Home for the summer, Ian Ridenhour is ready to rock his 19th birthday celebration at the White Horse

Fred McCormick
Black Mountain News
Back home for the summer from Boston, where he attends Berklee Music College, Ian Ridenhour will celebrate his 19th birthday with a show at the White Horse Black Mountain on June 15.

It’s kind of hard to believe that Ian Ridenhour is only turning 19 on June 12.

A fixture on the local music scene since moving to Black Mountain from Bismarck, North Dakota in 2015, the singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist has a full-length album, and an EP recorded at the esteemed Echo Mountain Recording Studio in Asheville, under his belt. A performer since the age of 4, he’s played scores of shows at venues throughout the region -- all before leaving in August of 2018 for his “dream school,” Berklee College of Music in Boston.

With a resume that belies his age, he will celebrate his birthday and homecoming at the White Horse Black Mountain, where the Ian Ridenhour Band will take the stage at 8 p.m. on Saturday, June 15.

“I’ve been gone a year, so to be back in this town I used to play in pretty consistently, at least once every couple of months, is a super fun opportunity to show off what I’ve learned and changed over that year,” Ridenhour said of the show, which will take place on the stage from which he held his farewell concert nearly 10 months go. “The White Horse has done so much for my career since I moved to Black Mountain and I wouldn’t be where I am without that support.”

Ridenhour considers venue owner Bob Hinkle and former manager Don Talley among “the most influential people” in his career since his arrival in the area.

“The way I kind of popped my head into the music scene here was at a benefit there and I got to play as a guest on drums,” said Ridenhour, who began playing music as a 3-year-old before performing with African drumming group Djibola Jr. at age 4. “We’d come down to visit and were thinking about moving here and David (LaMotte) had me play a song. I ended up meeting B.J. Leiderman, Zuzu Welsh and a lot of other really well-known artists and that was the first time anyone had seen my face on the local scene.”

Hinkle was immediately impressed with the musical prodigy’s energy.

“B.J. Leiderman brought him to my attention,” said the White Horse owner. “He has a directed energy and really as a good sense of how to get where he’s trying to go. The first time I saw him play, he played the drums, then I saw him play piano, and then he played guitar. He was a pianist, but he had a great idea of what all the instruments were supposed to do.”

Once Hinkle began listening to Ridenhour’s compositions he recognized traits the young artist shared with a pop star of another generation.

“It felt like I was listening to a 21st century Billy Joel, in a way,” said Hinkle, who has managed acts like Etta James and The J. Geils Band. “He’s got songs that really fit the marketplace right now, but his songs also have something to say. They’ve got stories to them and he knows how to present them.”

The move to the mountains gave Ridenhour, who had graduated from high school and performed at dozens of family-friendly venues in a band with his father, an opportunity to reinvent himself as a musician.

“I’d been a percussionist since I was 3 and most of my performing experience was a drummer,” he said. “I love drums and I still play them in a band up at Berklee, but they don’t really provide the best way to communicate the music I wanted to perform.”

Ridenhour was drawn to the keyboard.

Ian Ridenhour will return to the White Horse on June 15. It will be his first time back since August of 2018, when he played a farewell show before heading off to Berklee College of Music.

“I wanted keys to be part of my identity as a performer, and that’s what I started to do when I came to Black Mountain,” he said.

In 2016, at the age of 16, he released “Cry About It,” his second full-length album. The project, which was produced by Nomatic Studio owner Michael Hynes, represented a career milestone for Ridenhour.

“I was very young when I made my first album ‘Quietly Making Noise,’” he said. “I was very young when I did that and it was a great experience, but it felt much more like a collection of songs than an album. ‘Cry About It’ was the first time I was able to do a serious album, where I walked in knowing what I was doing.”

Ridenhour performed shows at area venues to promote the album, and a video for the track Dancing Children was awarded Best Editing and tied for Judge's Choice at the 2017 Music Video Asheville Awards.

He didn’t wait long to get to work on his next project “Ribcage,” an EP featuring six songs written by Ridenhour. The tracks include collaborations with Jacob Rodriguez and Justin Ray, of Michael Buble’s band, and Asheville’s Brie Capone.

While the project’s tone was darker than the pop-heavy “Cry About It,” making “Ribcage” was an “incredible experience” for Ridenhour.

“That was the most fun I’ve had as a professional musician,” Ridenhour said. “We knew we didn’t have much time in the studio, but we prepared by rehearsing every day for a week straight. We needed to go in there and get it knocked out as quick as we could.”

Recording at Echo Mountain was a “dream come true,” he continued.

“We had three eight-hour days to record six songs and everything we wanted to use on those songs,” Ridenhour said. “When we walked in, it’s this gorgeous room and it sounds phenomenal, and we got most of the songs done in three or four takes; it was really quick.”

The effort produced “a really awesome record,” according to Ridenhour.

The connections he made in the music community around Western North Carolina made it tough to leave for Boston when Ridenhour learned he was accepted into Berklee.

“But it had been my dream school since I was like 9,” he said. “Few schools can teach contemporary songwriting the way Berklee can.”

After learning music his way for most of his life, Ridenhour is now receiving instruction from experts in their fields.

“I was completely self-taught on piano,” he said. “I’d taken music theory lessons so I understood how the chords worked, to a degree, but I had no technique on keys.”

He’s eager to show off some of the new techniques he’s learned in college.

“I’ve got a lot of new material, because that’s what I’m focusing on in school,” he said. “This past semester I took Song Writing I, Lyric Writing I and Arranging 2, so I was composing probably two to three songs a week. In addition to that I was writing just for fun or for other projects or to co-write with people.”

He will share a wide range of songs when he takes the stage at the White Horse for his birthday celebration.

“This show is going to be awesome,” he said. “I’ll be playing some new stuff nobody has heard before and maybe some tunes that I’ve hinted at before. I’m turning 19 and I’m really happy to be back in town.”