2017 WCGF – Rock & Blues Winner Interviews

The rock division judges for the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival were: Wisconsin-based guitarist and instructors, Roger Brotherhood and Matt Schroeder; and Milwaukee-based guitarists and instructors Peter Mac, Peter Roller, John Shiely, Steve Roberts, Michael Standal, Troy Stetina and Paul Terrien.

In this group photo of the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival winners, the Rock & Blues winners are as follows: Ramon Luis Galang stands 4th from the left; Millisa Henderson stands 2nd from the right, wearing shades, and Dawid Dobrzynski stands at the far right. Headlining concert artist and competition judge Kevin Eubanks stands at front and center. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

17 year old Ramon Luis Galang of Quezon City, Philippines, won 1st place in the Rock & Blues division of the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival.

“I am really happy about winning the competition, as I know my parents spent a lot of money to get me there. I am happy to have been able to repay some of the expenses to my dad and see how proud he was of me. It’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll be able to shake off. I see my dad and mom everyday work hard to give us food and comfort, and for them to throw this much financial support, it was really overwhelming. That and they kept telling me not to worry about what they were spending and that win or lose, the money was well spent really made this such a fulfilling experience. Yes, it was my first time competing in this festival.

“This whole trip was such a blessing. When I found out on June 15th that I qualified for the semi-finals, I had no passport and no visa. It usually takes several months to obtain a schedule for passport processing and, when we applied online, we were given a date sometime in September. My hopes of travelling to the festival dimmed until my mom called the Foreign Affairs department and learned that someone cancelled a schedule for June 27th. To take that date, we had to drive out of town to a satellite office. We did and I got my passport.

“When it was time to schedule with the US Consul, I was given August 10th, which meant, given the processing time, I wouldn’t be able to fly to Wisconsin in time. My Dad wrote the consul to apply for an earlier date and his request was declined. My mom tried calling a day after, and by a stroke of luck, someone cancelled. We landed a July 31 date, which offered enough time to process the visa, get our flights and leave for California on August 11th. As my mom and I stood on line at the embassy waiting to be interviewed about 5-in-a-row, we saw that people ahead of us in the line were getting their visa applications declined. We were not feeling optimistic about our chances of getting approved. When the consul asked what our purpose was, mom told him about the competition. What were the chances, out of a dozen windows, that we landed a consul who had a 14-year old son who also plays guitar? He reached for his stamp, took our passports, and bid us good luck in the competition.

“Prior to competing, I have been exchanging emails with Chinese effects manufacturer, Nu-X, and was waiting months for them to release their new multi-effects pedal, the Cerberus. They sent me one for free and it arrived 3 days before we departed for the US.

“The guitar I used in the competition was an awesomely slim La Voce, which looks very Les Paulish with a single cutaway.  It has sooo many usable tones. I think it is as lightweight as any Gibson-like guitar but it has an especially super-thin body.

“What I love about playing the guitar, besides being immersed in music I like and playing an instrument I’m addicted to, is the ton of other stuff I get to enjoy with it. Since I was 9 years old, I have been invited to play in many venues, ranging from small gigs to big venues here in the Philippines. I have appeared on TV many times and played with some very popular local artists. I also played with a band of adults prior to meeting my current band, which is entirely of boys my age. I feel I’m a bit known in my school and that has its perks.

1st place Rock & Blues Division Winner Ramon Luis Galang performing for the finals round at the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Competition. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

“I’m hoping to finish my original compositions and record a CD. I also dream of touring the US with my band on a van for small gigs with 150-200 people in the crowd. I’m currently researching on how I can make that tour happen sometime next year. That’s how far I dream. But I am currently working on honing my skills by practicing new stuff every day.

“Outside of playing guitar, I plan to apply for scholarships in Japan to become a chemical or mechanical engineer when I finish high school. My dad says, ‘You can play guitar at some gig on the weekend, grind the rest of the week,’ or ‘Nothing beats the cool-factor of a guy who’s a crazy guitar player at night and a smart lawyer during the day,’ or my favorite: ‘If you’re going to be a guitar superstar, you’re going to be a guitar superstar even if you work in a geeky laboratory.'”

Aside from the few lessons where I had to learn chords in school, I’ve never had any formal lessons on playing lead guitar. I learned to play through Youtube and my dad’s suggestions of what to watch and study. What I’d like other people or other kids to take from this is that there is absolutely no reason for you not to learn and become good on guitar if you really want to. If a 9-year old, as I was when I started, can learn to play whatever it is they want, (I wanted to play like Steve Vai, Eric Johnson and Guthrie Govan), then anyone can.

Galang picked up a new guitar, a Dellatera, to serve as his official trophy for winning. It is maker Dean Zelinsky’s version of the telecaster.

* * *

19-year-old Millisa Henderson from Muskogee, Oklahoma took 2nd place in the Rock & Blues Division.   She is currently attending the Berklee College of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, as a recipient of the 2016 Lollapalooza Scholarship, a full-tuition endowment awarded to one outstanding rock musician per year.

