Local folks help, attract able musicians through music

Scott Turner Allstar Guitar owners Dan and May Wilson spend a moment with David Hoefer, a Gig Harbor resident and United By Music North America artist. The Wilsons, Hoefer and UBMNA are encouraging Key Peninsula musicians with intellectual or developmental disabilities to join their performing company. Photo by Scott Turner, KP News

A good number of Key Peninsula residents know Dan and May Wilson through their Allstar Guitar store on the Gig Harbor waterfront where Dan teaches music and sells and repairs instruments and music gear, and May runs the Allstar Academy, the instruction part of the business.

Others know Dan because of his huge heart and his work with kids.

Allstar Guitar got its start in 1990 in Wilsons’barn near Penrose Park when Dan began fixing guitars for companies like Fender, Gibson and Ovation.

“Before that I was working for a log home company north of Key Center,”Wilson recalled.

“I’d also been in the music business for a good part of my life, so in the slow time during the winter I’d buy and sell guitars and buy broken ones and fix them, and then I got into building new ones,” he said.

He also got involved with local musician Geoff Baillie, a harmonica player who was on the PSD school board.

“Geoff started doing an after school program at Evergreen Elementary called Blues Kids, where the kids would get a harmonica, a T-shirt and some sunglasses and we’d teach them how to play the blues and then they’d play at gigs like at the KP Fair and other places,”Wilson said.

That led to Wilson’s getting involved with Crime Stoppers, a music program for youth that teaches kids that “it’s better to be in a band than a gang.

“We work a lot with the counselors at Remann Hall, (Juvenile Detention Center in Tacoma) for example,”he said.

“They’ll tell us they have a kid who’s getting out and they’d like for him to have a musical instrument to play so he doesn’t get right back in with the same gang. So we’ll give him a guitar or a trumpet or something and teach him how to play it,” Wilson added.

A few years ago, Wilson’s and the Crime Stoppers organization donated a complete set of marching drums to the KPMS band.

And this year, the Crime Stoppers group took over management of WoodStick, an event that “tries to set a new world record every year to have the most drums playing at the same place at the same time,” he said.

He’s also a strong supporter of the Red Barn on the Key Peninsula.

Recently, the Wilsons have become very involved with an organization called United By Music North America, founded by Gig Harbor residents Barbara Hammerman and her daughter Amanda Gresham.

UBMNA is the North American arm of an organization that started in The Netherlands in 2005 to help musically talented people who have intellectual disabilities become performing musicians.

“There are some people who you can barely carry on a conversation with, but if you sit them down at a piano they’re amazing musicians,”Wilson said. “We’re trying to find people like that here in America and match them with mentors who work with them to become performers.”

“It’s just getting started in this country,”May added, “but it’s really picking up steam.”

The UBMNA pilot project was launched in Portland, Oregon in 2011, and last year Hammerman and Gresham began a Puget Sound chapter.

“A big part of UBMNA is forming partnerships with other local organizations,”Hammerman said. “We chose Portland as our pilot city because Amanda is a producer of the Portland Riverfront Blues Festival, so they were a natural partner.”

David Hoefer, 24, is one of the local UBMNA musicians. “It’s really fun,”he said. “I play guitar. We go to festivals like the Emerald City Blues Festival this past summer in Carnation.

“We rehearse a lot before every big event. We have a great time and after the gig we all talk together. We’re trying to get it well known and trying to get our movement to spread across the country,” Hoefer said.

Locally, UBMNA is partnering with TACID (Tacoma Area Coalition of Individuals with Disabilities).

On Jan. 10, UBMNA will hold auditions for local musicians to join the performing company, Hammerman said.

“It’s going to be a party –– kind of like American Idol or The Voice –– but in a very supportive, friendly atmosphere. The call is for musically talented people who have intellectual disabilities.

She said her goal is to identify people in this area who would be candidates who will learn, rehearse and practice with their local mentors and then be part of the UBMNA performing company.