John Mayer gifts North Bay musical teen with a guitar

With every note, every word, every strum of his guitar, you get another glimpse of 17-year-old Ryan Woodard.  It’s a side of him that, for many years, people could not see.

"What saved my life is music" explains Ryan, "and it helps me express myself. People with autism can, like, have a hard time with communicating and having social interactions with others."



Ryan was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3, communication was so difficult that he was considered nonverbal until he was 9 or 10.


Courtesy Ryan Woodard

His father Travis Woodard explains, "He would just say hi to like, he would meet you and say hi, like 50 times, because that's what he had learned how to say…the term for that is echolalia…he could actually repeat things, in short phrases, but nothing beyond that."

He worked with teachers and speech therapists for years and was making progress before something remarkable happened.  

His dad, who was always looking for ways to connect, bought him a game where he could plug in a guitar and play songs.

"And then next thing you know, he knew 50 songs. And I was like, 'Okay, well, if you can learn another 50 and get a certain score, I'll buy you a guitar.' Two weeks later, I had to buy him a guitar," laughs Travis.

The rest, as they say, is history, but Ryan didn't just sing, he soared.

Today he is the lead singer of the Ryan Woodard Band, a member of the School of Rock, and last year he had a packed touring schedule. 

This is a journey filled with incredible moments, including a meeting with the social media musician Reggie Guillaume, known as Guitaro 5000, who strangers to sing with him.

"So I came up to him and asked him, like, ‘What kind of music do you like?’" Ryan recounts, "And he said he likes tons of music. And then I requested Gravity by John Mayer, and then I sang with him. He's a nice guy. He has a great soul. He's showing human kindness to me."

The video went viral with over a million views, getting so much attention that even John Mayer noticed and sent Ryan a guitar and a note of encouragement.

"My dad brought in this big box, and we were seeing like, 'Who's it from?' It was from John. And then and then we just opened it up, got the guitar case, and then just like, oh, I don't know, I hope it opened up the guitar case and just pulled out the guitar. "


Video from that incredible meeting shows Ryan reading the included note aloud that read "Ryan, you sound great, here's a little something to help you keep expressing yourself to your friend John."  

Upon reading the note, a very happy Ryan exclaimed "Oh my gosh oh my gosh. Thank you, John, you inspired my songwriting. Thank you, John."

Ryan is now living a life his Dad says they never dreamed was possible

"I talk to my wife all the time and say like, you know, what if life if he just didn't do one more thing, it's 100 times more than we ever expected that he could ever, the potential he could ever be," says Travis.

And Ryan continues to amaze. He can play multiple instruments and can sing thousands of songs. He wants to raise awareness about autism and is finding power in telling his story.

"I have this song called For the Better," says Ryan, "it's about, like, moving on things because, like, this year, I'm graduating from high school and just going to a community college. It's about moving from moving to the next chapter of your personal professional self."

So he plays the guitar gifted to him by Mayer and sings songs that he wrote himself.  He dreams of a world tour and a Grammy one day.

It’s all inspiration from the boy who struggled to speak, who now at 17 continues to find his voice.