MONTVILLE, NJ – When you pick up an instrument, you don’t think you’re going to play before thousands, but Towaco resident Dylan Nieradka, just 14, has done just that.

Nieradka is part of the School of Rock in Montclair, a music school where he takes lessons in acoustic and electric guitar. He was accepted into the “house band,” which plays at various venues, plus he plays in a band called Chasing Paragon.

This summer, the Montclair School of Rock travelled to Milwaukee to attend Summerfest, the world’s largest music festival. Eighty Schools of Rock attended, and 40 played at the festival including the Montclair group, according to Dylan’s mother Kirsten.

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Part of Summerfest was a competition called Shredfest, which Dylan competed in.

“It’s an electric guitar competition with no backup, beat or music in the background,” he said. “You play as fast as you can for 30 seconds. It’s all improvisation.”

The competition was judged as about 43 guitar players competed head to head, playing individually.  Dylan found himself chosen for the semi-finals.

“I was happy because that was my goal – the semi’s,” he said.

But then he found himself in the finals, and he had to come up with a different solo.

“I had to make the music different for each level,” he said. “If I had done the same shred it wouldn’t impress.”

He was the youngest person in the final round, Kirsten said, competing against players who were 16 to 18 years old. He tied for third place.

Dylan’s band, Chasing Paragon, played a set of their original songs at the festival, and due to a fluke of the weather and the fact that their stage was covered, thousands attended the performance.

“It was the biggest crowd I’ve ever played for,” Dylan said.

The CEO of School of Rock also enjoyed the performance, Kirsten said, later telling the Montclair staff that original music, such as Chasing Paragon plays, is something the school is trying to encourage.

After attending Summerfest, Dylan attended a clinic with musicians Steve Vai of Whitesnake; Joe Satriani, who toured with Mick Jagger; and Rick Nielsen of Cheap Trick. He attended classes with the musicians and jammed with them in the evening, plus other famous musicians.

“The musicians taught the students not just about music but real-life lessons about the music business,” Kirsten said.

Dylan said he enjoyed the experience especially since the musicians were having fun with the students.

“Steve was thanking everyone,” he said. “Everyone was cool. The students were at all levels – beginner, intermediate and advanced. We all learned from each other.”

This week, Dylan will start freshman year at Montville Township High School. Upon graduation, he would like to study music at Berklee College of Music in Boston or Musicians Institute in Los Angeles.

“I want to surround myself in music, and play and tour,” he said.  

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