Brookings teen guitarist Rylee Chavez ‘livin’ the dream’

Brookings-based guitarist Rylee Chavez finished second in a contest at the International Guitar Festival in Dallas. (Courtesy photo)

BROOKINGS — Brookings resident and guitarist Rylee Chavez, 18, continues to pursue a career in the world of music. On May 1, 2022, at 17, he was recognized in the 10 under 20 competition in the Dallas International Guitar Festival — but he didn’t make any of the top three slots. This year, May 7, he did — finishing second.

In addition to playing guitars, Chavez is also looking to building and repairing them: being a luthier in the craft of lutherie.

Chavez presently works at J.Rieck Music, a shop in Sioux Falls owned by luthier Josh Rieck, whom he called “a really great custom instrument builder, out of Aberdeen. He opened the Sioux Falls shop about four years ago.”

Rieck saw Chavez playing guitar on instagram and facebook. About 10 months ago he asked the Brookings musician to come to Sioux Falls and demo some instruments, play some guitars and write some descriptions of the guitars. Chavez now works there about four days a week; weekends he returns to Brookings and sometimes plays gigs with Frozen Dead Guy, a cover band for Grateful Dead.

Rieck, the Sioux Falls luthier operates a small business that builds some acoustic guitars but most of his business is in building ukuleles — but not the kind you’d expect to hear in a little grass shack in Kealakekua, Hawaii.

“He builds higher-end instrument,” Chavez explained. He added that in Hawaii there’s a market for ukuleles ranging in price from $3,000 to $4,000. “I actually started out on the ukulele, but I don’t anymore,” he said. “I played it about a month, two months.”

The ukulele was a Christmas present; but he quickly moved on to his dad’s old acoustic guitar. He next moved on to electric guitar and continues making his mark in competition with his two performances in Dallas. So what’s next?

Chavez noted that his all-roads-lead-to-Dallas plan voiced in an interview with The Brookings Register following his 2022 finish at the Dallas festival “is still in my long-term plan, three years.” Meanwhile?

“I’m just going to continue playing locally, … continue working at the shop,” he explained. “I’m content with what I’m learning in the shop, as a trade, learning how to work on instruments, which will hopefully turn around to money in the future — if I can maybe go to school or something.”

The school Chavez has in mind is Minnesota State College Southeast, “a technical & community college,” in Red Wing. MSCS offers a “Guitar Repair & Building program,” where he could “learn the art of lutherie … .”

“I would likely take the path that is more based on basses, guitars and mandolins,” he explained. He noted that the two technicians (luthiers) he works with in Sioux Falls are graduates of the MSCS program in Red Wing.

“The lutherie thing is pretty up in the air,” he added. “I’m learning a fair amount of the skills that I would learn paying money and going to school anyway and the school would be pretty expensive.”

For now the award-winning guitarist believes he is living the dream: “I feel like it,” he said, smiling. “I’m just enjoying playing the live music and it’s going well so far. I’m still going home on the weekends.” And making some money.

On Saturday, Chavez will play his “first trio gig” in Luverne, Minnesota. However, it’s not “a long-term thing.” He’s “still trying to find the right musicians to get (his) group together, ideally four people: (himself), a keyboard player, a drummer and a bass player.” 

Contact John Kubal at [email protected].