By Joe Wright
New Philladelphia, OH
DUBLIN — More than 250 people gathered at the sold out King Avenue 5 Feb. 23 to hear Ohio’s top 10 high school bands compete for the 2018 Instaband grand championship. But it was a one-man band that really made some noise.
The event, hosted by students enrolled at GROOVE U Music Career Program, was won by Dover High School junior Max Beal. The musician singer-songwriter, who has been influenced by the likes of Billy Joel and Elton John, will receive a recording contract on GROOVE U’s student run record label, Elementary Records complete with a studio EP, music video, and will headline a spot on GROOVE U’s stage at the Columbus Arts Festival in June. Beal will be presented with the Instaband guitar trophy at Dover High soon.
The Instaband event doubles as a hands-on, portfolio building class project for GROOVE U students. This was the sixth year for the competition, which has been billed as a central Ohio event.
“Although it (Instaband) has been central Ohio focused in the past, now any student in Ohio can register,” said Sarah Hudson, Director of Development for Groove U. “We had a lot of entries, which were whittled down to 20 for the semifinals and the top 10 reached the finals. One of the finalists had to cancel because of a death in the family.”
For Beal, Instaband was quite an experience. Musicians submitted their work and waited to hear if they made it to the semifinals.
“When I submitted my music you hear a big band,” said Beal. “Then I was selected for the semifinal and when I go and show up (to make a video) it’s just one guy with a keyboard.”
Beal plays multiple instruments ... keyboard, bass, guitar, drums, upright bass and harmonica. Throw in his vocals and he has quite an arsenal. He produces his own songs so he can record multiple tracks to create a band sound. He’s built his own studio in the family basement and has four albums of original music to his credit.
Although he’s been playing the piano for half his life (he began playing when he was 8) the competition was a first. He wasn’t sure how he would stack up against the other bands since he was going head-to-head with just his keyboard. Contestants made a video performing their music at Groove U for the semifinal.
It went well as Beal made it to the finals. He watched and listened to all the bands perform at the final, and he was impressed with the competition.
“They were all amazing musicians,” he said. “The bands were real tight (with their playing) and this band called The District Lightbulbs was really good. I thought, who is going to beat them?”
For his performance Beal selected original songs “Hang On” and “Gracie.” The first selection was a slower style and the second was more upbeat.
“I got to the end of “Gracie” and thought what the heck, I’ll just let it go and I got up on the piano bench and was playing,” he said.
Apparently the energy spread throughout the venue.
When the winners were announced the indie trio Dandelion Eyes with members from Hilliard and Northridge High Schools earned third place. Then The District Lightbulbs were announced and Beal was wondering who could have finished first. Then a surreal moment followed when the winning “band” was announced.
“I heard my name and my heart just sank down to my stomach,” he said. “It was me versus eight bands of kids ...”
The voting worked with 40 percent of the votes coming from likes and views on the artists’ YouTube video, and 60 percent coming from professional judges.
Though it was called a battle of the bands, Beal said it wasn’t really a war among the musicians because of the mutual respect they all had for one another.
And he knows music is in his future. He’s set on going to Groove U which has revolutionary two-year music career program. There students can work in live sound, production and receive Internships.
“I think I want to forge my own path,” said Beal. “I hope the future is performing.”
With what he has accomplished so early in his music career, it looks like Beal is well on his way.
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To learn more about Groove U, visit www.grooveu.edu