Drawing from musical influences like Travis Tritt, Ray Charles and Bob Seger, and lyrical influences like Guy Clark, Kris Kristofferson and Roger Miller, Ryan Harmon carries on the long tradition of "three chords and the truth." Combined with a commanding stage presence and fun, lively performances, Harmon seeks to push the boundaries of what a solo acoustic act can be.
Though commonly categorized as country music, Harmon's music more specifically fits Americana, a sub-genre of country. He describes Americana by saying "You can put Hank Williams, Bob Seger, Ray Charles and Bill Monroe all in the same room, and it makes perfect sense."
Playing on and off with local musicians, Harmon started performing at age 12. Just two years later, Harmon began performing as a solo artist, and writing his own music. His first solo performance was at the 2009 Arkansas Oklahoma State Fair in Fort Smith, one year after being a Top 20 finalist in the 5News Youth Talent Contest as a solo electric guitarist.
After moving from electric guitar to acoustic guitar years later, Harmon was able to further shape his sound, bringing in the acoustic-driven influences of bluegrass and delta blues music. With the final piece of the puzzle in place, a challenge remained: How can you keep from being just another guy with an acoustic guitar?
The answer came in October 2013, after attending a workshop conducted by legendary guitarist, Tommy Emmanuel. Emmanuel, a solo acoustic player, has been quoted as saying "If you want a big crowd, make a big sound." Taking that quote to heart, Harmon began to approach his live performances with the same passion and energy as an arena band.
Through requests, unique song arrangements and spontaneous setlist changes, no two shows are the same. "I'm here to play for you. I've learned that time is something you can never get back. So if you decide to spend your time seeing me perform, I owe you a good show, and I won't settle for anything less," Harmon said.
Harmon's performing style has allowed him to play for a wide range of audiences, from hard rock to modern country, including opening slots for country stars Drake White and Jeff Bates.
In 2017, Harmon released his self-titled, debut album. Taking all modern production standards and throwing them out the window, Harmon created a stripped-down, low-fi recording that allows the songs to stand on their own, good or bad.
"I hear so much stuff where it seems like they put more focus on the production than the song. I love listening to old Hank Williams or Robert Johnson records where the word 'production' didn't even come into it. Press the 'record' button, and off you go! Get a performance of the song and that's it," Harmon said.
From the rocking, early Johnny Cash influenced "Hold On Sally," to the powerful "Ride The Wind," and the emotional "Find Your Heart," Harmon's songwriting focuses on real life and real people.
One of the album's more prominent songs, the humorous, yet true, anthemic country heartbreak "You Left, My Dog Died, and My Heart Did Too," was featured on an NPR Music playlist of dog-themed songs in January 2018.
Further cementing his love and dedication to country music, Harmon took his knowledge and talents to AETN, Arkansas's PBS station, where he created the station's first-ever podcast - "Country Fried." The series, which premiered in September 2019, featured Harmon having in-depth conversations with influential figures in country music such as Charlie Daniels, Marty Raybon of Shenandoah, Barbara Fairchild and more.
In late 2019, Harmon was invited by a producer from American Idol to audition for the show's third season on ABC. Harmon was selected to advance to the televised auditions, where he performed an original song in front of Luke Bryan, Katy Perry and Lionel Richie. American Idol premieres Sunday, Feb. 16 on ABC (check local listings).
Harmon is continuing that same style of writing, with new songs like "Midnight Fire" and "I Knew This Would Happen," released in early 2020.
The acoustic country ballad, "Midnight Fire," features simple, bluegrass instrumentation and an R&B-influenced melody and vocal delivery, a combination that illustrates Harmon's musical background and influences.
"I Knew This Would Happen" is Harmon's second release of 2020. Starting with the foundation of his acoustic guitar and vocals, the hard-hitting breakup song adds a punchy, full-band production that highlights the raw energy of his music.
Though Harmon's music typically draws from influences such as Travis Tritt, Bob Seger and George Jones, "I Knew This Would Happen" includes elements of hard rock and 90's country, reminiscent of modern country artists such as Luke Combs, Eric Church and Jason Aldean.
"It doesn't matter if it's a love song, a sad song, a funny song, etc. Life throws all of those different emotions at us. As long as people can relate to it and enjoy it, I feel like I've done my job."