“I think people think I’m pop punk ’til I die,” Ryan Agate confesses from his seat at the Winter Hill Brewery bar.
Agate—who promotes shows under the name Ryan the Terrible—started booking bands when he was 17. Since moving to the Boston area in 2004, he’s become a fixture in the city’s music scene, where, in addition to his day-to-day 9-to-5, he books the Allston venue O’Brien’s Pub and other venues throughout Somerville, Cambridge and Allston.
But even if you’re not much for punk or haven’t been to O’Brien’s in a bit, you might be familiar with Agate: in October, Winter Hill Brewing Company co-owner Jeff Rowe brewed a beer dedicated to the local legend.
“I wanted to start a series of beers that was the ‘Homage Series,’ and basically I’d try to focus on people—maybe a record, or a book, or whatever,” Rowe explains. “The first person that came to mind was Ryan, because we’re good buds and I wanted to make a smoked beer. I’ve had a lot of drunken nights with Ryan sitting around a fire with him, and I was like, ‘I’m gonna make a Ryan the Terrible beer.’”
The brew was a 6.8 percent rustic rye ale with a touch of cherrywood smoked malt, and it was called just that: “Ryan the Terrible.”
The name—you’ve probably seen it abbreviated RTT Presents on show bills—has been around since Agate’s high-school days. “I was in a sh***y band in high school, and we all had viking names,” he says by way of explanation. “I was particularly terrible at playing bass, so the name is Ryan the Terrible (at Bass).” Rowe and Agate met around 1999 when RTT ran a radio show at Endicott College. “It was rare to find someone with that kind of enthusiasm, even though at that point, of course, he was just a fan,” Rowe recalls. “I guess in a way, he was still booking bands by bringing bands to his radio show.” Agate lived just outside Davis Square for about a decade, but rising rents pushed him over into Malden last year.
It can be easy, as a fan, to overlook the amount of effort that goes into putting on just one show. When touring bands roll through town or hometown acts take the stage, it’s local staff who book, promote and produce the event, all while making sure musicians and venue personnel stay satisfied and the crowd behaves. It’s a lot of work—and Agate is the rare behind-the-scenes booker for whom this isn’t a full-time job, but who nonetheless stitches together lineups with two to four bands every night of the week.
“He doesn’t get even close to the credit that is due,” says Rowe, an artist Agate has booked several times.
For Agate, recognition isn’t the point. The reward for him as a promoter is clear: he gets to help build a local scene and weave the national music community into that family. He has an almost never-ending list of bands and stories from the past decade. In Somerville and Cambridge alone, the list of venues Agate has booked is extensive: Starlab Studios, Abbey Lounge, T.T. the Bear’s Place, the Middle East, the Plough and Stars, the Democracy Center, the Cambridge Elks Lodge, Charlie’s Kitchen, Cuisine en Locale (now known as ONCE Somerville)—and, naturally, Winter Hill Brewing Company.
“I’ve done a lot of first shows, done a lot of last shows,” he says. “Done more first shows than last shows … bands just break up and don’t tell anybody.” He’s watched with joy as bands like Lemuria and Off With Their Heads grew from filling a small room to garnering an international following.
“We have a lot of great music coming out of this city right now, and I always say it’s one of the best cities for music in the country,” he adds. “You have so many talented bands, you have so many kids who come here, not to be in a band to get famous, but to make good music.”
Agate tries to attend shows at least three nights a week, often more. He has an extensive mental Rolodex of bands in genres ranging from blues rock to folk to metal (to pop punk, of course) that he can rattle off of the top of his head. He hopes that the music scene as a whole for Boston is in an upswing, and says that he only got involved because he didn’t see anyone booking or promoting the types of shows he wanted to see. “If there’s somebody who doesn’t see the show that they want to see happening, make it happen,” he says, “and people who know me know that I will try everything I can to get a band who wants to play shows on a show.”
Perhaps that’s why, scouring the list of upcoming gigs at Great Scott, Winter Hill Brewing Company and ONCE, the RTT Presents label isn’t hard to spot. From matinees to late-night shows, Agate can be found—sometimes, sitting in the back by the bar, often, right up front, singing along.
He’ll continue to quietly do his part to keep Boston a place on the map for bands to stop. While Agate isn’t ready to hang up his hat just yet, those who know him know he’s made an indelible mark on the music scene.
“Long after Ryan is done booking shows, I think that people are always going to talk about Ryan the Terrible,” Rowe says, echoing a belief held by many in the area. “He’ll be one of those people like Billy Ruane, who people talk about in Boston from the old days … He’s kinda this mythical show-booking guy, and I feel like Ryan the Terrible fits squarely in right after that.”