GIG'n'GIVE to support the Hemophilia Foundation of MN!

This past month, I was lucky to play some songs at another successful GIG'n'GIVE! This time around, I teamed up with my sweet friend Dayna, whose sweet little boy has severe type A hemophilia. Currently there is no cure and the disease requires intravenous infusions several times a week. Her son has had over 300 intravenous infusions and a port surgically implanted into his chest. She infuses the missing factor needed for him to form blood clots 3x a week at home. She's pretty much a freaking rock star & her son is just the cutest little spark plug you'll ever meet. Here's a picture of the sweet little guy & his awesome mom:

This friend of mine is so dedicated to helping other families who deal with this disease every day & I still can't believe what an incredible event she threw!!! She had donations from restaurants, bars & businesses, which were raffled off for donations & there was even BINGO, hosted by her super groovy boyfriend! I got to play some tunes in between all the action & as you can see, the kids were diggin' it:

I drove away from this night completely floored by the kindness of everyone that attended. I think it can be easy to forget just how much people want to give & help out until you actually see it in action. My friend Dayna has the biggest heart & the strongest passion for helping families dealing with Hemophilia. She is even doing the Step Out for Bleeding Disorders walk in a few days & if you're feeling generous you can donate to her page HERE. I am so grateful she opened up her home & threw the absolute PERFECT house party!


Take care & happy summer to ya!


GIG'n'GIVE for Listos!


Happy Monday! I hope you had a fantastic weekend. I sure did. Today, I am on cloud nine hundred billion, after such an incredible GIG'n'GIVE last night!

Courtney & James were most definitely the hosts with the most, throwing the most beautiful backyard concert. There were over 40 people in attendance & I've often said my favorite part of any gig is meeting new people. I met so many kind, interesting folks last night, including Christina, the Director of LISTOS Preschool & Childcare. Listos is the organization for which we were all gathered, to raise awareness & donations. We heard from both Christina & Courtney about their passion for this program, the need for dual immersion teaching in Rochester, MN, & what our donations would be used for.

Then, I played a set of songs, including ones from my latest album, always a river, plus a few covers. The vibe was absolutely perfect, so casual & comfortable. This is the best setting for my material, since I love to give a bit of backstory behind each song. I felt extremely inside the material & was once again reminded that I just love playing my guitar & singing songs. Simple as that. I can overcomplicate things & get so tied up with all of the aspects of running my career, but just picking up my guitar & playing songs for anyone who will listen...that alone is good enough...this is my success.  

A huge THANK YOU to everyone who was there, for listening, for connecting, & most of all for your generous support & donations for our most worthy cause, LISTOS!




Hey there!!! I hope you had a great holiday weekend...A while back, I launched a house concert series with a cause/charity focus. These intimate events are SO MUCH FUN and I am always thrilled when someone jumps on board to host one. This weekend, my good friends Courtney & James are hosting in their beautiful backyard. Aren't they just the most adorable couple ever?!!

Courtney works with Listos Preschool and ChildcareRochester, MN's first Spanish-English preschool and childcare. In Spanish, Listos means both smart and ready. Along with yummy food & some good music, we'll be able to raise awareness & funds for Listos & hopefully supply several families in need with scholarships! 

Stay tuned for a follow-up post on Monday with pictures & the complete recap...Have a great week! -Ryan

Brand New Music Video - IMMIGRANT

I've spent several weeks during the past two winters in a tiny little Honduran mountain village named San Juancito. A few years ago, my husband and I had a fortuitous encounter when we just happened to sit next to a sweet older woman at a play. During conversation, we found out that she had a strong connection to a tiny little creative arts school in Honduras, who welcomed volunteer teachers of all sorts. We had just returned from a trip to Thailand, where we taught music and theater for two months, and were just itching for our next international adventure. I still can't believe how this opportunity just fell into our laps. We chatted more with our new friend at intermission, exchanged contact information after the show, and just days later, I was emailing with the woman who runs the art school about when we could come and volunteer!

