After playing in numerous bands in the late ’80s and early ’90s, Ragan teamed with Chris Wollard, Jason Black and George Rebelo, with whom he relocated from Sarasota, FL to Gainesville and formed Hot Water Music. That band quickly emerged as one of the American punk scene’s most distinctive and inventive units, winning a reputation as a riveting live act while releasing such well-received studio albums as Fuel for the Hate Game, Forever and Counting, No Division, A Flight and A Crash, Caution and The New What Next, as well as the live discs Live at the Hardback and Live in Chicago and the compilations Finding the Rhythms, Never Ender and Till the Wheels Fall Off.
Feeling the urge to stretch out creatively, Ragan ventured into a more acoustic approach with the side project Rumbleseat, which released several singles and the album Rumbleseat Is Dead. After Hot Water Music disbanded in 2005, Ragan enthusiastically embraced his new status as solo troubadour, exploring an expanded palette of acoustic and electric textures on the acclaimed albums Feast or Famine, Gold Country and Covering Ground, as well as the stripped-down live set Los Feliz and a series of limited-edition subscription singles released in 2006 and 2007, and later compiled on CD as The Blueprint Sessions.
In 2008, Ragan launched the long-running Revival Tour, a series of collaborative acoustic adventures featuring a diverse assortment of punk, bluegrass and alt-country performers. In addition to Ragan, the Revival Tour, which has visited Britain, Europe, Australia and Scandinavia as well as North America, has featured a broad array of talents, including Anderson Family Bluegrass, Rise Against frontman Tim McIlrath, Craig Finn of the Hold Steady, Cory Branan, Ben Kweller, Laura Jane Grace, Jay Malinowski of Bedouin Soundclash, Tim Barry, Austin Lucas, Matt Pryor of the Get Up Kids, Jesse Malin, Chris Carrabba, Chris McCaughan, Lucero’s Ben Nichols, Dave Hause, Flogging Molly’s Matt Hensley and Nathan Maxwell, Joey Cape, Brian Fallon of the Gaslight Anthem, Audra Mae, Emily Barker, Dan Andriano of the Alkaline Trio, along with Jenny O, Kevin Seconds, Frank Turner, Rocky Votolato, Jon Snodgrass, Chad Price and Jenny Owen Youngs.
In 2012—the same year that Ragan reunited with Hot Water Music to record their album Exister—the veteran road warrior released his first book, The Road Most Traveled, a collection of insights and anecdotes on the touring life that serves as both a personal memoir and a helpful how-to handbook. He is currently working on a second volume.
As his book makes clear, and as Till Midnight confirms, Ragan takes his musical mission seriously, drawing inspiration and emotional sustenance from the songwriters and music he surrounds himself with, his family and friends along with the close and loyal relationship with his audience.
“The way I see it,” Ragan observes, “we’re faced with tons of inspiration every day. Every step of this life has a way of teaching you something, showing you something, opening your ears and your heart to something. I have all these friends out there, and this community that supports me, who believe in what I’m doing and who believe in the power of music and the power of community.
“It’s a blessing and a privilege to stand on stage and play music for people,” he continues. “I meet so many folks out there, and they’re so hospitable and so kind and say such nice things to me about the songs. The support and the energy that I get from them is what makes it possible for me to keep doing this. And when I’m there and in that moment, it’s important to me to give it back to them as strongly as they’re giving it to me.”