The rock stars of today are touring the world and selling out stadiums.

But not that long ago, they were just high school kids in a band, wailing on guitars and banging on drums in Mom and Dad’s basement.

Three cheers for supportive parents who buy guitars for birthdays and don’t mind sporting earplugs during the “learning” phase.

And three cheers for the annual Rock Off, which gives high school bands the chance to showcase their talent and learn what it takes to perform live.

The battle of the bands came to fruition 26 years ago thanks to Louis Phillipe and Reindeer Records. Last spring might have been the Rock Off’s last hurrah when Phillipe decided it was time to pull the plug and focus on other projects.

But the beat goes on in Maine — literally — thanks to the Maine Academy of Modern Music and its founder, Jeff Shaw, who teamed up with the Portland Music Foundation and MaineToday.com to present the MAMM Rock Off.

“(Rock Off) serves a need for teenagers to feel they have a legitimate place to share their music and their craft,” Shaw said. “We decided to step in and carry the torch.”

As in years past, the event provides a stage for young Maine bands to compete against their peers for the title of Best High School Band in Maine.

Sixteen bands from around the state took the stage at Empire Dine and Dance in Portland during this year’s preliminary rounds on April 10-11. Each was judged on its songwriting, marketability and live performance.

By the end of the weekend, the bands were narrowed down to six, which will perform Saturday during the finals at Port City Music Hall:

FYVE

From Winthrop Middle School and Winthrop High School, Fyve is comprised of Katherine Veayo (drums, piano, backing vocals), Kristen Veayo (guitar, vocals), Danielle Pease (lead vocals, piano), Declan Chu (guitar) and Arron St. Pierre (bass). Rock Off, the members said, has helped them make connections for future gigs, and if they win, they’re looking forward to getting their tracks down in a studio.

Fyve writes rock originals — including one specifically for Saturday’s finals — but also performs ’80s hits and modern rock songs at festivals such as New Hampshire’s Rock’n Rib Fest and Winthrop’s Megafest.

THE LOUDEST MIME

Angus Macdonald (guitar, vocals, Jew’s harp), Luke Macdonald (guitar, keyboard, keytar) Thomas Dodge (bass, vocals) and David Vitali (drums) make up The Loudest Mime out of Freeport High School.

The band came together in 2005 for a school talent show with a slightly different lineup, but the Macdonald brothers soon replaced one of the original members.

Band members say they’re known for their “energetic performances and unique songs,” with a wide range of influences, from Nirvana and the Kills to Os Mutantes and the Dandy Warhols. They have played a variety of venues, from day spas to local clubs.

LOW FLYING AIRPLANES

Out of Yarmouth High School comes Low Flying Airplanes. Band members are Andrew Gabrielson (vocals, guitar, trombone), Dan Wriggins (vocals, guitar, bass, keyboards, harmonica, ukulele), Mike Cormier (drums, banjo, percussion) and Pat Vigue (bass).

The band first convened to practice Christmas songs for a church service in 2008. Members play 10 instruments between them, and Gabrielson, Cormier and Wriggins play in their high school jazz band. They’re also “dedicated to honest music with minimal pretense.”

MOUSAM RIVER RAMBLERS

The bluegrass-playing Mousam River Ramblers is Alex Deely (guitar, mandolin, vocals, harmonica), Noah Dest (guitar, vocals), Max Robinson (guitar, vocals) and John Joseph Lyden (upright bass), all from Kennebunk High School.

During the past year, the band started writing its own material and playing open mics, and has been getting booked at restaurants such as Bebe’s Burritos in Biddeford.

“Our biggest dream would certainly be to make our living just playing our good ol’ bluegrass music,” Deely said. “And if you give us a shot, you just may decide to put down your Lady GaGa or Justin Bieber, and go pick up an Old Crow Medicine Show album — or even better, go out and see the Mousam River Ramblers.”

PILGRIMAGE

Pilgrimage was formed when Cheverus High School’s jazz quartet decided to take on a rock edge. Comprised of Gabe Terracciano (bass, violin, vocals), Will Maxwell (guitar, vocals), Sam Scribner (soprano saxophone) and Mark Dumond (drums), Pilgrimage entered Rock Off aiming to show that jazz players can play rock too. Now that they’re heading into the finals, it’s clear they’ve done just that.

The band says its music “takes on rock with a jazzy edge, and we are influenced by such artists as Steely Dan, Dave Matthews Band, Rusted Root, Stevie Wonder.” Pilgrimage also qualified for the state competition for jazz combos.

MIDNITE HAZE

Devin Vail (drums), David Pilgrim (bass) and Ryan Vail (guitar, lead vocals) make up Midnite Haze. Coming together from Telstar High School and Telstar Middle School, the band heads to the finals as the Maine Today.com wildcard, having been chosen to fill the sixth slot through an online poll. Its hard rock and metal sound is influenced by the likes of Metallica, Iron Maiden and Led Zeppelin.

The trio has been playing together since July, and has performed at benefits, parties and pubs. It’s also hoping to get a label, go on tour and get as far as it can in the music industry.

That’s a talented young lineup. And while this is a competition, this year’s bands haven’t hesitated to cheer each other on.

“This year, the kids seemed to be a lot more friendly and supportive. On the MAMM Facebook, they’ve been commenting, things like, ‘You guys are great,’ ” said Ben Shumaker of MAMM, a former Rock Off participant and the guy behind the scenes this year.

But it still comes down to impressing the judges: local musician Pete Kilpatrick, WCLZ evening host Megan Littlefield, AO Guitars owner Andrew Olson, Bath Middle School teacher Kyle Jongerden and WCYY morning host Robin Ivy.

This year’s Rock Off winner gets $1,000 in cash, plus a prize package including logo design, recording studio time and radio time. It also gets to open Saturday night for the Holy Boys Danger Club and Paranoid Social Club at Port City Music Hall.

But for all the competing bands, Rock Off is a learning opportunity.

“Rock Off has been most helpful in making us more competitive in the industry, realizing our music was not going to market itself,” said Deely.

It’s this kind of experience that helps turn high school bands into the rock stars of our future. 

Staff Writer Shannon Bryan can be contacted at 822-4056 or at:

[email protected]