Guitar prodigy aims for prize

by Stephen Milligan - the walton tribune

Jesse Bennett, a senior at Monroe Area High School, will travel to Dallas soon for an international 10 under-20 guitar contest to determine the best young guitarist amongst a global field of competitors. Photo credit: Stephen Milligan | Walton Tribune

MAHS senior heads to Dallas competition to win musical acclaim

Jesse Bennett took up guitar at age 7 because he was having trouble learning to tie his shoes. Now, a decade later, he’s headed to Texas as a proven guitar vituoso trying to prove he’s among the best in the world.

Bennett, a senior at Monroe Area High School, is one of 10 finalists chosen for the Dallas International Guitar Festival’s 10 Under 20 competition, in which 10 young players are selected to perform on stage.

“I’m kind of nervous,” Bennett said. “This is my first real competition and it’s a big international event. I’m playing against others from all around the world.”

Bennett took up guitar when he was recommended for occupational therapy as a child due to stiff fingers, leaving him unable to tie his shoes and other seemingly simple tasks. With a yearlong waiting list for therapists, his mom looked for other alternatives and found several suggestions.

“They mentioned guitar, Legos and fishing,” Bennett said. “I didn’t have the patience to stick with Legos, but I liked fishing and I loved guitar. I just liked the way it sounded.”

Soon he was practicing hours a day, studying under professional instructors and eventually was noticed by a music producer from Alabama, who recommended he enter the Dallas festival.

Bennett recorded an audition tape and sent it in but was a bit surprised when he realized he had been selected as one of the 10 finalists. Now he’s waiting for May 7, when he’ll take the stage and play for crowds much larger than any of those he’s performed for around Monroe.

“I’m planning on playing ‘Mr. Crowley’ by Ozzy Osborne,” Bennett said. “I really like rock and roll, especially stuff from the 80s, like Van Halen. I love everything about it.”

Bennett is serious about his guitar dreams. Set to graduate high school next month, he had earned a track scholarship to Emmanuel College in Franklin Springs, but turned it down to focus on his music.

“This is what I want to do,” Bennett said. “And this festival is the first step to get there.”

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