Virtual celebrity

Let’s get it out in the open. Yes, the rumors are true. An 11-year-old, Stevie Ray Vaughn-loving, guitar prodigy named Cole Citrenbaum was, in the early days of YouTube, what you could call a minor Internet celebrity. After a simple video of the bespectacled elementary school student shredding the blues on an electric guitar was featured on YouTube’s main page, it went viral and landed millions of hits. It also led to a national TV appearance where the pride and joy of Bishop, Calif. (population 4,000), traded riffs with famed bluesman Johnny Lang. That was then and this is now, and the 17-year-old Buena High student has wisely shrugged off his Internet fame and the potential associated trappings in order to pursue his career more traditionally.


Land of opportunity

Starting high school in the much bigger town of Ventura after his family decided to move from their desert home would, understandably, find most kids having a tough time adjusting. Not Citrenbaum, who as a young and hungry musician looked at Ventura as the land of opportunity with its thriving scene full of venues and fellow players. From open mics to street performing, Citrenbaum used the new location to really find his own voice and focus on his songwriting, which relied less on the blues and more on the accessible hooks of a John Mayer or Rob Thomas; fairly impressive considering he still had to balance the demands of such distractions as homework.


One to watch

Naturally, Citrenbaum found a home at local singer-songwriter haven Zoey’s, whose crowd embraced and encouraged his move toward original material. The venue’s yearly Ones to Watch Songwriter competition, which focuses on new songwriters, was a natural fit; and appearing as a finalist there last year, Citrenbaum caught the attention of several producers and established songwriters who noticed his obvious talent. One of those producers was Jeff Trott, best known as the co-writer of several of Sheryl Crow’s megahits. An impressed Trott agreed to produce Citrenbaum’s debut release, and the two worked hand in hand together on the songs that would eventually end up on the EP Runaway Dream.


Cap, gown and guitar

Even with a name producer in his corner and a solid release of Top-40, radio-ready rock, Citrenbaum remains an incredibly friendly, normal teenager. Wise beyond his years in understanding that a music career can go hand in hand with an education, he plans on attending college after graduating from high-school while still pursuing a career in music. He’s even level-headed enough to set reasonable goals for next year, which include playing more often beyond  the county, continuing to grow as a songwriter, securing management and perhaps even starting a band. As he sums it up, “I’m just trying to be the best version of me, as an artist and as a person. I am really happy with where everything is going and I’m trying to learn as much as I can and enjoy the journey.” 

Cole Citrenbaum will celebrate the release of his debut EP, Runaway Dream, at Zoey’s on Saturday, Dec. 1. To check out tracks or to purchase the new EP, visit,