Ryder Buck: ‘Your music saved my life’

October 28, 2013
David Wexler

I first met Ryder Buck shortly after midnight, Friday, Oct. 18, 2013, in Los Angeles Historic Park. It was the second night of Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros’ magical Big Top festival, and the band had just wrapped up “Home.” Toward the end of the song, frontman Alex Ebert asked audience members to share a story, and Ryder Buck did not hold back.

“Your music saved my life,” said Ryder, of Burbank, Calif. “All your music …when I was undergoing chemo … everything, it just saved my life. … I am so grateful … I love you all, just thank you.”

Backstage, after the concert, Ryder told me about his own band, Ryder Buck and the Breakers, and how it was his dream to one day open for Edward Sharpe. We immediately hit it off, exchanged email addresses and were soon Facebook friends. As I left Los Angeles for home in Kansas City, I was so grateful to have met this amazing young man, who had such incredible spirit, positive attitude and magnetic energy. I had met a friend for life.

For the past week, we had exchanged a few emails. I was planning on interviewing him for our “Storytime” section, in which we profile different ESMZ fans. I was working on my questions for him, and was planning to talk further this week.

On Oct. 22, Ryder wrote to us: “Great meeting you guys this weekend! What a killer experience.” He asked about Janglin Souls’ new Cover Song contest, and whether the song had to be from the band’s new album. His band was planning to enter the contest.

He also asked us if we wouldn’t mind sending him our video footage of Edward Sharpe’s “All Wash Out” acoustic jam from Saturday night’s after concert. I sent him not just the “All Wash Out” jam, but all the video footage we took during the entire four-day festival.

I never got to do my interview with Ryder. On Sunday, Oct. 27, 2013, Ryder Buck passed away. Ryder was struck by a vehicle while walking along a freeway in California after his car broke down. He was 23 years old.

There was so much I wanted to ask Ryder. I wanted to know what it was like during those chemotherapy sessions, and how listening to Edward Sharpe’s music got him through it. I wanted to know what it was like seeing ESMZ at the Hollywood Bowl this summer. I wanted to know he was able to keep such a positive outlook on life.

After ESMZ’s final performance at Big Top on Sunday night, Ryder and I were standing backstage, sharing our favorite memories of the weekend and reflecting on the Big Top experience. I told him that I am learning to play the guitar. “I’m not very good,” I told him, “But I can play Home – even Stewart’s trumpet part.”

“Don’t give up,” he told me. “If you love it, keep at it. Learn to play a new song every day. You just have to stay with it, no matter how hard it is.”

We talked for a while. At one point, he said, “I apologize if I’m keeping you guys from something. I don’t mean to …”

I said, “Are you kidding, I could listen to you talk all night.” One of the best parts of the whole Big Top experience was getting the opportunity to talk to so many Edward Sharpe fans and getting to hear their amazing stories, and Ryder Buck was perhaps their biggest fan.

Rewind to our first meeting. We are backstage, after one of the best ESMZ concerts ever, and Ryder Buck looks into my eyes with a smile as big as the Pacific Ocean, and talks about his love for music and Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros.

“I think that’s the most powerful thing you can do in music is just move people and bring them up,” Buck said. “It’s not about being a rock star. It’s about bringing people in. You see Alex dancing around with the crowd and bringing people together, and that’s what it’s all about. That’s what music should be used for. It’s a powerful tool and a gift if you use it for the right thing. And I love it.”