It's hard to describe to you what our life is like there. Simplicity, tranquility, peace. We live right in the heart of a green, lush cloudforest. The village is tucked at the base of a mountain range, so we begin each day with a long mountain hike, up the gravel road through the village, where we say Buenos Dias to everyone we meet and they say it right back, with a big warm welcoming smile. Quite different from Los Estados Unidos. Once out of the village, it is just green & sky. For miles. This beautiful walk is such a healing, sacred time for us. 

Each day, we spend a few hours with the children, singing songs, teaching guitar and flute, reading books, often just goofing around together. A lot of the fathers in the village are absent, busy working hours away, so we love to be Uncle Ryan & Uncle Tod, just loving up the children and connecting with them as much as possible during our short time there. 

There is so much more I could mention, but I'll let this music video speak instead. I put it together with footage that I took the last time we were there and did my best to portray our simple mountain life. The song is "immigrant" from my latest album, always a river. I wrote the lyrics for this song as a reminder to never lose sight of my desire to use my talents and music to directly help others. It is a call to action, to seek out opportunities where I can be of service, and I hope it inspires you the same way. Full lyrics are below. Enjoy!


lead us to the wreck, many years of calm but now we crave the storm
toss us to the mess, keep us hungry, keep us dirty, keep us poor

this green underneath our feet, this springloaded soil…a world without end
here within this peace, keep us gypsy, keep us burning, keep us immigrant

we tie these sheets together while the village sleeps
we throw our rope over the barricade
set fire to this tower of ivory
we are reckless, we are frenzy, we are free

take us close to trouble, catapult us deep into the dangerous
side by side we struggle...keep us hungry, keep us dirty, keep us burning

we tie these sheets together while the village sleeps
we throw our rope over the barricade
set fire to this tower of ivory
we are orphans, we are gypsy
set fire to this tower of ivory
keep us hungry, keep us dirty, keep us free

Let our energy introduce us before we even speak...

A few months ago, I blogged about the solidarity of being a singer/songwriter, and my plan to attack this head on, making sure I am engaged with people on a regular basis. For such a social bug like myself, I just can't spend my life in my little writing/recording/marketing/booking world, which is 95% staring at a computer screen. This has snuffed out my candle in the past & I am determined to not let that happen again. I need to interact, engage, laugh, connect with people. 

SONG by NOON was born out of this necessity & has really taken off this year! I am having a blast writing songs with some pretty incredible people & am so grateful that people are willing to open up & share their stories with me. I look forward to many more of these beautiful morning writing sessions! 

GIG'n'GIVE is also a HUGE part of my plan to stay social, connected & of service. I have one in the works for early this summer & trust that with Spring around the corner, I will be able to get some more house concerts on the calendar. 

I also recently picked up a serving job at a seafood place here in Minneapolis. The extra cash is great, but I also took the gig for the social element. Bouncing around a busy restaurant, being goofy with both servers & guests, it's always been a natural fit for me. Plus, this place has the best rooftop patio in town, so I will get plenty of Vitamin D all summer long!

Finally, our kind words, our service, even our silliness...others need these, even when we have no idea. The way we treat others, the choices we make to be kind, to be respectful, to be authentic. These matter. The other day, a mother & her 10 year old daughter sat in my section & had lunch. I asked about their big plans for the day, we joked, I teased the little girl about getting wild with her 3 lemonades & that I would need to call my manager to kick her out if I caught her jumping on the table...Typical server stuff. I had no idea what they were going through until I found this note after they had left:   


-Ryan Lee

Guest Post from Bebe - PERFECT RIGHT HERE

I had a hunch that SONG by NOON would be fun for me, and I am so happy that it seems to be just as much fun for my collaborators. Below is a guest post from Bebe Keith, my latest ROCKSTAR SONGWRITER! Bebe is also an incredibly gifted artist in so many ways, and you should definitely check out her work HERE. I am honored and grateful that she took the time to write this. Enjoy! -RL

I had one of the best days last Saturday! I got to write a SONG by NOON with Ryan Lee. 

I had never done this before and had no idea how it worked. I suppose everyone does it differently, and of course writing a song by noon isn't the norm for most people, but I enjoyed every single inch of the process and I'm sure I could write a hit album now. Okay - kidding, but I love how our little song turned out!

