Ryan Zimmerman Kicks Off Summer Season at Buckalew’s

May 17, 2017
Photo by: Ryan Morrill Ryan Zimmerman at Buckalew's in Beach Haven Friday night.

The atmosphere at Buckalew’s in Beach Haven on Friday night was an intimate, solo acoustic groove created by Ryan Zimmerman, a locally based music man known to travel for his trade.

Art isn’t anything new to Zimmerman. “My father was an artist – an illustrator and painter,” he said, but he didn’t follow his dad’s path. At age 12, he started learning the saxophone in school band and eventually traded in reeds for strings. Along with guitar, Zimmerman also plays the banjo, mandolin, bass guitar, a little piano and drums. He’s mostly self-taught, with some help from friends and a lot of trial and error.

“I took one guitar lesson. It was awful. I never went back.”

He started just figuring out chords on his guitar, learning what worked and what didn’t as he played. The first song he learned was “Over the Hill Far Away” by Led Zeppelin, although he doesn’t exclusively listen to, or play, rock music. His influences span genres including punk rock, reggae, Americana and many others, although his acoustic shows are an eclectic mix of folk, bluegrass and a bit of punk rock. “I improvise a lot at my acoustic shows,” Zimmerman said. He plays solo over recorded loops, making each show a little bit more different and a tad more original than the last.

While Buckalew’s is one of Zimmerman’s favorite places to play, he enjoys finding new places to perform, some far away from New Jersey. Asheville, N.C., is one of his favorite places to play. Recently, he completed a tour that traveled from Baltimore, Md., down to the Florida Keys and back up to Georgia. He’s played shows in San Francisco and San Diego, Calif. Next week he starts another tour, traveling up to Maine and New Hampshire, then off to Montauk, N.Y. He has spent the better part of the last few years touring in and out of New Jersey.

Zimmerman has completed his album Working Musician, working in the studio of Pete Steinkopf of The Bouncing Souls in Asbury Park. Steinkopf produced the album, which also features the talents of other guitarists, drummers, a few bass players and even the occasional saxophone player. “It was a really cool experience,” Zimmerman said. “It was something I really wanted to do and follow through with. I wanted to do it right, do it professionally.”

During his live performances, Zimmerman looks at ease and comfortable in front of a crowd. About performing live, he said, “There’s a deep, burning desire I can’t describe. But it’s there. It calls me. I follow my bliss.” His songs cover a vast spectrum of topics, like love and heartbreak, but also with a few fun, danceable songs thrown in. On stage, Zimmerman tunes into himself and his music, while never forgetting there’s a crowd out there. “I love being on stage. I have a Zen-like state of musical bliss. I feel more comfortable on stage playing music; it’s the best way to express myself.”

The music itself carries the feel of summer. There’s something personal and inviting about it, much like the idea of warm sunshine and salt air. It filled Buckalew’s with its fun and exciting energy.

Zimmerman started the set with a confidence that never wavered, and his energy stayed at a peak throughout. Even with his self-taught background, his music employed more-complex techniques, and his improvisation was evident, and welcoming, during his guitar solos. His use of the wah pedal was a nice complement.

Even between songs, Zimmerman continued to play. The lack of silence added to the performance – it was certainly a reason the energy stayed high during the show. Each song transitioned seamlessly into the next. While many acoustic sets have a predictable dynamic, Zimmerman knows how to use dynamics to add emphasis and drive home a song’s message.

“Werewolves of London,” originally by Warren Zevon, was a surprising, yet wonderful addition. The fusion of folk and blues vocals and guitars to the original rock song was unexpected, but a solid cover choice. He certainly made the song his own, adding to the originality of his music. “I’m on Fire,” a lesser-played Springsteen single, was a refreshing tribute.

A feat to his credit, Zimmerman’s covers sound more like original songs in his repertoire.

Able to carry off a solo performance like a pro, he has no need for other instruments or musicians; at points it felt as though a whole ensemble were playing along with him. His use of improvisation and recorded loops added to the performance.

Check out Zimmerman’s original music on Spotify and visit ryanzimmermanmusic.com for upcoming shows around the area and tour dates for the spring and summer.

— Kimberly Bodine

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