Already winning over hundreds of fans through his selection as the "popular vote" competitor in Guitar Player Magazine's Guitar Superstar competition, Haverhill guitarist Eric Clemenzi has now officially become a jukebox hero in the eyes of the world's top guitarist trade magazine.
The local musician and guitar teacher finished in second place at the Guitar Superstar competition on Sept. 18 in Livermore, Calif., a suburb of San Francisco, outplaying eight other competitors who had previously been hand-picked by editors of Guitar Player magazine.
"I didn't even think I played very well," Clemenzi said. "It's nice to be acknowledged a bit."
Clemenzi was the first contestant ever to be selected via popular vote in the competition's five-year run.
Held at the Bankhead Theater in front of a crowd of nearly 400 guitar enthusiasts and judges such as George Lynch, Elliot Easton of The Cars and Reeves Gabrels of David Bowie's backing band, the competition was light in prizes but heavy in prestige among other guitarists.
Meeting with skilled musicians from the U.S. and Canada, Clemenzi said the experience was surprisingly uplifting and encouraging as an artist rather than the cut-throat competition one would expect.
"The great thing was I got to meet a bunch of great people," he said. "Everyone was really supportive."
More importantly, Clemenzi got to meet Gary Hoey, a New Hampshire guitarist he's admired for years.
"It was cool to hang out with one of your idols from childhood," he said.
While the show lasted just 2 1/2 hours for audience members, all the necessary preparations and soundchecks took well over six hours, Clemenzi said.
Despite all the preparations, minutes spent with the event's backing band were precious and few.
"It was strange playing with a band I'd only played with 15 minutes before," he said.
Clemenzi said Lynch described his piece, "Passing Through Time," as some of the best technique he'd seen at the show.
Meanwhile, back at home, Clemenzi's family, students and fans waited for a live internet video stream that never seemed to function.
Eventually, the kinks were ironed out and the fans at home found out about his spectacular performance.
"I was really happy and surprised to see him come up second," said Amanda, his wife.
She had been updating Clemenzi's facebook with status updates about the show while watching alongside her sister.
While neither Clemenzi nor the other competitors walked away with massive trophies — instead receiving a tastefully small glass award — he did leave with a bag full of goodies including a traveling acoustic guitar, music software and, in Clemenzi's eyes the most important prize, plenty of guitar strings.
"Every guitarist needs strings," he said.
Going forward, Clemenzi said, his performance has opened doors to sponsorships, including companies like Morley Pedals.
"I didn't even have to beg," he said.
Clemenzi said he plans to continue developing his music, teaching his students and booking more gigs.
Don Alder of Vancouver, British Columbia, won the competition. Charlie Crowe of Nashville, Tenn., finished third.