Ben Ingraham
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Ben Ingraham

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The best kept secret in music


"For this duo, California called"

For this musical duo, California called

First gig | Free Air

By Nina Garin

November 7, 2004

Maybe because Jeff Johnson's dad was a founding member of the '80s metal band, Stryper, it wasn't a big deal for the young drummer to tell his family he was dropping out of college to play in a band.

Unfortunately, band mate Ben Ingraham's mom and dad weren't as receptive.

"They didn't take it too well," says Ingraham, 19. "It took some time to convince them. But this is something I need to do, and right now is the perfect time to do it."

But what parents – besides those who wore spandex in the '80s – would like the idea of their college-age kids driving from Rochester, N.Y., to San Diego in hopes of starting a music career?

Still, Ingraham felt strongly that his group, Free Air, was destined for bigger and better things than Rochester's music scene.

"This is something worth doing," says Johnson. "I can always go back to school, but right now I want to have fun and see what happens."

And so far, things have already started to happen.

Since arriving here on Oct. 19, the guys have been walking the streets of Hillcrest, La Jolla, Del Mar and Chula Vista, trying to land gigs at cafes, hotels, restaurants and anywhere that seems open to having two guys play acoustic rock music.

"Even if a place looks too ritzy, we'll go," Ingraham says. "We'll go anywhere. People have been really nice. Even if they aren't looking for musicians, they'll recommend other places we can try."

The guys' perseverance paid off when last week Free Air performed its first San Diego show at Cosmos Cafe in La Mesa.

The duo performed with full setup – a drum kit, a keyboard and guitars. The three-hour set featured lots of Eagles-inspired harmonies and plenty of jangly rhythms.

"They're awfully young, but their music is great," says Patrick Hoz, the owner of Cosmos Cafe who booked the show. "I really like their story, so I'll do anything I can to help support them."

Along with last week's show, Hoz invited Free Air to perform acoustically on Sunday afternoons for tips. The guys also have landed gigs at cafes in Oceanside and Hillcrest.

"No one else is supporting us financially," says Ingraham. "So we have to work hard. I've been playing music since I could walk and this has always been my dream."

In their Rochester high school, Ingraham and Johnson performed in everything from jazz bands to chorus. They formed Free Air and recorded demo CDs in Johnson's dad's studio. (The CDs are now on sale through their Web site,

When they graduated from high school, Johnson went to Case Western Reserve University to study nursing. Ingraham moved to Boston to study at the Berklee College of Music.

But before he began his sophomore year, Ingraham, who had been saving money since he was 14 years old, decided to leave school. It was time to give his music career a shot.

Johnson was up for the challenge. He took a leave of absence, said goodbye to his girlfriend, and the pals hit the road for a sunnier life.

"It's been hard, but this last week I've been having the time of my life," says Ingraham. "I'm finally working toward my dream. I don't have to be a huge star, I just want to be able to support myself through music." - San Diego Union Tribune


Permanent Holiday (2006)


Feeling a bit camera shy


Ever since he cradled his hands around a guitar at age three, Ben Ingraham has had a knack for music. The Rochester, New York native was brought up listening to the stadium rock anthems of Bruce Springsteen and the soulful ballads of Billy Joel. Combining catchy melodies with his warm tenor voice, Ingraham splits time between piano and guitar.

His ear for harmony was apparent in high school as he wrote, arranged, and performed two songs for his 170 piece high school choir. Ingraham also recorded two cds of original music with his band Free Air. After graduating high school in the summer of 2003, with a desire for the city life, Ingraham attended the prestigious Berklee College of Music in Boston. Ingraham immediately jumped into the coffeehouse circuit, playing regularly around town.

After a year at Berklee, with a yearning for sunnier skies, Ingraham packed up his Subaru and headed west to California. Arriving in San Diego in October 2004, Ingraham dived headfirst into the music scene. Shows at local cafes led to a feature in the San Diego Union Tribune and an appearance on the KUSI-TV morning news. With nearly a decade of songwriting under his belt Ingraham is primed to continue singing his heart out in San Diego and beyond.