Ryan Gaio remembers a time when Niagara-on-the-Lake had a vibrant, independent music scene.
It was back when NOTL still had a high school — Niagara District Secondary School, which had a strong focus on the arts.
Though he didn’t attend the school, he remembers how bands, many formed by students from the school, would play shows around town venues like the Legion and at music festivals like Peace in the Park.
Now he’s on a “personal mission” to try to bring a piece of that back to town.
On April 1, Gaio will bring his own live music to the NOTL Legion in celebration of his first album release.
He says most of his inspirations came from those younger days watching homegrown bands take the stage.
He credits those musicians as the reason he started taking guitar lessons and playing music in the first place.
His journey into music began as a kid in about Grade 8, when he took guitar lessons from NOTL teacher Bruce Jones on Green Street.
“And I’ve been playing ever since,” Gaio said in an interview with The Lake Report.
Now he lives for it — but not off of it.
“I’m not doing music as a living — like I’m not looking to be a professional musician. But I get so much joy out of doing this.”
“It sounds so cheesy,” he says. “But I feel this call inside to pick up a guitar and sing songs that are catchy and that other people can rock along to. Doing that gives me purpose,” he said.
“I don’t really know why. But it just really fuels me inside. And so I’m doing it because I can’t not do it. I’m sad when I don’t and everything feels boring when I don’t.”
Gaio, whose family will be remembered by many NOTLers for their stint on “Family Feud Canada” in 2020, now lives in Toronto, but he wanted to stage his album launch show back home.
His songs are written in and inspired by Niagara-on-the-Lake and small-town living.
“I’d love to classify it as NOTL rock, if there is such a thing, and I’m hoping to help define what that is with these songs, but basically it’s just rock music. It’s guitar-based, classic sounding, four-piece rock music.”
He released the 10-song rock album, “The Best Ain’t Happened Yet,” on March 16.
Musically it’s influenced by his favourite artists, he said.
“Well, always since I was a little kid, I said when I grow up I want to be Tom Petty. And I still have that same philosophy. So I would say Tom Petty is definitely a key influence.”
“And I’ve spent many nights at the Sam Roberts shows at Jackson-Triggs. So I think Sam Roberts is sprinkled in there as well.”
“And any kind of classic guitar-based rock music — CCR, Bruce Springsteen, Joel Plaskett.”
The album was recorded in home studios with the help of friends, but he thinks “it’s as close to professional as people can do on their own, which nowadays is not far off from the real deal.”
And though he’s proud of the album, he insists his larger focus is really about bringing back local music and maybe inspiring others like he was inspired.
“Even more important I think is the kind of guiding philosophy behind doing it in Niagara-on-the-Lake, which is that mission to celebrate local homegrown rock music, you know?” Gaio said.
“I know that you can go on the weekend to the Angel Inn and the Irish Harp and whatever and hear people sing ‘Bobcaygeon’ and ‘Sweet Caroline’ — and that is well and good. I have a great time doing that as well. But I don’t know where people can go to hear people singing their own songs.”
Thinking back to the bands that influenced him, he wants to see that scene bloom in town again.
When he started playing guitar and writing his own songs, “I was so influenced by going to see Matinee Slim and (C for Cat) and As Above, So Below and Starlit Lounge and the Amazing Flying Hammer Brothers — all these acts — when I went to Peace in the Park and saw (them) all playing at Simcoe Park on the bandshell, to me, that was like Woodstock,” he said.
“It was just like the most epic, amazing, cool thing and to see someone doing that in our little town was like, ‘I can do that too.’ And I don’t know where that is anymore. And I want to give it a stage.”
Tickets for the April 1 show are $10 in advance, $15 at the door and can be purchased at RyanGaio.Eventbrite.ca. Doors open at 7 p.m.