Listen to audio interview with Ryder from Big Top


  1. I am so blessed to have met Ryder at Big Top– before I even first talked to him I noticed several examples of his out-going nature and genuine kindness. During the Sunday matinee show I saw him go up to someone he didn’t know, introduce himself and encourage her about her cancer treatment. I didn’t hear what was said but they talked at length and I couldn’t help but think how unique of a person this must be to have such a deep and powerful conversation is the first interaction with someone he was just meeting. When ESMZ played, he was accompanying every song with a tambourine and his happiness to be there was absolutely infectious to everyone around him. After that show I saw him playing guitar by the fence of the backstage area; inside his open guitar case was his tambourine which he said he had brought for everybody to use. So I grabbed it up and we sang I Don’t Wanna Pray and All Wash Out together and talked about all sorts of things. I saw him jamming with lots of folks later on, and we got to talk again backstage after the Sunday night show. He was so genuine and really interested in everybody he talked to. He was a person who loved to hear people’s stories and really level with you, from that one day I felt like we had known each other for years. I wish I had met up with him later that morning to watch the sunrise before I flew back to Louisiana–in that sense and in his memory I will never again pass up a chance to spend time with friends new or old, we can’t take anything for granted in this fleeting existence. I’ll never forget Ryder and his incredible positive vibes.

  2. I CANNOT believe this. I was there that night and was incredibly touched by his words. What a gift the band provided him and they may have never known it. A man I saw on the 18th is now dead. I’ve been staring at the computer for quite a while with my hand over my mouth. This is one of those moments where it is difficult to embrace the thought that everything happens for a reason. This young man made us feel something, prompted us look inward, to feel grateful for his strength, and for what we have whether we ourselves have cancer or whether we do not. He gave us a gift just as the band gave him a gift.

    “The fact that he got ill and passed on doesn’t mean anything more than he got ill and passed on. Everything else is simply our projecting our beliefs onto his situation.”
    ——–Anonymous spiritual teacher speaking about a man who went through chemo and died.

    Food for thought while I cry for a man I never met.
    ~Lady J

  3. Great article on Ryder. I met him randomly on Super Bowl Sunday and we hit it off so he took me on an impromptu date that night…it was the night before he started chemo. He was such an amazing person and so interesting…we remained friends from the day forward. He texted me just a week ago about a show he was supposed to play in November and I’m so sad I never go to go to any of his shows. He serenaded me on the street and asked me to dance for him (I’m a dancer) but I was too shy. Now I wish I had shared my art with him as he had with me. He will be greatly missed.

    Btw…in true Ryder fashion he is STILL bringing people together even after his death. I see you are from Kansas City. Me too…small world 🙂

  4. I was with Ryder at two of the Big Top Shows ( and Hollywood Bowl). We shared hours in the hospital, listening to ESMZ music, interviews, videos. Sometimes, when he felt up to it, he played them on his guitar, and this alone, brought the light into the room, the smile to his face, and a serenity to his spirit. I knew when he said he would connect with the band one day, that he would, that it gave him something profound to look forward to, and a reason to keep on fight through the hell of chemo.
    He was flying so high this past week since Big Top. He knew he had made true friends. And when Ryder made a friend, they were for life.
    His computer, where all that precious footage resides, was destroyed in the accident. I would be eternally grateful if you would send it to me. That and stories, and pictures are all I have now. It would mean the world to me.

    For all you brought to his last week, and the past year,
    Deepest gratitude from a mother’s heart.

    • Hi Shelley, my condolences. I was just made aware of Ryder’s death through the LA Weekly article. My friends and I were at that same show you were at. I thought I shot video of that song, but can’t find it, but found someone else’s recording on youtube. I posted the link in my other comment below…

      I hope to check out a show by Ryder Buck and the Breakers, with Reed singing. I can’t seem to find info on the upcoming shows referenced in the LAW article… Do you have any info?


  5. Ryder is such a blessing. Such an amazing spirit!! May his soul rest in peace. <3

  6. WOW… what a breath taking story… I truly believe all of our paths in this life cross for a reason. We are all used to lift one another up, to teach, and to share. He had served his purpose and fullfilled his duty here. What an impact those few words could make in the music world today if everyone lived by them. Wise beyond his years. If we all could touch people’s lives in the way that he did the world would be a better place. 🙂 May he experience the eternal joy we all look forward to.

  7. Oh, Shelly. My heart aches for you. What an amazing young man. My son, too, had cancer at the age of 22 right after graduating from college- Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. These young people who go through such an experience are amazing – they never give up – like your son, mine, too, carried on living with gusto, with dreams, with an appreciation and a serenity (as you mentioned) that many never achieve living long lives. I am so sorry you lost him; I am so happy he had you. And I’m so happy he met Alex and the band, and he was so exhilarated by the experience and they in him.

