New Zealand singer-songwriter tests Routt County’s musical waters |

New Zealand singer-songwriter tests Routt County’s musical waters

Nicole Inglis

Ash Graham is a budding singer-songwriter from Wellington, New Zealand, who has spent the past month living with Barbara McNary and her family in North Routt County.

Ash Graham arrived in the Yampa Valley four weeks ago, setting foot on U.S. soil for the first time armed with his guitar, a cheery New Zealand accent and a wary but willing attitude.

In the past month living with Barbara McNary and her family in North Routt County, the budding singer-songwriter from Wellington, New Zealand, has attended school with 16-year-old Jaelyn McNary, played gigs at Hahn's Peak Roadhouse and Sheraton Steamboat Resort and recorded a song with local sound engineer Scott Singer.

He's also come to like living with dogs, and while he thought there was "too much snow" when he first arrived, he now is decidedly disappointed in the dry winter.

New climate, new culture and the "really cheesy" food: It's a lot for a 17-year-old musician to take in on his first foray into the American music scene.

"This is dipping my toes in the water and seeing how big the pond is," he said about his trip, which ends with a flight back to New Zealand on Wednesday. "I'm looking forward to coming back the same time next year. But I want to go all over the place."

Before he leaves, look for Graham to perform at 8:30 p.m. Friday at Hahn's Peak Roadhouse and during après ski Sunday at Sheraton Steamboat Resort.

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The story of how McNary came to invite Graham to her home in North Routt has its roots in 1999, when McNary was pregnant and met a group of women online who shared with one another the trials and triumphs of their pregnancies.

They called themselves the September Mommies, and Graham's mother, Michelle, was one of them. While Ash Graham wasn't the September baby himself, the families all got to know every detail of the babies and their siblings' lives.

But McNary's child died at age 2 1/2, and she lost touch with the mothers.

Years later, she reached out to the group once again.

"They were there for me when he passed, and being in touch with them every day … they were closer to me than my own family," she said.

She had visited the Grahams in New Zealand before and seen videos of Ash Graham's performances, and she saw in the young man a talent and drive that will someday take him far.

"I said, 'He's going to be good,'" she said. "There's something about him. … As he's been here and as he played out, people stop, and they listen to him.

"He has the drive for it. He's very talented. He's got a great attitude."

That positive attitude is doused in wit and sarcasm and topped with a self-awareness not common in a 17-year-old.

Maybe it's because he picked up his first guitar at age 4 and played a Coldplay song all the way through at age 6.

Maybe it's because he played in a "quite well-known" youth band, Hybrid, in Wellington when he was 12 and had to take over singing duties because the lead singer was slacking off.

"I just wanted to play. I didn't really think of it as a special thing," he said. "It was only two or three years ago where I started to get the idea where I can do this, this can be my life."

But even if he already knew what he wanted in life, the young musician will travel back to New Zealand with something he didn't come with.

"It was confidence," he said. "I was too anxious to come here. I didn't want to leave the house really. Now, I'm a hell of a lot more positive about where I want to go."

To reach Nicole Inglis, call 907-871-4204 or email

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