Shoreview boy wows judges at guitar competition

The top three finishers from McNally Smith College of Music’s 2013 “Clash of the Teen Guitar Titans” competition held on Aug. 10. From left: McNally’s Guitar Department Head Joe Elliott, first place winner Collin Johnson, third place winner Owen Hiber and second place winner Bobby Rethwisch. (submitted photo)

Owen Hiber, an 11-year-old boy from Shoreview, impressed those in attendance at McNally Smith College of Music’s “Clash of the Teen Guitar Titans” on Saturday, Aug. 10.

This is the second year McNally has hosted the guitar competition at its downtown campus. The competition was just one of several guitar-themed events that weekend, climaxing with the Lowertown Guitar Festival in Mears Park, which drew a crowd of 2,000 and featured performances by famed guitarists like Mark Ribot, Pat Donohue and Scott Henderson.

During Clash of the Teen Guitar Titans, young guitarists between the ages of 15 and 19 played along to a pre-recorded track of their choosing.

This is where Owen stood alone; the soon to be fifth grader at Emmet D. Williams Elementary School was four years younger than the next youngest competitor.

Despite that age difference, Owen was undaunted and said he enjoyed the competition. He took third place for his rendition of Metallica’s high speed metal classic “Master of Puppets,” a song regarded by many in the business as one of the greatest heavy metal songs of all time.

“He blew us all away and was the youngest by far,” McNally’s Outreach Coordinator Erin McLennon said.

“He’s got all the tools and you can tell he’s had really good instruction,” McNally’s Guitar Department Head Joe Elliott added. “It will be fun to watch him next year and the year after that.”

Owen’s parents, Matt and Connie Hiber, take their son to weekly guitar lessons at Capitol Guitars on East Seventh Street in St. Paul, where a guitar technician, impressed with his abilities, encouraged Owen to enter into the competition.

Owen said he decided he wanted to play guitar after seeing his favorite mixed martial arts fighter enter the ring at a cage fighting match a couple of years ago while Master of Puppets blared from the speakers.

The young guitarist added he likes playing with older musicians and learns from them.

“I’m used to playing with older people,” he said. “I usually go to these open blues jams.”

Owen’s father says at least once a week he takes his son to play at blues jams at several venues around the Twin Cities, like Famous Dave’s in the Minneapolis Uptown neighborhood, the Blues Saloon, Tiki Hut and Shaws.

“I had to knock on a few doors at first to be able to get a 10-year-old to play at these venues last year, but mostly they’ve been very receptive,” Hiber says.

Owen recently sat at a table on an outdoor patio next to his 8-year-old brother Egan, wearing a black Metallica t-shirt a few sizes to large and talking about his musical influences like a seasoned pro.

“I’m kinda into Clapton and other blues artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Freddie King,” he said.

But Owen is not all serious; he is 11, after all, and enjoys a carefree life of having fun like most kids his age.

He added that he likes “doing Parkour type stuff,” which is a sport where a practitioner runs, leaps and climbs over natural and manmade obstacles as quickly as possible, often incorporating gymnastic and tumbling maneuvers, such as front and back body flips.

Owen said he also became interested in badminton a few weeks ago while playing the game for the first time at a friend’s house.

When asked about whether he was excited for the upcoming school year, Owen frowned slightly, then smiled, revealing he still had nearly two weeks to play and enjoy the end of his summer vacation, which for an 11-year-old boy may seem like a while. He did, however, admit to enjoying art classes and of course playing with his friends in the schoolyard.

But Owen has hopes of becoming a professional musician when he grows up. He even recently started an unnamed band with his friend Braden, who he said can play some guitar, but is really a drummer.

So far, he’s off to a good start. At press time, Owen was gearing up to play at the State Fair’s pre-teen talent show semi-finals on Tuesday, Aug. 27 at 6 p.m.

He said he planned to play Stevie Ray Vaughan’s “Rude Mood” at the talent show, with backing from the State Fair Band’s rhythm section.

“It’s gonna be fun,” he said with a wide smile.

Owen headed off with his dad and brother to shoot hockey pucks on their Shoreview home’s driveway after his interview with the Bulletin, where he had plans of bringing out his amplifier and rockin’ some riffs on his LTD EC series six-string he won in a recent guitar contest.

“It’s great watching both these guys do what they do,” their father said proudly. “They have so much fun with it.”

Joshua Nielsen can be reached at or 651-748-7824.

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