    Thank you for posting – and thank you to the band for sharing this story – as someone said above, Ryder is still bringing people together.

  8. I am completely floored by this story. Not because I knew him personally but because I see what a profound impact he made on everyone he met. It is not everyday you meet someone with such a special gift in life. Sounds like he found it early and let it shine. Great job you did Shelley on raising a wonderful young man.

    While his time here was short, he left a deep imprint. I know that doesn’t take away any of the ache but it’s because of this that it seems so many are smiling at the mention of him. Some live a lifetime and do not have as much impact as that. Condolences to you, family and friends who will be working through this. Prayers for comfort, I’m sending your way.

  9. I never met Ryder, but like he did to so many others, he managed to reach out and touch my life and I will not soon forget our brief, but beautiful encounter. Reading these tributes, it’s clear the impact that this amazing young man had on the people with whom he crossed paths.

    I was at the Big Top on Friday night when Ryder shared his story. I never got to meet him personally but I was utterly moved, transfixed and inspired by his story and the lessons he had for us all. His spirit, the way he carried himself, the way he spoke, what he showed us, will stay with me forever.

    Lady J (above), thank you for doing a far better job than me in finding the words to sum up this incomprehensible story and the deep sadness felt for the loss of a man I never met:

    “This young man made us feel something, prompted us look inward, to feel grateful for his strength, and for what we have whether we ourselves have cancer or whether we do not. He gave us a gift just as the band gave him a gift.”

    Shelley – my prayers are with you and your family and this difficult time.

    The ripples of this sad news are being felt far away.

    Live and Love,

    Nikki in London, England.

  10. It pained me to read this article. Having attended the show where Ryder shared his story, I couldn’t believe it. Not only did I attend this show, but I was right next to Ryder when Alex Ebert passed him the mic. I stood there next to Ryder and was amazed at how optimistic he was. I know how difficult It is to go through chemo, not directly, but my friend passed away from the disease. Also, during the last day of the Big Top I was able to see him once more as we talked to Jade Castrinos about the band’s upcoming Australian shows. He was so happy to be socializing with the band members and everyone that was their. I didn’t introduce myself because I was about to leave – a decision I have come to regret. Ryder seemed like such a joy to be around. Also, after reading this article I found some awesome videos of Ryder playing with his band. I’m sure I would have gotten along with him, seeing that I am a huge reggae/ska fan. One of his videos being a cover of Sublime’s “Badfish.” Check out his videos and leave him and his bandmates some love on the comment section.


    Rest in Peace Ryder. As I write this comment I’m listening to “Brother,” cuz we were connected through this amazing band. Wish we could have met and kicked it. I know you’re up there making some awesome tunes with Bradley.

  11. It is amazing what music can do to bring people together and uplift our spirits. In May 2012, I was told that my cousin Ryan only had three months to live if his chemo did not kick in. I cannot explain the emotional toll the news had on me, particularly because I did not know what to feel. Ryan was one of my biggest role models and sounded so much like Ryder. He was an optimistic person full of life. He walked up to strangers and carried on conversations with them as if knowing them a lifetime; he could sit all day simply listening to others and their stories. As one of his friends simply put it, he was everyone’s best friend.
    About a week after hearing the news, the second ESMZ album came out, and the next day, I saw them in concert in Columbus. I will always believe that exact album came out at that exact time for a reason. It was my saving grace. I went to bed almost every night crying, being whisked away by the soft harmonies in “Man On Fire.” I was completely taken away by the album; it seemed to free me of the emotional pain I felt inside.
    Ryan did pass away that August, and once again, I was able to turn to ESMZ.

    ESMZ has a way of bringing people together to express love for one another. I never met Ryder, but his story designates deeply to mine. Reading the comments above about how he was just a stranger who walked up to everyone but left them blown away by his presence is amazing. Sometimes the people we just meet and who create those lasting impressions are the ones who seem to connect to us best. He became the friend everyone wanted but the stranger they needed.

