2017 WCGF Fingerstyle Guitar Winner Interviews

For the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival Fingerstyle Division, guest artists Mike Dawes and Antoine Dufour served as judges, along with guitarists Peter Finger, Kurt Plahna, Billy McLaughlin, John Stropes, Macyn Taylor and Candyrat Records founder Rob Poland.

In this group photo of the Wilson Center Guitar Festival winners, the fingerstyle guitar winners: Adam Bjoraker, standing 6th from the left; William Boulé, 2nd from the left, and Michael McKinnon is 3rd from the left. Sharon Lynne Wilson Center President and CEO Lynn Sprangers stands immediately to the left, Kevin Eubanks front & center, with Guitar Festival Manager Don Sipes to the far right. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

Adam Bjoraker, who won first place in this year’s Fingerstyle Division, is a recent graduate of the University of Wisconsin at Milwaukee’s Peck School of the Arts.

“During my undergraduate studies, I worked closely with fingerstyle guitarists John Stropes and Andrew Lardner and gained experience as an educator and player of this musical genre, mainly from learning directly from many of its leading artists. I am now using all the skills I’ve learned to create music of my own and started working on an album this year that will incorporate finger-style guitar pieces along with full band arrangements and singing.

“I first learned of this competition through John Stropes during my freshman year of college in 2013. I didn’t enter, but many of my colleagues were competing and placing (Brock Camden, Doug Justice, Gabriel Andrews). After my sophomore year in 2015, I decided to enter. I made it to the finals that year but did not place.

“It was from this experience I learned the power of piece selection. The rules request ‘contrasting’ works, but there is so much more thought that can be put into it. I entered the competition again in 2016 and chose better pieces; ones that I thought would exemplify the breadth of fingerstyle technique as well as impress the judges. I earned second place. This year, I thought I chose my pieces intelligently.

“You want to choose piece that you are comfortable performing, one that you can lose yourself in; a piece that will sound naturally musical in your hands because you love it. The audience can pick up on this and, certainly, so can the judges. I was lucky enough to be working on some great pieces during my senior year of college and chose to go with beauty over flashy.  Not that the pieces were simple; Bensusan’s work is incredibly difficult.

“This competition marks the end of one stage of my musical life and a step into the next. Fingerstyle guitar is not my only focus. I am interested in music as a whole. I spent a lot of time studying, and this competition served as a soft departure. Not only that, but I feel honored to have performed for Antoine Dufour, who was the guy who got me into playing this style. I first heard Dufour’s playing at a friend’s house, and after asking what group this was, I realized I had to learn how to play all that sound on one guitar myself. That’s what amazes me about the guitar: that all this sound and beauty can be made by a single person.

“That this incredibly influential figure in my life was the one to announce and hand me the first-place prize–I couldn’t believe the serendipity. My friends and competitors joked that they knew I was the winner when Antoine took a second look to figure out how to pronounce my last name (b-your-ah-cker).

“The reality of winning first place has only begun to set in recently. It was a very powerful weekend for me.  This competition has not given me the opportunity to purchase some microphones to aid with recording, but most importantly, it has reassured me that music is something you can believe in. Whomever the audience is, if you believe and have no doubts about it, then they likely will, too. Confidence is something I’ve always lacked, but when I arrived on stage during the final round with my nerves still hovering over me, I was able to breathe through the pieces I’ve loved since the beginning of my college career.  And I think the audience and judges could hear that.”

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William Boulé of El Dorado Hills, CA, who placed second in the fingerstyle guitar competition, was not available for an interview.


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Fingerstyle guitarist Michael McKinnon of Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin, won 3rd place in this year’s event.

“I have been playing guitar since I was in 6th grade. Before that, I played the piano and the viola. I’ve found that playing guitar and singing suits my abilities very well and I am now coming toward the final stages of my degree at UWM, studying with John Stropes in the Fingerstyle Program, the only one of its type.

“Friends from my program had entered the Wilson Center Guitar Festival competition and I attended the event for the first time during the summer after my freshman year. I did not compete that year–I went as part of the audience. As my confidence in performing fingerstyle guitar grew, I decided to audition. I made it to the semi-final round the first time but did not make it to the finals. I feel this may have been due to my poor choice of music. The song I played is beautiful and expressive, however, it wasn’t a composition that showcased my abilities well enough for it to qualify as a competition-worthy piece. This was the first time I’ve competed on the guitar.


 “I find the guitar to be an interesting instrument because there are so many avenues to explore with it. I play both electric and acoustic. Technically it’s the same instrument yet the electric is completely different from the acoustic, as each holds its own attributes. I write my own music and I only started doing this after learning to play the guitar, specifically. It is one thing to perform and another to compose. I find solace and comfort in knowing that if I am struggling through a hard time, I can pick up my guitar and express myself in a way that is both productive and helpful in my ultimate goal of supporting myself solely by performing.”

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Guitarist Mike Dawes delaying announcement of fingerstyle winners by a few seconds more with his joke-telling. In the background, the calm, collected faces of those already named winners.  Guitar Festival Manager Don Sipes stands beside Dawes. Photo credit:  Julia Crowe
Guitarist Mike Dawes builds suspense by delaying announcement of fingerstyle winners with more joke-telling. In the background, the calm, collected faces of those already named winners. Guitar Festival Manager Don Sipes stands beside Dawes. Photo credit: Julia Crowe

Please visit the official page of the Wilson Center Guitar Festival for more information, along with forthcoming details on the 2018 event.