A Tribute to Versatility

Founder of Music on the Rock series continues his work with Flat Rock Playhouse

Ryan Guerra on violin, left, and with Ryah Nixon, who played Doralee in 9-5. (Ryan played her husband, Dwayne.)
Photos by Treadshots.com

One of the most popular and enduring live-music events in Western North Carolina is the Music on the Rock concert series staged by Flat Rock Playhouse (on temporary hold due to the pandemic). Music on the Rock featurs a succession of tribute performances, each focusing on a popular music act. For many of those years, the program has been coordinated by Ryan Guerra, a musician who moved from New York City with the express purpose of heading the series.

A Texas native, Guerra is a trained classical violinist. Before coming to Hendersonville, he studied music business, played as a “pit musician,” and portrayed Frank Sinatra and Buddy Holly in musical productions; all of those experiences helped prepare him for his work as music director of Music on the Rock.

A great deal of care and preparation goes into the performances. Audiences are quite familiar with the songs by artists like Andrew Lloyd Webber, John Denver, and Sting, so it’s essential that the tribute versions stick close to the sound and spirit of the music, played the way listeners expect it to be played.

Western North Carolina has a deep bench of musicians ready, able, and willing to handle the often challenging musical parts that go into note-perfect tributes to Elvis, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Chicago, and others. But when it came to vocalists, Music on the Rock sometimes looked beyond the region. “We were doing material that was really difficult [to sing],” Guerra says. “Like the Beach Boys and the Bee Gees.”

So in addition to local talent, the concerts drew upon a nationally known talent pool, as well. “[Flat Rock Playhouse] would fly these people [in] from L.A. or New York,” Guerra says. “And then I would have two days: one day to work on our first set, then the other day to work on the second set.” Everyone had to master the program quickly. “We only had a couple hours’ rehearsal for each set,” he remembers. “That’s a lot of material, especially if you’re doing a set of music by, say, [the] Eagles, with all those harmonies.”

Despite the time pressure that characterized those rehearsals, Guerra emphasizes that the entire endeavor was a great deal of fun. “Everyone’s head was in the right place,” he says. “It was such a wonderful opportunity. I learned so much, and I got to work with so many great people.”

Ryan Guerra in Eagles mode.
Photo by Treadshots.com

Guerra juggled other musical commitments at the same time he was heading the Music on the Rock series; he’d often shuttle between Western North Carolina and the East Coast. “I was in and out of town so much,” he says, noting that he was involved in “40 to 45 productions” in Hendersonville.

Guerra continues to do work with Flat Rock Playhouse, the state theater of North Carolina, which maintained its original location after the Main Street venue closed. “Even in 2020 and now, I’m still part of their virtual concerts,” he says. “For a virtual Christmas performance, I got to play violin, guitar, and bass guitar.”

And the friendships and professional connections forged at the concert series have also endured: “I still get together and do gigs with a lot of the people I worked with at Music on the Rock.” A handy example of that is his latest project, the Here Comes the Sun Band. “We used to be called the Beatle Brothers,” he says with a laugh. “But you can’t have ‘Beatles’ in the name, so we changed it.” And through it all, Guerra has found that even when performing the work of others, he finds creative expression in doing it. “They expand my knowledge,” he says. “And I’m having fun.”

Ryan Guerra, Hendersonville. For more information about the performer, see ryanguerra.com. (Also: #ryanguerramusic on Instagram and Here Comes the Sun Band on FaceBook and at herecomesthesunband.com). Flat Rock Playhouse is located at 2661 Greenville Hwy. in Flat Rock. The theater currently hosts regular virtual programming, including its Studio 52 Winter Classes in acting, musical theater, Broadway dance, audition prep, and more, for ages 5 to adult, running through March 25. For more information, including a list of upcoming virtual performances, see flatrockplayhouse.org.

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