When I showed up at 9:00am, the clock started ticking. First thing - record a video to post on Facebook. That puts the pressure on! Now we HAVE to write a song! Ryan handed me a notebook and we started talking. Big talk about relationships and life, feelings and moments. I scribbled notes as we talked and soon we found a great direction to focus on. 

I wanted to sing harmony, because I love singing harmony. So we started talking about how relationships can be in harmony. We talked about how music can parallel relationships and soon we had lines like "surrounded by a symphony", "breathe with me" and "we're the strongest melody". How those little everyday moments make you flush with love sometimes. Same way singing harmonies does!

Around 10:30, Ryan picked up the guitar and started playing. He's a genius. I don't get to claim too much credit in this department. He came up with some great melodies! We worked out some fun rhythm things together turning the order of the lines around and using a little syncopation. I brought a shaker instrument, too, so I joined in with harmonies and a beat.

By about 11:15 we had the song mostly figured out. The words were mostly in order, the tune mostly worked! We sang through it a couple times, then at 11:40 or so we recorded it! One take. With one take you get what you get, which is kind of like the whole idea of a Song by Noon. The pressure is off and you are free to play! You can do things without worrying about getting it perfect. I should do this more with my visual art. It's so freeing!

It took a while to upload, but we were done with our song by noon. I love our song! It's called "Perfect Right Here" and it seems like a precious little gem to me, even if it doesn't mean much to anyone else. Ryan is perfect right here, perfect right there, or, really, he's pretty darn perfect wherever he is. Thanks, Friend, for an amazing experience!


The Boys are back in Sound!

As I searched for a picture to start this post, I got extremely nostalgic. The fella at the window in the pic above is my super amazing, wonderful, talented brother Joseph. He is kinda awesome. And I was fortunate enough to be in a little folktronic duo with him called In The Cinema for several years. We recorded 2 albums, toured a lot, and had a blast making some sweet, sweet music together. 

And guess what...WE ARE TEAMING UP AGAIN FOR A SHOW THIS MONTH!!! My good friend and talented artist Vicky Emerson graciously asked me to open for her again and I thought "why not see if Joseph wants to join me?" He is an incredible percussionist and does a lot of cool stuff with electronic beats and elements. Luckily, he had the date open and said he'd love to rock out some of our old tunes, as well as a few new ones!  So I am one happy brother. Below are the details about the show, and in the meantime you can go HERE to listen to some of those folktronic sounds I mentioned.

VICKY EMERSON + full band

with special guest RYAN LEE...and Joseph!

the ASTER CAFE, 125 MAIN ST SE, Minneapolis

Music starts at 9PM. Reservations can be made by calling 612-379-3138 and are highly recommended.




Bowling, Horses & Cupcakes...Oh MY!

This morning I got to do the coolest thing. My super cool, talented friend, Eriq, hosts a live tv show called Kids Clubhouse, from the Star Studio, the in-house tv network at Children's Hospital. He hosts the show as the Dude & I got to hang out with him for the entire hour! We showed some pictures from my time teaching in Honduras, I played a few songs, we played a super fun game & even got to write a song together, using suggestions from kids in the hospital. My favorite part was when the kids would call in from their rooms, & one of them even asked if I could come to her room after the show & play a song. I was all for it, but it just wasn't possible. Anyway, it was a BLAST! What a cool thing for these kids, who are unfortunately stuck in the hospital, some for a short time, some for a long have a fun, interactive tv show that they can be a part of & enjoy every day. Thanks again, Dude, I hope I can return to Kids Clubhouse again very soon!

Excerpt from "Humans of New York"

 “Our father was the music teacher at our school. He was very religious and he ruled our house with an iron hand. We didn’t play in the streets like other kids. We didn’t go to prom. Everything was music, music, music. We learned a lot but we hated him. He was like Joe Jackson. All we did was practice. He’d sit in the other room, and if he heard the music stop, he’d come in and hit somebody. If he heard the wrong note, he’d come in and hit somebody. He’d hit you in front of your girlfriend. And if you brought a friend over, he’d have no problem hitting them too.”

