Words & Deeds

Michael Deeds: Boise Christian singer Ryan Stevenson embarks on major 41-city tour

You’ve probably never heard of your Grammy-nominated neighbor Ryan Stevenson, who lives near Capital High with his wife and two young sons. It’s understandable. The guy travels a lot. Besides, contemporary Christian music often exists in a microcosm.

“I’m so aware of that,” Stevenson admits, phoning from the airport in Las Vegas, where he’s about to start a 40-plus-city tour opening for industry titan Newsboys.

But if the next few months go well, the singer-songwriter wouldn’t mind if a few more Idahoans outside of church recognized him.

“I love that I’m local — from Boise,” Stevenson, 36, says. “I want people to know that. I want to make Boise proud, for sure.”

Stevenson’s album “Fresh Start” — his first full-length on a record label — will be released Sept. 18, the day the tour starts. In the next few months, he’ll perform for crowds of up to 5,000, he says.

He’d also be fine with “Fresh Start” bleeding outside the arena walls — into the mainstream world.

“I would love to see it just sell millions of copies, man,” he admits.

Blood is something Stevenson knows. A former Ada County paramedic, his life experiences influence his songwriting, which he describes as “Northwest acoustic pop music that’s faith-based.”

“I worked as a paramedic for eight years, so I get my inspiration from the ambulance,” he says.

If Stevenson’s appeal is anything like crossover acts such as Switchfoot and Needtobreathe, he could have the potential to attract a larger audience.

“Switchfoot, Needtobreathe ... they’re all just great people,” Stevenson says. “They’re devout Christians who have a relationship with the Lord, but they write songs about their lives, and they write songs for people. I think my generation, we’re starting to write songs — even though we’re Christian and we believe in Jesus, we’re just writing songs about life.”

Stevenson’s path from sirens to stages is a near miracle. As an independent Boise musician, he gigged locally and regionally while working two 24-hour paramedic shifts each week. In 2008, he responded to a call near Hidden Springs. A woman had been struck by lightning. “She was dead on our arrival,” he remembers. “Not breathing. No pulse. I ended up reviving her in the ambulance on the way to Saint Alphonsus.”

A year and a half later, they struck up a friendship. She funded a quality demo recording for him. It landed his first record deal.

The euphoria didn’t last long; he was dropped from the label within 10 months. But lightning quickly struck again when TobyMac — “probably the most popular, powerful guy in Christian music,” Stevenson says — heard an early version of his song “Speak Life.” In 2012, Stevenson signed to TobyMac’s label, Gotee Records. A retooled version of that song became a No. 1 hit for TobyMac and earned a Grammy nomination.

Stevenson held onto his paramedic job for a year before realizing he needed to make a choice.

“I’d be driving down the road going on 911 calls, and we’d hear my songs on the radio,” he remembers. “It was crazy.”

Stevenson won’t be behind a wheel much in the near future. He’ll ride. In a tour bus.

So what’s the expectation? Will he become the next TobyMac?

“I have high hopes for my record,” he says. “I feel like it’s going to connect with people. I feel like it’s going to impact people. To what degree? I don’t know. I just want to be faithful in what I’m doing and not worry about it. Just do what I know I can do.”

One thing is certain. The Stevenson family isn’t relocating.

“Everybody asks me: ‘Are you moving to Nashville?’ It’s like, ‘No.’ Boise is home to us. I like being outside of, just, the grind. It’s nice to escape and just come home to our little community in Boise, Idaho, and mow my grass and work on my fence and be normal.”

Michael Deeds’ entertainment column runs Fridays in Scene and alternating Sundays in Explore. He co-hosts “The Other Studio” at 9 p.m. Sundays on 94.9 FM The River.

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