John Ridgeway of the band Discord and Rye ’s Roots Music Out of Hawaii
Is it possible to find traditional Americana inspired music on one of the most remote land masses on Earth? You betcha! Although Hawaii is over four thousand miles from the birthplace of Bill Monroe, you can discover a bevy of high quality roots music. Grounded in traditional roots music, Discord and Rye reach beyond the genre’s boundaries. Barnstorming numbers based on whiskey drinking and fast cars are mixed with more intimate songs dealing with missing home. Thumping bass, hard strumming guitars, are expertly blended with the fiddle and drums. Americana Highways had a chance to talk to John Ridgeway of the band Discord and Rye resenctly.
Like almost everything in Hawaii, John Ridgeway, and Discord and Rye are imported from the Mainland. Ridgeway grew up “the son of a Southern Baptist preacher,” spending his formative years moving throughout towns of the Blue Ridge and Appalachian mountains. As a youth he “was only allowed to listen to gospel music and Elvis,” but was “introduced to Johnny Cash and Hank Williams during visits to his grandfather in Tennessee”. During Ridgeway’s early adolescence his parents divorced and his father left the ministry Only then was he introduced to the music of his peers. He remembers how he began playing bass in bands with his brother and older boys, playing a mix of originals and covers and becoming quite popular in the Lynchburg, Virginia party scene.
At a crossroads in his life, Ridgeway chose to enter the service even though he had spent most of his life inland. This sense of adventure took him to New York, Washington D.C. and finally to Hawaii where he finished his tour of duty in 2010. While stationed in Hawaii, he “believed his performing days were over.” Missing home, Ridgeway began playing guitar, reverting back to the traditional music of his home. Always timid of his voice, Ridgeway practiced alone. Luckily his roommate, marine and shark conservationist, Ocean Ramsey, urged him to perform his songs in front of an audience. Under the mentorship of Hawaii artist Guy Cruz, Ridgeway began performing at Onstage and later at Anna Bananas. These two clubs introduced the Virginian to the whole spectrum of musicians on Oahu. During this time Ridgeway was “introduced to a fiddle player from Wales, Oliver Vetter.” While deliberating a band name, “a friend suggested Discord and Rye, which was the name of a beer a mutual friend made in his garage.” The two formed the core of Discord and Rye.
The inviting music scene in Honolulu allowed the band to connect with musicians in every genre. The bonds formed with The Black Square (punk/ska) and The Hell Caminos (rockabilly) allowed the band to expand their audience and the number of gigs.. Soon Discord and Rye were hosting a monthly “Old Time Revival” show in which various bluegrass bands from all over the island would converge on Oahu. Throughout the years various musicians have played with Ridgway in Discord and Rye including Ronnie Velveta from Hawaii Island, Nick Danger and Michael Camino from The Hell Caminos, Caroline Pond replaced Vetter on fiddle, Nakana Wong on bass, and Drew Hemni on drums.
Discord and Rye have two releases. Highlights from their first release Punch It Son include the hard strumming “Can’t Get It Right” and the country waltz influenced “The Town Crier.” The title track recounts sitting on “my drunken fathers lap,driving as fast as the car would go”, down the deserted roads of North Carolina. The second release Live At The Atherton, released in 2019, continues where the band left off. Included are a number of covers by Trampled by Turtles, Leon Bridges, TV On The Radio, and The .357 String Band. The rest of the release is packed with a foot stomping hootenanny of songs including “Up On The Mountain,” “The Only Way,” and “Tell Me.” The final track is the fiery “Rye Whiskey.” One of Discord and Rye’s most memorable appearances was performing this song with an allstar band while opening up for the Dropkick Murphys. The punk rock crowd was literally bouncing off the walls by the set’s end!
Like all bands, Discord and Rye have been sidelined during the pandemic. Once it is safe, Ridgeway is planning on returning to the studio. While discussing the future release Ridgway mentions “the influence of Patsy Clineʻs style and Kate Bushʻs lyrics, restructuring older unreleased material, and dialing back the in-your-face roots music with a more sophisticated storytelling sound”. No matter which direction Discord and Rye pivot fans will be treated to an expertly blended progressive country sound.