“Our mother left when we were young. One morning we woke up and there was no breakfast in the kitchen and our clothes weren’t laid out. Dad got very bitter. We started seeing rolled up dollar bills on the table. I think he maybe slept six nights that entire first month. He went from sniffing cocaine, to smoking cocaine, to doing heroin. The drugs actually made him tougher on us. We had less freedom than ever. But by the time we were teenagers, we were beginning to get noticed in the music world. We were getting gigs. We were called The Stokes Family Singers. We even met Michael Jordan when we did a concert at his restaurant. But Dad had a stroke at work one day and died suddenly. And everything came apart.”


 “We stopped playing for ten years after our father’s death. We lost all direction. All of us hit the streets and started selling drugs. Our lives fell apart for a long time. Recently we all got home from prison and we had a meeting. We said: ‘This is not us,’ and we decided to start playing again. We bought some old instruments and tried to practice but it was hard at first. We’d forgotten so much, and it was the first time we’d ever played without Dad counting out the beats. But it started to come back to us, like riding a bike. Now we use the music to support each other. If one of us needs something, all of us come out and play. If one of us is behind on rent, we come out and play. If one of us needs to buy Christmas presents for his kids, we come out and play.”


Guest Post from Tod - Thoughts about his SONG by NOON


I asked Tod to write a bit about his SONG by NOON experience...Here's what he had to say:

The thing about writing, recording and sharing a SONG by NOON with my sweet, talented, handsome husband Ryan is not that it's going to be perfect or amazing or even any good. The thing is that it's going to BE. No matter what happens between the 9am coffee and the 11:45 moment of truth, there will be a song posted on YouTube and Facebook by noon. Creativity will be tapped; good (and bad) ideas will be scrapped; critical, judgemental voices in the brain will be silenced; laughter and light-hearted self-mockery will prevail. And a song will be born. It was really fun. Also scary. But the forward motion and firm decision to just get it done, no matter what, put an exciting spin of what-the-hell-it's-just-a-song on the whole enterprise and what do you know? We got it done! We spend so much time in our daily lives being self-critical, self-defeating, stuck, sitting on our dimply cans, thinking about doing something creative, not doing anything creative. Ryan's simple SONG by NOON idea is a worthy, workable exercise in just letting go of useless expectations, perfectionism, pride and sloth. Also, after Ryan and I were done, I had an adrenaline high that lasted all day. The song was okay, maybe good, not great, but the happy, excited feeling of We Did It! made the whole day shine. Thanks, Ryan. I love you. I am so proud of you. Of your creative work, your spirit of collaboration and service, your fresh definition of success.

If you haven't seen it yet, check out "like woody guthrie", Tod's SONG by NOON:


Thanks for reading! -RL

Do I have enough bells & whistles?

Here I am, driving back up 35, around Duluth, through Superior...Highway 2 East, into beautiful Ashland, WI. As the wind tosses my little Prius all over the road, I am consumed with the strongest deja vu. This is my third trip up to Northland College, to connect with ALLIANCE, the LGBTQ+ support & awareness group on campus. I am going to attend their weekly meeting & then play a concert for them the next night. So Exciting!  But as I pull into town & onto campus, I can't help but worry about the visit. It seems like they are looking forward to having me, but will my story resonate with these young adults? Will always a river be "cool enough" for these groovy kids? Do I have enough bells & whistles?

I settle into my room in the dorms (right next door to the one I had last time) & then head back out to meet up with Heather, the Campus Life Programming Coordinator at Northland. She has become a really good friend thanks to these visits & I appreciate her so much. We head over to the Alliance meeting (led by the always sweet Stuart) & the room quickly fills with around 20 students, all there to connect & discuss. We talk about queer icons in the music industry, their roles & responsibilities...we discuss whether things have gotten better or worse regarding gay/lesbian/trans artists & how are they being represented in modern entertainment. These students are so smart, so engaged & so open with their opinions. I found myself being extremely inspired by their boldness, their optimism & desire to broach such deep, often difficult topics. I certainly never had any group like this to attend when I was in college. At the end of the meeting, I talk a bit about my experience as an indie artist, my path from the closet to coming out, & the ongoing task of trying to remain fully authentic with my writing, my mission, my life as an artist. I am so glad I went up a day early & got to experience this hour with them. Such a nurturing environment. So important & meaningful.

