In Conversation with Mark Cameli


Meet our 2019 Classical Category Sponsor Mark Cameli! In addition to being a long-time supporter of the Festival, Mark is one of the top-rated Business Litigation attorneys in Milwaukee. Our Festival Social Media Assistant had a chance to talk with Mark about his love for this international event; read more below, and visit to learn about the events and activities made possible thanks to the support of sponsors and partners such as Mark!

Julia: Why do you believe it is important to support the arts?

Mark: The arts have always been the medium by which we express the human experience. The arts demonstrate something that’s beautiful, and it conveys to us feelings of pride, empathy, courage, loneliness, honor, happiness, just to name a few. The other thing that strikes me about [the arts] is that this medium of expression is itself revealing in the extraordinary gifts and commitments that people have. It inspires wonder, and we’re moved to change and to see things through a different lens. That’s why I believe it is important to support the arts because I believe they have these characteristics for us.

J: What specifically drew you to the Wilson Center Guitar Festival?

M: I’m the grandson of Italian immigrants who were sharecroppers who came here about one hundred years ago. Their son, my father, was not raised with a lot of means. My grandparents were factory workers, but they found the money to get my dad guitar lessons. So, in the late 1930s and throughout the 1930s, he began to play and ultimately got involved with a band. In 1939, he took all his college savings and bought a brand new Gretsch guitar, which I still have; in time, he lost some interest in it and the ability to play because he had a work-related accident that affected his fingers. But that guitar was the first thing I found in the basement at age six, and it really intrigued me. It had two strings on it, and I used to pluck around on it with a penny. As I got older, I learned how to string it, and I went out and bought a book because we couldn’t afford any kind of music lessons. I learned to play it a little bit, and as a young teenager, I played in talent shows and coffee houses, and to this day, decades later, I’ve used it with my children and grandchildren. It has been one of the things I’ve been able to enjoy and, more importantly, see other people enjoy it. So I think the Guitar Festival is the embodiment of that, and the joy that it brings in all genres of guitar music.

J: What do you hope the Festival will provide to the competitors, the audiences who are attending the Festival, the community? Is that nostalgia something you hope the Guitar Festival can provide to them?

M: It gives different things to different people—as performers, as listeners, as enthusiasts. For me personally, what I really like about it is that—I’m a Brookfield resident—I’d like to see Brookfield on the map on a national level, as this is the preeminent guitar competition in the country: A place where people from all genres of guitar come together, showcase their talent, have it judged and recognized, that they learn from each other, and they can learn from the masters. I want it to be something that is unique and ultimately grow into something that is an experience in a very kind of “festival” way and is something that in time will extend over a greater period and will grow in size.

J: Do you have a message for this year’s competitors/festival goers?

M: To the competitors—have fun, be inspired by what you see and what you hear, share your experiences with each other, build relationships that will last a lifetime, and know that this instrument is something that you can share with those closest to you.

To festival goers—I hope that they are inspired to share their experiences with others and help us grow the festival to be what I’ve just envisioned what it can be and hope it will be.

Written by: Julia Lewandowski, Guitar Festival Social Media Assistant

In Conversation with Troy Stetina


Meet internationally renowned guitarist Troy Stetina, who will not only be a judge in this year’s rock competition rounds, but also will be participating in an “Advancing Your Music Career” panel discussion on Friday, August 16, at 12:15pm, offering a rock guitar masterclass on Saturday, August 17, at 3pm, and giving an outdoor concert with the “guitar-driven, genre-busting” Troy Stetina Project on Friday, August 16, at 6pm! Each of these events is free and open to the public, and advance registration is recommended for the masterclass and panel discussion; click here for the full Festival schedule.

Check out a conversation between Troy and our Social Media Festival Assistant Julia Lewandowski!

Julia: Your book, Speed Mechanics for Lead Guitar, was one of the first major works in electric guitar pedagogy. How did you go about creating the method outlined in this book?

Troy: It was the result of my own experience striving for technique mastery on the guitar along with what I had learned by teaching a number of similarly-minded guitarists at the Wisconsin Conservatory of Music at the time, in the late 1980s. So basically, I just put everything I had learned about technique and practice into it, to convey what I knew worked in the most efficient way possible.

J: You’re mainly a metal/rock guitarist. When developing your method book, did you have any influences that focused on playing jazz, classical, or blues?

T: I began as a rock and metal player, but early on, also got into classical music, which was a major part of my technique development. Then, over the years, my skill set broadened.

I’ve been the Music Director at an area church for the past few years now, putting together special events, writing choral arrangements and orchestra parts. Once you understand how music works fundamentally and get the ability to play what you hear, you can drive that boat anywhere you want to go. But jazz still puts me to sleep.

J: In terms of advancing a career in music, how important is it for guitar players to read music?

T: Not important in terms of advancing a career in music. Important for advancing one’s skill set. But developing a good skill set is not a requirement for a career. It can help, but having good, relevant ideas and getting to know a lot of people in the industry and having a good, reliable character is probably more important in the big scheme of things. Of course, when the opportunity does hit, you have to deliver the goods, whatever they are.

J: Looking back to when you were first starting on your professional career as a musician, what would you have wanted to know going into the business?

T: What I just said (above). I was under the delusion that if only I was good enough technically, the career would fall into place. That’s not necessarily true. No one does it alone. It’s about working with others, and finding the RIGHT other people to work with.

Written by: Julia Lewandowski, Guitar Festival Social Media Assistant

In Conversation with John Shiely

photo from november 11, 2011, milwaukee business journal article.  click here  to read the article.

photo from november 11, 2011, milwaukee business journal article. click here to read the article.

