Robert Husseman, The Triplicate

Del Norte High graduate Camryn Ridgley pursues country music career

In the middle of a circle, all eyes on her, Camryn Ridgley feels comfortable.

Her poise manifested itself with a White Star season for the Del Norte High softball team this past spring. Ridgley was the team's top pitcher and cleanup hitter, occasionally filling in at first base. She saved her best performance of the year for last, striking out 13 Arcata Tigers and walking one in a three-hit gem of a shutout on May 15. The Warriors beat Arcata 1-0 in nine innings; Ridgley scored the winning run, on BreAnna Moore's ground-rule double.

On August 3, Ridgley sang with Billy Lund and Whiskey Weekend, a southern Oregon country music band, at the Redwood Coast Rodeo dance. Different venue, different conditions, same basic principle: All eyes on her.

"I love the feeling of being on stage and having everybody just watching me and just doing my own thing and not caring," Ridgley says. "I don't have a care in the world up there. It's kind of like pitching."

Ridgley believes her future lies with her voice. In a few weeks, she intends to move to Nashville, Tenn., to pursue a career as a country singer.

"Everybody thinks I'm crazy," Ridgley says. "My friends and family, they're just like, 'You're really going to go to another state by yourself and do this?'

"I'm like, 'Yeah.'"

In truth, not everybody thinks she's crazy.

"She's actually very impressive," Lund says. "I've been around a lot of different music and professional musicians. I personally think she's just as good as any of them. She seems to have a pretty good head on her shoulders."

In an industry notorious for chewing up and spitting out young talent, those closest to Ridgley hope she can connect with those interested in her best interests.

"She's made contacts in Nashville and kept in contact with them," says Deon Shafer, Camryn's mother. "We'll give her a year there, see how it goes, if there's any progress."

Singing has been a part of Ridgley's life as long as she can remember. Family friends helped her become a well-rounded musician along the way. Del Norte County residents Denise Olson and Dale Morgan gave her lessons on the guitar; Kathy

Scherwin taught her to play the piano.

Ridgley also began writing songs from a very young age, keeping a notebook for jotting down lyrics - until she got a cell phone and began using the phone's notepad application "so I don't have to carry a book." Ridgley shares her lyrics with her aunt, Amanda Baptista. Baptista, who writes poetry for a hobby, helps her build on what Ridgley has written.

What does Ridgley write about?

"Just life," she says. "Like, love songs. Stuff about guys that people are like, 'Who's that about?' and I'll be like, 'None of your business.'

"Sometimes, I'll write a song from a friend's perspective. People will be like, 'Who's that about?'"

It's one thing, of course, to make up one's own songs and sing them before an audience of one. It's another to perform in front of a true, live audience.

Ridgley has grown comfortable on stage thanks to her participation in plays with Brookings-Harbor Community Theater and Crescent City's Lighthouse Repertory Theatre since she was seven years old.

"It was 'The King and I,'" she remembers of her first time on stage. "I had to dye my hair black. That was terrible."

Musicals were always her favorites; she portrayed Sandy Sue in a Lighthouse Repertory Theatre production of "Grease" at age 13. In 2010, she tried out for the Del Norte County iteration of the Texaco Country Showdown and won.

"The whole thing with (the Showdown) is you have to be really creative," Ridgley says. "You have to think of something nobody else would think of (performing). But it's really cool at the same time.

"It was a great experience. I think that's what made me really like country music."

Perhaps she has always had a knack for it. She remembers many holidays of karaoke with her parents, Shafer and Dylan Ridgley, and her extended family members.

"They'll want me to play (songs from) 1954," Camryn Ridgley says. "Got to learn it, or they'll be mad."

Ridgley met Lund and Whiskey Weekend a year and a half ago (by Lund's estimation) and has sung with them at the Del Norte County Fair and the Concerts in the Park series in Grants Pass. Ridgley will join the band on September 1 at the Britt Festival in Jacksonville, Ore.; the band will open for Martina McBride.

"She's very, very confident," Lund says of Ridgley the performer. "The first time she ever came in and played with us, she was ready. She knew what she was doing and she did it."

It is not lost on Ridgley that her softball talent was sufficient enough to play at the college level. But that wasn't her dream.

"If, by the time she's 25 and she hasn't made it, she'll go to school," Shafer says. "I liked hearing that (from her)."

Until that day comes andndash; if it ever does andndash; her daughter is trying to keep her eye on the proverbial ball.

"You can't be scared to just go out there and give it your all," Ridgley says.

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