One day, I hope to produce an oral history of this after-school venture that ended up being, if not the accomplishment I’m most proud of in my public school career, the most fun I’ve ever had as a club sponsor (and I sponsored several). The first five years of the club’s existence seemed to produce something new and exciting each season–and not due to anything special I did other than seldom saying “No.”
A thumbnail history of the club, in need of some updating, currently appears on Hickman High School’s Wikipedia page. I am not confident it will last forever, so I am going to back it up right here.
Hickman High School boasts one of the most innovative music appreciation societies in United States public education. The Academy of Rock was founded in late January 2004 by students David Kemper, Dylan Raithel, James Saracini and teacher Phil Overeem. The general purpose of the club was initially to plan and execute a “Battle of the Bands” between Hickman and its Columbia rival, Rock Bridge, but soon grew to encompass several other enterprises.
Since its inception, the Academy of Rock has hosted nine Battles of the Bands, three at Hickman High School and two at a local rock-and-roll venue, The Blue Note. These four events raised a total of nearly $7,000 to support what sponsor Overeem calls “demotic music” (in other words, music created by and for the masses). Each Battle has pitted four Hickman bands against four Rock Bridge bands, the winners being as follows: J Murda and the Musicians (Hickman, 2004), The Tipper Gores (Hickman, 2005), Wayfare (Rock Bridge, 2006), Graffiti Out Loud (Hickman, 2007), and Molly Trull and Anodyne (Hickman, 2008), the Dorians (Hickman, 2010), the RPs (Hickman, 2011), Table for Five (Hickman/Rock Bridge, 2012), and The IRA (Hickman, 2013). The winning band not only has the privilege of hosting a summer benefit concert at the Blue Note but being staked to recording time in a local studio owned and operated by local Columbia musician Barry Hibdon, Red Boots. The four summer benefits have raised a total of over $3,000 for VH1‘s Save the Music Foundation, Columbia’s community radio station KOPN, the Muscular Dystrophy Association, the Voluntary Action Center of Columbia, the University of Missouri’s Thompson Center for Autism and Other Neurodevelopmental Disorders , and the effort to rebuild Joplin, Missouri, after the 2011 tornado. In addition, Academy of Rock-sponsored bands have also raised over $2,000 to assist in rebuilding after both the Sri Lanka and New Orleans disasters, and the group co-sponsored a fund-raiser for Hurricane Katrina survivors that netted nearly $27,000. In 2013, The IRA, the winning band in that year’s Battle, opted to donate its recording proceeds to the Central Missouri Humane Society.
Besides the Battle of the Bands, the Academy of Rock also sponsors, mans, and programs KWPE 98.3 FM, the school radio station (home to Rock Therapy); curates the American Roots Music Listening Library in the school media center, which has been funded largely by the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri; partners with Columbia art theater Ragtag Cinemacafe for “The Academy of Rock Showcase,” which gives high school bands the opportunity to hone their chops in front of audiences and make money; partners with University of Missouri radio station KCOU in a “Take-over Program”, during which eight pairs of Hickman DJs operate the college station for 12 to 16 hours in one- to two-hour shifts; sponsors a monthly music documentary series in the school’s Little Theatre; and coordinates a live performance series that has featured free unplugged concerts by artists ranging from nationally known acts like The Drive-By Truckers (March 2005) and The Hold Steady (December 2006) to cult artists like former X co-lead singer-songwriter Exene Cervenka (see video), and Baby Gramps to local Missouri musicians like Witch’s Hat, The F-Bombs, Bockman, and Cary Hudson.
On February 19, 2009, the Academy staged an electrifying free performance by a contemporary of Muddy Waters and the inventor of folk-funk, Bobby Rush. The Academy of Rock has even made headlines in the national music press, thanks to a feature article by Lisa Groshong in the July/August 2005 issue (#68) of Punk Planet, and received a $500 “Music is Revolution” Foundation grant from Michael and Angela Davis, the former the original bass player for Detroit punk rock legends the MC5. Other recent developments in the club’s activities are to arrange performances for budding Hickman musicians at lunch on Fridays and coordinate after-school jam sessions, at which student musicians arrive, write their names on slips of paper, and drop them into buckets labeled according to their instruments. A supervisor then randomly draws a slip a piece from each bucket, and the four to five musicians whose names are on the slips must come to the stage and improvise a performance. In September 2007, in conjunction with Hickman’s student government, the Academy provided over 100 volunteers for the city’s first annual Roots N Blues N BBQ Festival. and in October 2008, served as an artist-relations crew for one of the three featured stages at the second festival.
In 2008, University of Missouri student Chad LaRoche shot a brief documentary about the club to help those who are interested understand the club more clearly: Part 1 and Part 2 of the documentary are available on YouTube. A further technological aspect of the club spawned during that year was the “Rock Therapy” podcast , which featured Battle of the Band recordings, raw tracks from the concert series showcases, and the sponsor’s eccentric, lo-fi forays into the world of pop music.
April 2009 brought further recognition for the club: the national-award-winning regional magazine Missouri Life  featured the club in an article by John Hendel . As soon as the 2009–2010 school year was under way, the Academy of Rock brought Pacific Northwestern punk-garage legends The Pierced Arrows (formerly Dead Moon) to the Little Theater stage for an October 13 concert-and-Q&A. In the spring of the same school year, in collaboration with the Missouri Arts Council, Theater NXS, and MO Blues Society, the club presented northern Mississippi bluesman and Fat Possum recording artist Robert Belfour in two workshops involving over 100 students. Also, again aided by a grant from the Assistance League of Mid-America, the club augmented its existing media center CD collection with a selection of American classical music.
The Academy of Rock initiated a new program during the 2011-2012 school year: the “Local Music Showcase”. This program was designed to expose Hickman students to musicians in their own community and facilitate conversations through performances and question-and-answer sessions that could serve to inspire students to pursue their own futures in music. The opening performance in the series, on November 10, 2011, featured Moonrunner ; on February 9, 2012, Columbia “indyground” rapper Dallas held court . 2012-2013 was a very quiet year for the Academy of Rock, though, true to its mission, it initiated some new programs: a Sunday Night Showcase series at Columbia’s The Bridge , which featured concerts by Volatile, Space, Time, and Beauty, Ross Menefee, and The Pound Game, and a music-lesson scholarship , in partnership with The Columbia Academy of Music . The scholarship offers $250 worth of lessons to one underclassman boy and one underclassman girl per year. The club also procured two grants, one each from the Assistance League of Mid-Missouri and the Hickman PTSA, to expand the school’s CD library . Co-founder Phil Overeem retired from teaching at the end of the school year, turning the club reins over to Mr. Brock Boland.
Currently, Mr. Boland and his fellow English teacher Mr. Jonathan McFarland sponsor the Academy at Hickman; another English teacher, Mr. Jordan Smith (a former Academy of Rock member beginning in his ninth grade year) has overseen the establishing a branch at Columbia’s Battle High School. Yay, English teachers!