Meet our 2019 Rock Category Prize Sponsor and Rock Category final competition round judge John Shiely! In addition to serving as director of the BMO Finance Corp. and BMO Harris Bank, Quad/Graphics, Inc., and Oshkosh Corporation, Shiely is also on the corporate board of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum, as well as the former CEO of Briggs & Stratton. Check out a conversation between Shiely and Festival Social Media Assistant Julia Lewandowski below, and then head over to our Festival website at to check out the full schedule of Festival events!

Julia: Why do you believe it is important to support the arts?

John: Arts are generally aimed at the soul, not the mind. I believe arts are required for the well-being of a community.

J: What specifically drew you to the Wilson Center Guitar Festival?

JS: I’ve played guitar all my life, but as Roy Orbison said: “No matter how hard I tried, my guitar-playing never got any better after age 19.” I was drawn to the Wilson Festival because it features truly outstanding instrumentalists. I have to admit, I often leave the Festival with an inferiority complex.

J: This ties somewhat into the question above - what do you hope the Festival will provide either to the competitors, the audiences who are coming to the show, the community, etc...

JS: The Festival provides competitors with the opportunity to showcase their talents and audiences with the opportunity to hear truly outstanding guitar work.

Julia: Do you have a message for this years’ competitors/festival goers?

JS: Same as Aaron Rodgers: R-E-L-A-X. We find that the performances are most outstanding if the competitors just get into their instruments.

Written by: Julia Lewandowski, Festival Social Media Assistant

In Conversation with Mag Rodriguez


Our Festival Social Media Assistant Julia Lewandowski had a chance to catch up with one of our “Advancing Your Music Career” panelists, Mag Rodriguez. 88Nine Radio Milwaukee partnered with an organization called Gener8tor to introduce a new program called Backline, a start-up accelerator approach to amplify Milwaukee’s music scene. As the Backline Program Director, Rodriguez is dedicated to providing opportunity for musicians and artists to grow, right here in Milwaukee.

Check out Julia & Mag’s conversation below, and then visit to register for the “Advancing Your Music Career Panel Discussion” taking place at the Festival this Friday, August 16th at 12:15 pm. This event is free and open to the public; space is limited and advance registration is recommended!

Julia: Backline is about connecting artists/musicians to industry people who can educate and guide them. As 88Nine Executive Director Glenn Kleiman says, “with Backline, our goal is to help Milwaukee become known as one of the country’s most vibrant music cities.” Do you bring the industry people to Milwaukee? If the goal is to establish Milwaukee’s reputation as an emerging music city, how will the Backline program retain the talent it helps succeed? How will it help retain young employees Milwaukee needs for city growth?

Mag: Education is a big part of Backline. Not only do we bring music industry professionals to Milwaukee, we also fly the musicians to LA and NYC for a week to meet with industry professionals. It's no secret that in order to have a successful career in music you need a strong network, so during the second month of the program the main focus is to build a network for the musicians, this includes booking agents, record labels, DSPs, attorneys, managers, and many others.

Another main component we focus on is digital distribution and the power of social media. Musicians no longer need to live in major cities to be heard, they can make music in their bedroom, and with the right distribution and marketing, their music can be heard worldwide. Having strong ties in major cities is helpful when touring, but musicians no longer need to relocate permanently to be successful.

In the past decade, we have seen what a strong music community can do for a local community; look at cities like Toronto where an artist like Drake has created a cultural movement where the music scene has been connected with everything. He has created partnerships with the NBA Raptors and even hosts his annual OVO Festival that brings people from all over the world. He gave the people from Toronto pride to be from Toronto. With Milwaukee having one of the best NBA teams and a strong MLB team, all we are missing is a music community that is supported internally and by the community.

J: Both Austin and Nashville have very distinct sounds, yet they both are built on their flourishing music scenes. How do you envision Milwaukee growing? In which direction, in terms of “sound,” do you think Milwaukee leans towards? It seems like Milwaukee has multiple sounds going on - we have a hip-hop/rap, indie/folk, but also a jazz community. How do you go about supporting everything Milwaukee has to offer?

M: This question is always tricky because a city's sound and direction are very subjective on the person you ask. What I can say if that we average around 300 applications for each program cycle and 80% of our applications are Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B. Out of the seven artists that have gone through the program, four have been women, three have been men, with the average age being 26. We have had two bands, four Hip-Hop/Rap/R&B artists, and one EDM/Pop producer. So what I can say is that it's pretty obvious that Milwaukee is a hotbed of urban music, yet there hasn't been any real effort to nourish an infrastructure for that talent; that's why the talent that we do have end up leaving. I have been a part of a decent amount of conversations around this topic, and I do see a change happening within the next couple years because, at its core, this is a segregation problem. These musical communities have been siloed in areas with poverty, low funding, and very minimal resources.

J: Can you give an overview of how the 12-week Backline sessions work?

M: The 12 weeks are divided into three pieces: Create, Connect, and Plan.

Create - During create, Backline artists create music and content. The Backline team facilitates introductions to potential collaborators, studios, photographers and videographers, and other industry experts for the Backline artists to create with during this phase.

Connect - The connect phase provides introductions, resources, and mentorship for Backline artists to efficiently connect with industry leaders locally, nationally, and internationally who can help bolster their careers. Each Backline artist takes a group trip to Los Angeles and New York and will be connected to experts in the music industry.

Plan - During the plan phase, the Backline team works individually with each Backline artist to plan out the next year of their career, focused on driving sustaining revenue and heightening the profile of each Backline artist.

About the Backline Grant: Unlike other accelerator programs, Backline is completely free. Backline requires no equity, fees, revenue or residuals. The four selected Backline artists each receive a $20,000 budget grant to be spent toward their career. Participants work with the Backline team to determine how the $20,000 is spent. Learn more at

Written by: Julia Lewandowski, Guitar Festival Social Media Assistant