The next day, I got to have lunch & dinner with some of the students again, before my concert that evening. I really appreciated this time, just being able to casually connect around the cafeteria table & hear about their lives. As I prepped for the show, I did have a little bit of nervous energy to deal with, again, just wondering if my story will resonate & if the format will work in such a casual setting. Last time performing always a river I was in a theater with a stage, lighting, sound...This time it is just a small room, no stage, just me & my little amp. Here goes nuthin! 

Thankfully, the show was a hit! It only took a song or two for me to settle in & it seemed like the students were engaged the entire time. Afterward, I got to sit with them & talk a bit about my travels to Honduras with Tod, more about my work as a singer/songwriter & I got some good feedback about always a river, which I greatly appreciate. It was nice to feel that the themes in my show--love, loss, confusion, self-doubt, creativity...these are universal & relatable, no matter the age. It inspires me to keep finding LGBTQ+ groups on campuses, where I can visit, share my story, learn from & engage with.

I left the next morning & as I drove back to Minneapolis, I thought about my trepidation & fear upon arrival, just 2 days earlier. I was reminded of this fact: ACTION CAN ALWAYS DRIVE AWAY DOUBT. At least, in my experience this seems to ring true. Whenever I am feeling less than or find myself thinking that things aren't working out perfectly, these are the days when I just need to TAKE ACTION. Luckily, I had the action of this trip, full of connection, stimulating conversation & bright, engaging people to drive away those unwanted, invalid icky thoughts & feelings.


The realization of self-sabotage

It took saying the words out loud for it to really make sense:  I AM USING NON-CREATIVE BUSY WORK AS AVOIDANCE. My husband and I were on the beach in Puerto Rico last week (I know...sorry) and as we walked along the shore I mentioned a list of things that I still needed to get done before I can really get back in the saddle and start playing shows, release new music, connect with other artists, etc. Since I took a break from my solo career for the last 2 years, I've been busy rebuilding my website, rewriting my bio, getting my online presence set, shooting & editing a video for my new show. And although these tasks seem like the most important ones right now, they are NEVER AS IMPORTANT AS BEING CREATIVE AND SOCIAL! Tod (handsome hubby) is always great about kindly slipping this reminder into the conversation. I realized on that seaside walk that I am actually pretty scared about diving back into the indie singer/songwriter world. This is very hard to admit. My main fear is the loneliness. In the past, this has been my main struggle. There are times when a week can go by and I've been cooped up in my little world; maybe working on a mix, booking shows, managing socials, editing a video. Staring at a computer screen instead of getting out and connecting, which is my favorite part about being a performing artist. So as I return to my passion, I have to always look for ways to stay engaged socially. Here are a few ways that I am going to do this:

1) I just joined the Twin Cities Gay Men's Chorus! Now celebrating its 35th year, TCGMC is a volunteer community chorus whose mission is Gay Men Building Community Through Music. TCGMC seeks to provide its members with rewarding musical experiences and to promote social exchange. I am so excited about the friendship possibilities, the community outreach and the opportunity to sing some extremely gorgeous music!

2) Networking events - It's so important to always be connecting with fellow artists, exploring opportunities to collaborate and learn from each other. One great way to do this is through Springboard for the Arts, which is chock-full of resources, education & networking opportunities for working artists. There is even a Resource Fair coming up this weekend that should be a lot of fun!

3) GIG 'n' GIVE - This house concert with a mission (that I launched just before I took my break) is my main performance focus for this year. I am determined to get as many of these on the calendar as possible in 2016. I probably should set a goal--2 a month? 1 every weekend? My first step is to begin contacting past hosts and potential new hosts who have expressed interest. Spring is just around the corner, which is a great time for a party!

4) SONG by NOON - This is a brand new idea (thanks again, Tod) that we came up with in Puerto Rico. I pick a friend, we connect at 9 a.m., we write their song, record it, then throw it up on the web...All in just a few hours! More details on this to come, but I am really excited to do one and see what happens. Creativity on the fly!

So with these avenues, I think I have a pretty good plan of attack to fend off those lonely, defeating days. Have you experienced this yourself? If so, what are the tactics and solutions that work for you?

-Ryan Lee