Loved the banjo something fierce - photo by david bitner

Loved the banjo something fierce • photo by david bitner

Bryan Tilford passed away suddenly on April 12, of natural causes. Originally from Indiana, Bryan lived almost half his life in Melbourne, Florida (with a stopover in Nashville), where he dedicated his life to music and the joy it brings. Working with a variety of collaborators, Bryan released eleven albums of music under the name Ghostbeat, and at the time of his passing had another three ready to finish. Additionally, Bryan composed over 300 songs for children facing difficult or terminal illnesses for an organization called Songs of Love ( For the last five years of his life, Bryan was a member of the Brevard Busking Coalition.

“It’s dane—gerous…”

This particular hook of Bryan’s has been stuck in our heads for a few weeks. In typical Bryan fashion, he introduced the rest of the band to one of his recent compositions by breaking out into random parts of the work in progress in the chattering pauses that happen between rehearsing older songs. We were secretly enjoying the bits and pieces, and looking forward to fleshing out the full composition, but outwardly doing our best not to encourage Bryan, because working on his songs was a long and demanding process, and we were in the middle of finishing some other new songs at the time. We would get to it, in time, and it would be amazing.

Or would have been. Bryan Tilford passed away sometime between Friday night and Saturday afternoon. Five of us, and perhaps another handful that Bryan shared his songs-in-progress with, vaguely know what that song would have sounded like. For the rest of you, there’s some other song that will take its place. Without a doubt, we lost not only this song, but a worryingly unknown quantity of musical gems.

Bryan was a very private person, but he was clearly a generous soul. Already the ether is flowing with a mixture of shock and loss for a dear kind friend. His love was abundant and overflowing; that we live in a universe of love is one of the ever-present themes in his lyrics. It wasn’t clever wordplay, but a genuine expression of his beliefs, and he did his best to live up to this world view.

Like his songs, Bryan (he liked to spell it brYan) was a subtle and complex person. He could be argumentative, sarcastic, and overall a contrarian. There was a side of him that seemed to be at odds with the type of person we all really knew him to be. He had a rare knack for unintentionally upsetting people, but when confronted with this, he would respond with mortified apologies, and never self-righteousness. That his opinions, so closely held and fiercely defended, would be more than a way to banter and pass away the time, seemed to be an alien thought to him.

A band is a marriage, and a marriage between six people is a fraught and complex affair. Bryan’s passion for perfection and obstinate dedication towards doing things the Bryan way was a frequent source of conflict. We’d spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out the chords we grew to call “tilfords”, eventually, after much deliberation, settling on a slightly more useful “b flat tilford”. He would exhort us to change the dynamics of three measures but not the fourth, which would involve a lengthy process of experimentation with rhythms and volumes that would consume an entire practice for fifteen seconds of song. He would sneer at our proposed choices of cover material, dismissing it as low-hanging fruit. Despite our having written a song specifically taking place at the Mos Eisley Cantina, he would stubbornly refuse to watch Star Wars, clinging to his solitude as the only bandmember not to have seen it (you undoubtedly won this one, brYan).

At one point, we’d been having problems getting our merchandise table reliably staffed by the band members. Because we usually played three sets a night, and the table had to be staffed after every set, and there were six of us, we figured we would pair off and be assigned a specific set break. Bryan’s main concern was what to do should it be his turn to hustle to the table and he was stopped by a fan of the band’s who wanted to discuss just how much they were enjoying the show. Bryan felt it was more important to accept this love, and return it, than to sit behind a table laden with shirts and CDs in order to collect gas money. In the end, in order to pacify Bryan and move on to other topics, we made an explicit exception in our already-informal rules of merch table combat for fan interaction. There were two people assigned to the table, and the other would have to cover.

Rather than learn to accept these difficult interactions, we learned to see them not as friction, but as a counter-balance. Bryan’s constant involvement led us into a very specific mode of creativity, one that focuses on details as small as an eighth-note rest or the use of cabassa vs. shaker, that we may have otherwise dismissed. On stage, you may see barely-controlled chaos on the brink of falling into acoustic cacophony, and yet deep inside, you can rest assured that Bryan has considered every aspect of each instrument and the sounds it’s making very carefully, and (mostly) approves.

We as a band are faced with the same problem as everyone who knew Bryan now sees before them: how do we continue without him? He has left the band a legacy of song, songs that are now not Bryan’s (though he wrote them), but belonging to all who have heard them, and we as a band feel a certain responsibility to preserve them, not for Bryan but for everyone else who may have a chance to hear the love in his heart, as channeled through a rag-tag ensemble of musicians.

Bryan lived his life to give, and I think the best we can all do is continue to encourage his efforts, even without his presence. It’s dane—gerous not to.