Justin Weed was the youngest and least established guitarist at the Texas Top 10 Under 20 contest during the Dallas International Guitar Festival a week ago.
Neither age nor experience kept the contest’s three judges from awarding first place to the Calhoun Middle School student, though.
“As soon as he finished playing, I told him, ‘You’re going to win, you know,’” said Justin’s mother, Tracy Weed. “I hear him play all the time. Once in a while, I’ll hear him play something beautifully and I’ll get goose bumps. I was getting a lot of goose bumps when he was playing.”
Justin, 13, said he didn’t agree with his mom’s prediction.
“As soon as the second band started to play, the guitarist was Tyler Lenius, and he went crazy. He went out into the audience. I was thinking, ‘I’m going to lose,’” he said.
He wasn’t the only Justin in the contest, either. So when he heard his first name called as the winner, it took hearing his last name for him to react.
“I just started jumping up and down,” Justin said. “I was yelling to my other band members and just shaking.”
The festival brought in about 2,000 entry videos of Texas guitarists ages 19 and younger. Contest officials whittled those entries down to 10 musicians. Most of them were 16 and 17 years old, Justin said.
Justin first picked up one of his dad’s several guitars when he was 9 years old. He taught himself the basics before joining a local guitar program to study classical guitar. He plays guitar in the Calhoun Jazz Band, and plays upright bass, too.
Justin said he went to the 2012 Dallas International Guitar Festival and discovered the Texas 10 Under 20. He kicked himself for not entering the contest. He submitted his video entry this year, playing a blues solo in the style of American guitar legend Jimi Hendrix with a backing track.
Onstage at the contest, Justin played blues with his band, Sam Tunnell on bass and Matthew Aubrey on drums. He got into his music on stage, he said, and even played with his teeth at one point.
“Everyone you played with in the contest had to be under 20, too,” he said.
Justin won 15 hours of studio time at MediaTech Institute, a Dallas school that teaches media production. He also got a guaranteed spot in the guitar festival in 2014.
Justin practices about 12 hours a week.
“His brother took guitar lessons for a while,” Tracy Weed said. “We had to make him practice. We don’t have to make Justin practice. You have to make him stop practicing.”
His teacher, Tim Courtney, has studied guitar on the graduate level at the University of North Texas, and just lacks his dissertation. Courtney teaches at El Centro College in addition to teaching through Denton Childbloom Guitar Program.
“I think it comes naturally to him,” Courtney said. “He’s got perfect pitch. He can listen to tunes and can pick them up on the spot. This is not to say he doesn’t work hard, but he’s got something special going on.”
Courtney has from 15 to 17 students in his Childbloom sessions, and with Justin, he’ll sometimes sneak some scale work and ideas into a lesson when the student brings an electric guitar into the class
“He came in two days before the submission deadline [for the international guitar festival] and was kind of like, ‘I think I might play with a track.’ Then, the Wednesday before the contest, I asked him what he was going to play and he was like, ‘I think I’ve got an idea.’
“I don’t think it’s practice for Justin,” Courtney said. “I think playing is just what he does.”
Courtney said he leans on his students about practice.
“In December, I start telling them, ‘Now remember to practice two hours before you open your Christmas presents.’ With Justin, he says, ‘Well, I can’t do that before, but once I open my Christmas presents, I’ll definitely play for two hours.’”
The teacher, who said he followed a similar pattern as Justin, said the youth is playing on a higher level than his peers.
“He’s definitely got the bug,” Courtney said. “He’s building quite the collection of 1980s and ’90s concert shirts. That’s not something I see a lot of my 13-year-old students doing, wearing an Elvis Costello T-shirt.”
Justin said he’s able to play college-level guitar music. He’s learned improvisation through the jazz band, and reads charts during his classical studies. He writes a little through his band.
The youth is already thinking like a musician as he makes plans for using the prize studio time in Dallas.
“One of the guys in my band has a studio in his house because his dad is a musician,” Justin said. “I’ve been thinking that maybe we can record a five-track EP, rehearse it, play some gigs and then record an album.”
His band plays rock music, and while he and Sam Tunnell swap vocals, he hopes they can recruit someone to sing.
“We’re definitely looking for a singer,” he said.
He had two performances lined up at this weekend’s Denton Arts & Jazz Festival — Friday night on the Festival Stage with the Calhoun Jazz Band, and Saturday afternoon on the Civic Center Stage with the Denton Childbloom Guitar Program.
Justin said the contest prize has been a shot in the arm.
“I always wanted to play gigs around town, and now I know I can play gigs. It won’t just be playing in a doughnut shop once, or something,” he said. “Now I know I can do this.”
LUCINDA BREEDING can be reached at 940-566-6877.