Columbus, Ohio USA
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Students Band Together at Skully's Music-Diner
for Groove U's 5th Annual High School Competition

By Margaret Marten
April 2017 Issue

See Also Music That Works

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Courtesy Photo

An evening of entertainment and education merged in the Short North on February 23 when Skully’s Music-Diner hosted Groove U’s 5th Annual Instaband competition. The contest brings together the best high school-level bands in Central Ohio to compete for a recording contract, studio EP, music video, concert booking support and gift card awarded by Groove U. 350 people attended the finals that evening with ten bands and musicians performing before judges, family, friends, and fans after finishing off East and West semifinals in previous weeks.

This year’s Instaband winner, Cousin Simple, hails from St. Charles Preparatory School, with members Mitchell Whittaker, Will Hoag, Ryan Ulibarri, and Luke Hamrock. Groove U’s director, Dwight Heckelman presented the group with a guitar and trophy at St. Charles on March 8, as well as a gift check to WCBE 90.5 FM for $3,000. All of the proceeds from Instaband benefit the Groove U scholarship fund and a chosen beneficiary. The second place finalist at the competition was Threat Level Midnight. Inner Reflection came in third.

Groove U is an unusual two-year music career college housed in the former Fifth Avenue Alternative Elementary School on Forsythe Avenue in the Short North. Heckelman launched the school in 2012 with an emphasis on hands-on training to prepare students for business in the music industry, focusing on live music, production, business, video, and multi-media. The school became nationally accredited in 2016 and offers a two-year program awarding a diploma in music industry entrepreneurship.

The band competition Instaband involves months of preparation and is part of Groove U’s effort to prepare its students for music careers in the real world. The entire Instaband project – recruiting bands and sponsors, monitoring lights and sound, setting up admission and parking – was accomplished almost entirely by Groove U’s students.

Dino Cappocia, a 21-year-old second-year student studying audio production, was assigned to “shadow” Skully’s live-sound engineer, Luke Wells, the night of the finals, along with other students. “It was cool to be behind the engineer himself,” Cappocia said. “He gave us the chance to actually mix a couple songs, to get our hands on the board, which is a different board than what we have here at school, so it was cool to experiment in different fields, in terms of equipment-wise, and obviously having a professional right there to be able to talk to and learn from [was important].” Skully’s hosts national acts, so the students were able to ask Wells about his experience working the sound for touring acts.

Opportunities land unexpectedly at Groove U, according to Cappocia. The school director approached him recently about recording and running the sound at a Pecha Kucha presentation in Columbus. The event involves a gathering of local creatives who share stories and images before a live audience.

“He was like ‘I have someone who volunteers, they need someone to run sounds for a PK presentation. I know you run sound and you are capable of doing that, would you like to have that opportunity?’ and I said sure, absolutely. And that’s all it took.”

The school’s philosophy embodies the concept that the music industry is relationship-driven, apprenticeship-based and creatively engaged. The partnership with Skully’s Music-Diner, a mainstay of Columbus nightlife for a quarter century, provided the high school students a platform to perform their own original music at a legitimate venue and gave Groove U’s students the chance to meet Skully’s staff and pull off a performance engagement from start to finish like a professional.

For more information about Groove U, visit their website at

EDITORS NOTE: The school moved from 1300 Forsythe Avenue in Columbus to 5030 Bradenton Ave., Dublin, Ohio, the summer of 2017 - see Dis N Data Sept/Oct 2017

© 2017 Short North Gazette, Columbus, Ohio. All rights reserved.

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