In the immortal words of AC/DC, “It’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock-n-roll.” However, Brooklyn–based musician Bruce Gallipani decided in 2004 that he could teach young rockers some valuable lessons along the way.
Gallipani believes in rock music, that it offers a whole lot of positive reinforcement and well-being for today’s youth. He’s pounding out the message with every concert, sharing his vision, and giving kids a taste of performing live on the big stage together. Since its inception in 2004, Rockit has taken their road show into the spotlight of The Count Basie Theatre, a landmark venue in the heart of Red Bank, New Jersey where the likes of Springsteen, Costello and other luminaries often perform.
“I wanted to take rock-n-roll out of the basement and prove that it offered the same positive reinforcements of social development and accomplishment as classical music, dance, or drama for kids right here in New Jersey,” Gallipani notes.
In the Rockit Program, kids ages 8-18, who pass auditions, participate in a seven-week group program where they learn a specific repertoire of songs, supplemented with individual instruction. Around forty-five young musicians divvy up to form separate groups who together, at the program’s end, perform in concert replete with high-production gear and lighting. The set typically includes music from a wide range of artists like The Who, Queen, Joplin, Rush, and The Beatles to Radiohead, and The Killers, with some original compositions added in. The show changes entirely each time out on stage year round.
Lead Guitarist Perks
“I really get to be the rowdy musician I am at heart. There isn’t anything like it. I get to live my dreams of performing live on stage,” says Rockit alumnus Greg Oakes.
Oakes used to practice guitar at home alone without much incentive to interact with other musically-inclined kids. His mom urged him to try out for the program and now he speaks enthusiastically about how having become the group’s star lead guitarist has shaped his personality. “I think it has really turned me into a more outgoing and determined person. It’s also made me realize that I want to be around music my entire life.”
Rocking Full Houses
Rockit joined the Basie Theatre’s Performing Arts Academy program and after only three performances opened for The Marshall Tucker Band in 2008. They repeated the honors a year later in April 2009 playing a blazing 45-minute set to a full-house crowd. Marshall Tucker Band lead singer Doug Gray invited Rockit guitarists to trade licks with the band during their encore performance of the hit song, “Can’t You See.”
Later in 2009, a group of Rockit students performed with legendary session drummer Bernard Purdie at the D’Angelico Guitar Center in Red Bank.
And on May 21, 2010, the Rockit All-Stars teamed with the NJ State Youth Orchestra to unleash a rousing set of symphonic classics at The Basie ranging from The Who, Kiss, ELO, Yes, and the 5th Dimension. Also in 2010, Rockit opened for Southside Johnny & The Asbury Jukes.
2011 saw Rockit dive deeper into thematic tribute concerts. In June of that year, the Rockit-All Stars performed the legendary Who’s Next album replete with retro gear and a drum kit set-up in honor of Keith Moon. Rockit took this approach a step further in their September show, A Tribute to Woodstock, with a stage design reminiscent of the original ’69 event and the musicians dressed in vintage clothing.
The program teaches its students the importance of community charity efforts. Rockit regularly performs at fundraising events and hospitals in support of children’s cancer, cerebral palsy, autism, and partners with various schools offering scholarships in the performing arts.
In addition to the Performing Arts Academy at The Basie, the Rockit ensemble has performed with Radio Disney at summer beach concerts.
Making It Happen
Sixteen year-old vocalist and keyboard player Caroline Oddo talks about the Rockit experience:
“The concerts are intense for all of us. We spend so much time and effort making sure the songs are just right. Before Rockit, I’d blast my favorite bands’ songs and play along on piano and sing. That was the closest thing I had to collaborating with any other musicians. I remember at the first rehearsal, walking outside and telling my dad that it had been the most fun I’ve ever had.”
Bio written by Glen DiCrocco with assistance from Patch Canada.