called Rising Nation in 2013 that also included her younger siblings and friends, and that played several times at Rock Off Main. “We played a mix of covers and original songs that I composed. While inspirations were classic bands, such as the Beatles, AC/DC, and The Rolling Stones, we also branched out to more contemporary rock, such as Sheryl Crow, Blink 182, Green Day and Matchbox Twenty. Every Sunday afternoon, the group would meet at our house and rehearse for two hours–learning countless covers and I would also teach the band my own original songs. We would play at school fundraisers and events, local community fundraisers, birthday parties, Rock Off Main, and Canobie Lake Park.”
Hodson-Walker, who now works for Dell Technologies as an analyst on its corporate development team, says she “can’t wait to support Rock Off Main in its new location and to keep this amazing event running!”
Rock Off Main’s roots
Young says more than 1,100 bands have played Rock Off Main since 1997. Some of those bands or performers have gone on to have long and successful music careers, some touring on their own or playing with the likes of The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, The Smashing Pumpkins, and Metallica.
Rock Off Main, initially dubbed Rock On Main, got its start after Young’s son, Neil Popkin, started a band with friends in their basement and they were getting good. TCAN had just opened at a small storefront on Main Street in Natick, and Young approached then-director Michael Moran about starting a program for high School bands.
“And so Rock On Main Street was born. Every Sunday afternoon for two years mostly high school bands played to their friends and family,” Young says. “My son’s band, Herself, was the first band to ever play there. When TCAN moved to the fire station, shows were given one Friday night a month and the name changed to Rock Off Main Street.”
Rock Off Main left TCAN when the venue needed its Friday nights for bigger acts.
The concerts in recent years have opened with a short set by an acoustic singer/songwriter. Young finds many kids who don’t play in bands but do write songs and play instruments, and would like an audience.
“Parents are the biggest supporters of Rock Off Main, where they encourage their children to fulfill their dreams,” Young says. “The atmosphere at Rock Off Main is always supportive, low key, and non-threatening.”
Young describes herself as “a huge rock fan,” but unlike her son and daughter, she’s not a musician herself. “I tried playing drums in 7th grade and my parents begged me to stop!”
Thankfully, Young still found her musical calling.