Ryan Kinder’s Close Calls

Why Zac Brown and April 27 Are in His Heart

When Ryan Kinder first got a phone call from Zac Brown, he hung up on him. At the time, he didn’t believe the Georgia area code could really belong to the Grammy-winning artist.

“I usually don’t pick up if it’s a random number because usually it’s somebody trying to sell you something,” Kinder recalled during a recent CMT.com interview. “I picked this one up for some reason. And the guy on the other end of the line said, ‘Hey, this is Zac Brown.’ And I’m like, ‘Dude, don’t mess with me.’ The number called back and I thought, ‘That really could be him.’”

Brown called to offer Kinder a slot on his 2014 tour, and the timing couldn’t have been better. At that point, Kinder was between record deals and looking for his next label home.

“The story I tell radio stations is I was about to be an Uber driver and I was on my way to get signed off, verifying that I wasn’t crazy and that I’m OK to drive,” he said. “While I was driving to go get checked out, I got the call.”

That summer and fall on the road with Zac Brown Band was a game-changer for Kinder.

“Everything’s a fan experience when Zac’s out of the bus and in the public eye,” Kinder said. “I remember I was on my bus looking out the window during his eat-and-greet. I saw everybody get seated, and he started giving the rundown about how they bought everything in town: ‘This is all your produce. I like to keep this local.’

“As he was talking, the band starts walking up to the serving line, and I was like, ‘Are they eating before everybody else?’ They started getting food, then turned around and started serving every single person themselves. Zac had a plate of food and he was handing it to a fan, saying, ‘Thanks for being here. I hope you enjoy the meal.’ They served every single person before they got food and sat down with them.

“That’s respect — making people feel like they’re part of it because they are. Zac’s there because they’re there. And he’s thanking them by serving them.”

Much like Brown, Kinder is the kind of person who will go out of his way to serve people. At least once a year — every April 27 — he checks in with college friends from his alma mater University of Alabama. On that day in 2011, they survived the tornado outbreak that devastated much of Tuscaloosa and the surrounding area. His apartment at the time weathered the storms without damage, but right behind his complex buildings and houses were decimated. He still has a photo of the tornado saved on his phone.

After the storm passed, he and his roommate started walking to campus to find his girlfriend, Heather, who is now his wife. While going through the neighborhoods, he and his roommate tried to help everyone they could.

“I was kind of numb,” he said. “You didn’t realize exactly what happened. But as crazy and awful it was, it’s one of my absolute favorite memories of all time because our place was one of the only places that didn’t get hit. All our friends came over and brought all their food. We grilled every piece of meat we had in the freezer. We had like 25 people crashing at our house. We didn’t have power or anything. We just lit candles, drank, cooked everything and hung out. It’s kind of weird to say it was fun, but it was a nice part of an awful time.

“I’ll still text my friends even if I’m out of town if they’re under a tornado warning,” he added. “They’re like, ‘Dude, We got it.’ I’m like, ‘No. I’m going to annoy you and make sure you’re OK.’”

Kinder had a year left until graduation when dropped out of college to pursue music full time in Nashville. Warner Music Nashville — home to Blake Shelton, Brett Eldredge, William Michael Morgan, Chris Janson — signed him to a record deal after a performance at the 2014 CMA Music Festival.

His latest single “Close” is his second under his current deal and has him singing about one of his favorite subjects — love. Co-written with Jeremey Stover and Lindsay Rimes, it’s all about knowing love at first sight is usually reserved for fairy tales but wanting more all the same.

“I believe every word of it because it’s exactly how I felt when I first met my wife,” Kinder said. “I wasn’t trying to rush things or screw it all up by putting a label on it too soon. I just wanted to get close to her.” They celebrated three years of marriage this January.

With vocals as powerful as alternative rockers Ed Kowalczyk and Emerson Hart, Kinder stands out in any country music landscape. He is currently writing and recording his debut album with producers Ross Copperman and Paul Worley.

Lauren Tingle is a Tennessean and storyteller who eats music for breakfast, lunch and dinner. When she’s not writing or rocking out, she enjoys yoga and getting lost in the great outdoors.