  12. Losing a loved one is the most difficult thing we have to endure. Shelley, you are finding peace through Ryder’s deep experience and connection with these extraordinary music makers. Your son left too soon but left on a beautiful note. Because the songs of Ed Sharp are consoling yet celebratory, and so direct & pure and passionate — there is something that can come through to all of us.

    I recently lost my good-hearted brother, whose lifestyle contributed to his sudden passing. In the past few weeks during the car trips back and forth between where we lived, I listened to nothing but “Here”. Every time ‘Man On Fire’ looped around and the guitar quietly came up, tears came, but by the end of ‘All Wash Out’, I was in a better place, again & again. Whatever our experiences, accompany them with this music. Keep listening. It will add another dimension.

    Alex and Jade & Zeros, keep doing what you are doing, in a humble healthy way, the only way it will keep on.
    Keep giving and inviting us in.

    I think you are now becoming, for me — (not the pray-er), the prayer.

  13. I am 58 years old and have been best friends with Ryder’s parents ever since I was 24 years old. My three kids grew up with Shelley and Chris’s, Ryder’s parents, three kids, of which Ryder was the eldest to them all, pretty
    Much the big brother to all five. But to me, Ryder was a baby I changed diapers babysitting. Years flew by as they do, and soon enough he is battling cancer as a young man of 22. He looked good with a bald chemo style head because he had style and humor and faith and confidence. I went to his funeral yesterday and I have to express to all ESMZ followers that I have never see a more beautiful generous soulful kind loving act from any band than the the ESMZ members who came and elevated and humbly participated in the entire 3 hour funeral for Ryder Buck. They came and saw and quietly watched all of the proceedings from the opening minutes to the final. Hugging Ryder’s band
    Members performing along side Ryder’s band and brothers woody and Reed. I was extremely moved by ESMZ and how sweetly deferentially they gave so much of themselves to Ryder for this tribute. It was a beautiful thing to see such grace and love being shown by such successful musicians to a young Buck they had known for a few short days. This speaks to the power of Ryder’s giant heart and deep
    Wise giving caring soul but also to the supreme class heart and soul and extrordinary heart of a band I never heard of until yesterday. But when the lead singer started singing graciously deferring until being coaxed into submission, she belted a soulful heartfelt emotionally devastating yet soaring with real love and glory for good people like Ryder Buck that left me agape with admiration for this incredibly generous band with a heart of
    Gold Edward Sharpe and The Magnetic Zeros. These are quality people as well as quality musicians. All for a young guy they just met. Head shaking to think they gave so much of themselves to honor a friend for life which turned out to be three days long.
    I am now a huge fan of ESMZ and their sincere songs of love and truth. The trumpet player sent a look of love to the gathered 800 mourners as he took the altar stage about to perform in the church and I’ll be damned if I don’t take the time to let their fans know these are not phonies these are true generous souls who play songs of reflection but more I mportantly show true love by their selfless actions and words expressed yesterday for my dearly loved second son Ryder Buck. It was an honor to be among this band of such high dignity and class and kind hearts.

    • I’ve also known Ryder since he was a baby. I’m 61 and I’ve loved your music since the first time I heard “Home”. I love that your music helped Ryder through difficult times, and that now you’ve helped hundreds of Ryder’s friends through the difficulty of saying goodbye. I love that he met you shortly before his passing, and that you were moved to come and perform at his service, and sing with his friends. It was a great gift that you gave, and an extremely inspiring moment in time. I truly appreciated it.

  14. My friends and I were also at that show, and were struck by Ryder sharing his story during “Home.” We didn’t know about Ryder’s death until yesterday, when LA Weekly published this really beautiful story about him:


    I thought I filmed video of that song from the front row, but cant find it. But I tracked down someone who did, and you can hear Ryder sharing his story at around the 6:40 mark:

    RIP Ryder…

    (BTW David, I’m also a KC native, live in LA now)

  15. I am genuinely grateful to the owner of this website who has shared this fantastic piece of writing at at this time.

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