HOUSTON — Cole Ritter, is a country music musician with deep roots in Houston, Ohio. He came back to Shelby County to perform at the 2021 Country Concert for the first time.
Ritter’s star has been rising. He played at some of the private stages at Country Concert this year, but in the future fans may see Ritter walking across the main stage.
Ritter currently lives in Nashville, Tennessee. He grew up Gallatin, Tennessee, located just a little north of Nashville, and spent most of his summers visiting family in Houston, Ohio. When he came to Houston he would often stay with his grandparents, Tony and Linda Ritter. While Cole was in Houston for the summer he would hang out with his cousins who lived in the area. He remembers watching his cousins play baseball for Fairlawn. Family members would take him to local festivals including Heritage Days in Piqua.
Cole’s dad, Wesley Ritter, a Houston High School graduate, would take him and his other siblings to Kings Island and the Columbus Zoo.
Cole also got to hang out with his grandma, Linda Ritter’s, father, Richard Carey, who was a World War II veteran who lived in Houston. Cole was entranced by his great-grandfather Richard’s elaborate train set that took up an entire upstairs bedroom.
When it came to food, Cole said, “I ate a lot at The Spot when I was a kid.” Eating at The Spot was something he had in common with his great-great-grandpa, Admiral Ritter, who Cole has been told used to get a piece of pie and a coffee at the original Spot almost every day.
Ritter has fond memories as a young boy of visiting his great-grandpa, Edward Ritter, in Lockington. They would get popsicles and listen to blue grass music. Edward was a musician who taught banjo and guitar. Edward taught Wesley how to play guitar.
Cole confided “Dad was always shepherding me towards music.”
Cole’s dad exposed him to many forms of music. Cole likes all kinds of music including classic, jazz, R&B, blues and, of course, country.
“I like authentic music, no matter what flavor it come in.” As for favorite songs Cole says it, “Depends on what season of life I’m in, what seems relevant at the time.”
Two other huge influences for Cole growing up were his mom, Renee Tuninetti, who was a theatre teacher who encouraged Cole to perform which he says helped develop the confidence he has needed to perform in public. Another big influence was Cole’s grandma, Paula Hinton, on his mom’s side of the family who was a piano teacher and taught Cole how to read music from a young age. The first instrument Cole learned how to play was the violin at age 3. Cole just turned 21 this year.
Cole’s proximity to Nashville was a great influence in his evolution as a musician. Cole spent a lot of time hanging out in Hendersonville which was right between Gallatin and Nashville. Hendersonville, like Nashville, has a lot of country music history.
When Cole was 14 he opened for country music star, Lee Greenwood, in Hendersonville, at a celebration for first responders and military. Living near Nashville, gave Cole opportunities to run into influential people. He met country and blue grass star Marty Stuart while playing at a festival in Bristol, Tennessee, that is considered the birthplace of country music. Cole also got to talk guitars with singer-song writer Vince Gill.
In middle school Cole’s teacher, Kenny Sears, taught fiddle, and had a band called the Time Jumpers. Sears introduced Cole to Gill who had been a guitarist in the Time Jumpers.
A major turning point in Cole’s evolution as a musician came when he became good friends with mandolin virtuoso David Harvey, whose daughter, Emma Harvey, Cole went to school with at Station Camp High School in Gallatin. David was the first person to sit down with Cole, and play music around the kitchen table for hours. The Harvey family facilitated Cole, at the age of 13, in joining Emma in a Christian band. Cole doesn’t know if he would have pursued music if it wern’t for the support of the Harvey family.
After previously playing fiddle for various other bands, in September 2019 Cole formed his own band Cole Ritter and the Night Owls. The band members included guitarist, Christian Starrett, from Piqua, Ohio, peddle steel guitarist Alex Barcic, of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, upright base player Tom Davis, of Madison, Wisconsin. Cole had met all the band members at Belmont University in Nashville where he is enrolled with a major in music business and a minor in commercial music.
The Cole Ritter and the Night Owls got their big break when they were awarded first place in a prestigious musician contest called, “Belmont’s Showcase Series.” There were 70 applicants who submitted videos of themselves performing. Of those 70 only 15 or 20 were chosen to perform for music executives in Belmont University’s Columbia Studio. The top four bands were chosen to perform in a large venue in front of thousands of spectators and peers.
The four competing bands performed several songs. When not competing the bands stood in the same designated area with each other and watched as each band took its turn to perform.
Cole believes pop country is popular right now and described all three of the bands competing against the Night Owls as pop country bands. He considers the Night Owls to be alt country. Cole is convinced the more unique sound of his band might have helped them stand out and contribute to their win. When they were announced as the winners, Cole said his emotional reaction was, “All that I felt was contentment. And I was exactly where I was meant to be.”
The big win was a major turning point. Cole said, “Winning made me realize this really was what I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” He realized his band could be a lifelong endeavor. Cole believes every musician needs break out moments.
“I feel totally blessed that the opportunities that I have had have fallen into my lap, but there is an immense amount of work that goes into making it into the music industry,” he said.
After they won the competition they started to get calls from people in the music industry, but then just three months later COVID hit and in March 2020 a tornado also hit Nashville destroying homes and lives.
Cole had to get away.
“I needed some space to breath, if I was going to be locked up.”
Cole came back to the place of fond childhood memories. He came back to Houston and stayed with his grandparents during the COVID-19 lockdown. While he was in Houston, he spent all of his time writing songs and practicing.
After the COVID-19 lockdown ended Cole received another big break. He was invited to perform on two side stages at Country Concert in Newport. Cole said the event organizer, Paul Barhorst, had been really good to him and his band.
“I really hope we get to play there again next year,” he said. “We had a spectacular time there, met a lot of great people, and made some new fans.”
Country Concert is one of the largest country music concerts in the U.S. and a great place to get noticed.
Besides performing live, the Night Owls have recorded five songs written by Cole and recorded at Cowboy Arms Hotel and Recording Spa. The songs will be released as an EP in the early fall.
There’s a driving philosophy behind Cole’s success.
“I think life is too short, not to make your dreams come true.” he said.
Cole encourages people to follow his journey on Instagram @colewesleyritter, and @coleritterandthenightowls and on Facebook: Cole Ritter and the Night Owls.