Saturday, 23 February 2019

Ryan Stevenson Takes His Talent to the Top of the Charts

By Gaye Bunderson


Editor's note: This story first appeared in Christian Living's May/June 2015 edition. Since then, Ryan Stevenson's song “Eye of the Storm” landed atop the Billboard Christian radio charts for eight consecutive weeks in 2016. In late August of 2016, he launched a 50-city tour and was booked for tours through late 2017.


Most people chase dreams of one sort or another. Some catch them, while others pursue them for a lifetime and never quite reach them. Top-selling Christian musician Ryan Stevenson always envisioned himself doing what he's doing now; after ups and downs on the way, he's living the life he's always hoped for. He writes his own songs, records them, tours throughout the world and hears his hits on the radio. His most recent single, “Not Forgotten,” reached the No. 1 spot on Billboard's Christian Hot AC/CHR Chart for two consecutive weeks.

Stevenson was born and raised in a little community called Bonanza in an agricultural area of Oregon. “I grew up going to church and my mom put me in a kids' choir,” he said. “I played the drums since the 3rd grade.”

When he was 18, his youth pastor gave him a guitar. 

“He said, 'I felt like the Lord told me to give this to you.' I was like, 'Oh, OK, thanks...' It didn't make sense. I put the guitar on a shelf,” Stevenson said.

Then as a freshman at Northwest Christian University in Eugene, Ore., when all his dorm mates played the guitar, he gave it a try. He liked it and quickly became skilled at it. He and a roommate, Paul Wright, started a band they called Front Row Joe. The band traveled all over the Northwest for five years, singing pop songs. But eventually Wright got a recording contract and went out on his own.

Stevenson married a Boise native named Kimberly; on their first-year anniversary, the two of them decided to make their home in the Treasure Valley, where they are currently raising two sons, ages 4 and 2. Stevenson continued playing music and writing songs and started leading worship at Vertical Church. For eight years, he worked as an Ada County paramedic, and that's when a bolt from above made a big difference for him.

“There was a 911 call one day. A lady was struck by lightning,” Stevenson said. 

In fact, the lady was Lara Eustermann, who made national news in 2007 by surviving the lightning strike. Her heart and breathing had stopped. Stevenson was on paramedic duty that day, and when he and other medical personnel arrived on scene by ambulance, he was able to revive her. But Eustermann's full recovery took time and included coming out of a deep coma.

“Fast forward a year later and I meet up with her again at a county-hosted breakfast on noteworthy 911 calls. We hit it off and became kindred spirits,” said Stevenson.

“Ryan is genuine, pure, unadulterated love and light,” said Eustermann. “There was something flowing through him the day he saved my life, whether it was skill and training as a paramedic or the power of something larger. Ryan is a conduit for love, and his affection for the human spirit is inimitable.”

Stevenson told Eustermann of his musical aspirations, and in 2010 she funded studio time for him at The Mix House in Boise. It was his first record deal. The grist for some of his songs came from the things he saw while working as a paramedic — or as puts it, “experiences from the street, the 911 calls, the brokenness and tragedy...turning that into songs.”

Things went well for 10 months, then he was dropped from the label. “I was scared for my life,” he admits. “I went independent for 1½ years. I was my own booking agent and manager. I kept at it. If the door opened, I was walking through it.”

The decisive change came when he wrote a song titled, “Speak Life.” He happened to be recording it in a Nashville studio owned by Christian musician TobyMac. Mac liked the song, recorded it himself, and it was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Christian Music Song in 2014. Mac, age 50, owns Gotee Records; Stevenson has been on his label for two years and tours with him nationally with Billboard-topping hits including “Holding Nothing Back” and “The Human Side,” as well as “Not Forgotten.” 

Along with more tours with Mac, Stevenson is also confirmed to perform in the 2015 Newsboys' fall tour. His songs are regularly featured on Christian contemporary radio stations such as Boise-area's KTSY.  “Ryan Stevenson is a very unique artist,” Brian Yeager, general manager of KTSY, said. “He's a real guy, a guy who knows the life of being a dad, a husband, and a searcher for God. He's not afraid to share his life — whether the struggles of following a dream or getting healthy — and that openness makes him very unique and a special musician who is truly a minister through music.”

Stevenson, now 36, still leads worship at Vertical Church when his schedule allows. He's on the road roughly half the year and has performed for audiences in the contiguous 48 states, as well as in countries such as Denmark (before a crowd of 4,000), Holland, Belize, Guatemala, and Israel (“an unbelievable trip,” he said).

“I travel all the time. I don't get tired of the touring and events, just of the logistical stuff like airport security,” he said. “But it took me 12 years to get here, and I'm not going to complain.”

He travels with a drummer, a guitar player, and “a sound guy.” He is now his own brand: 356 Music LLC. He no longer serves as his own booking agent and manager but has a Nashville-based team of professionals who do that work for him. Along with Mac, other artists record his songs, and earlier this year he won two awards for Top Performed Christian Songs of 2014 at the American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers Music Awards.

“I remember as a young kid, growing up on Petra and other pioneers in the business. I envisioned doing this. It was a dream. I never doubted, but it's such a long shot. It has tremendously grown me in my faith and my relationship with the Lord,” Stevenson said. “I try to minister. I have a theme and a poignant topic for the night, and I have a testimony. I may invite people to come forward, or to be where they are and respond to Jesus right there.”

His fan base is a diverse demographic from 7 to 70, he said.

Asked if he and his family will ever make the move to Nashville, he replied: “We have a home here. Everything we've done, we've done from here. We haven't sensed we're supposed to leave. God brought me to this region for a reason. I have favor in this community, and I want to be a good steward and see that through.”


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