“I’ve been playing since age 11, influenced by Joe Satriani and Steve Vai. I learned of the Wilson Center Guitar Festival through Berklee. The Guitar Department has a Facebook group and faculty and students frequently post about different guitar events happening. The assistant chair of the department posted about the competition and I figured I’d enter for fun!

“This was my first time competing in the event, and it was an amazing experience! Most of the time it didn’t feel like a competition at all. All of the other guitarists in the competition were so nice and supportive, and overall, I think everyone involved had a great time.

“I met a ton of amazing people! I’m friends with quite a few of the other competitors now, and we are keeping and touch and following each other’s musical adventures. That’s one of the things I love about events like this. You get to meet all kinds of people from all over the world.

2nd Place Blues & Rock Division winner Millisa Henderson performing during the finals round of the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival. Photo credit: Julia Crowe.

“When I picked it up at age 11, I couldn’t put it down.  I’d practice for hours and hours, and that has never changed.  I love playing music because it is a great way to express yourself and really show who you are to the world.  Playing live is one of my absolute favorite things to do, and I’m hoping that I can have a career of touring and performing.  I love to travel, so traveling with music would be a dream come true.  I’d love to do some session work or play in the pit for Broadway musicals, too. I’ve been so blessed to be able to do everything I’ve done so far with music, and I think it’s important to give back. Whenever I can, I try to play benefit shows or help with charitable or humanitarian efforts through music as well.

“In addition to playing music, I love painting and other art. I find it’s a good way to relieve some stress at after a crazy day of work or school.  Of course, as any other college student, I can never resist a good game of Mario Kart or Super Smash Bros. as well.”

* * *

 13-year-old Dawid Dobrzynski, who is from Wroclaw, Poland and currently lives in Silicon Valley, placed 3rd in the Rock & Blues Division of the 2017 Wilson Center Guitar Festival.

“My family does not play any music. They are all boring engineers. Worse, for years, they were pushing me hard for tennis. That didn’t work out. In 2012, we all moved to Silicon Valley to complete my dad’s IT project. When I arrived, I didn’t speak a word in English. School wasn’t my favorite place either. Things changed when I grabbed a guitar. That was about 3 years ago. Somehow, I felt like I finally found what I was looking for: A PASSION. People whom I owe a special acknowledgment to are: Brian – my first guitar teacher, Mr. A, my middle school band director and Renzo and Gianni, two brothers from Santa Cruz who are coaching me for Berklee College of Music in Boston, which is my ultimate goal.

“I love playing the guitar because it can express so many different emotions. I don’t necessarily thrive in academic goals, but in order to keep my phone from getting taken away, I have to at least get B’s. My entering the Wilson Center Guitar Festival started when I told my dad *cough* manager, to find me a guitar competition. I was inspired by a friend of mine, a drummer, when she entered a drum competition. I just thought how awesome it must’ve felt to win something like that.

“Anyway, as my ‘manager’ was surfing the web for a competition, he noticed that 70% of them were for air guitar. He did have some good news, though. He found me a non-air guitar competition, which happened to be the Wilson Center Festival. I worked on my recordings for the Youtube qualifications and sent in my videos. Sometime later, my manager called and starts screaming to me into the phone, ‘YOU MADE IT YOU LITTLE F… NERD!’

“I was just as happy as he was. Some weeks later, we were flying to Milwaukee. On the day of the semi-finals, I didn’t necessarily feel nervous, mostly excited. It was only during the announcement of those results that I felt nervous. The next thing I knew, I was in the finals.  The day after the semi’s, I felt slightly more nervous, because it was now, “the real thing.” Onstage, I still felt pretty normal. After the finals, I took my knowledge and fused with my mom’s and my manager’s to make a hypothesis and prediction that I would take 3rd or 4th. Luckily, I made it to 3rd. It was the happiest time of my life, so far.

Dawid’s father, Mac, says, “When Dawid asked me to find him a competition where he could confront his skills and potential, I realized he must have felt strong despite his short guitar mileage because he has only been playing guitar for 2.5 years. It didn’t take me too long to hit the Wilson Center Guitar Festival and I don’t think my IT engineering experience helped with that.

“With the Wilson Center Guitar Festival on our radar, Dawid analyzed last year’s videos and decided to proceed. What inspired him most was the blues/rock winner, a 13-year-old boy named Andre Raily. When Dawid saw this, he started believing that the age in music doesn’t really matter, that music is ageless.

“Our road to the finals in August was bit bumpy. We were flying for semis straight from Europe, after good 7 weeks of holidays. We found ourselves grounded in Chicago the day before the show. Faced with considerable heavy jet-lag, I was re-assembling Dawid’s guitar as the stupid airline did not allow us to bring it on board in one piece, which was a bummer. After that, the guitar didn’t sound right of course–come on, I’m an IT engineer! Anyway, Dawid imbibed an increased dose of caffeine to lift his jet lag and I’m guessing that helped a lot.”

* * *

Please visit the official Wilson Center Guitar Festival page for more information, in addition to forthcoming details of the 2018 event. 

* * *