When Ryan Casullo died following a traffic accident on Saturday night, a light went out in Western New York. There’s just no other way to put it.
As Music is Art board chairman for the past six years, Casullo brought energy and vision to his role as an ambassador for the arts in general, and for MIA’s mission statement (“Inspiring WNY to ignite its creative voice”) in particular.
The organization could not have had a finer frontman. Casullo’s passion for music and its role in the deepening of our culture was palpable in conversation.
Casullo dreamed big for Buffalo, but he wasn’t just a dreamer – his work ethic demanded that those dreams be dragged into existence.
Robby Takac called me from Los Angeles on Tuesday morning, where he’s engaged in a process – full-band, full-production Goo Goo Dolls rehearsals in preparation for upcoming summer dates – he normally finds life-affirming and inspiring. But this time, he was wishing he was back here at home.
“Ryan was a powerhouse, man,” an audibly shaken Takac said. “He was a high school dropout, and 15 years later, he’s running the commercial division of a bank. This is the kind of person we’re talking about. He brought so much energy to Music is Art. He made things happen. Along the way, he became one of my closest friends.
“I don’t know what to do, what to feel – I’m at such a loss,” Takac sighed. “It’s like the wind has been knocked out of all of us who knew and loved him.”
Takac’s wife, Miyoko, and the couple’s daughter were here in Buffalo when we spoke, but a phone call across the country helped Takac achieve some clarity.
“I was thinking to myself, ‘What am I doing here?’ and all of that,” Takac said. “And Miyoko told me, ‘Your job is to play rock ’n’ roll – that’s what you do and that’s what we need you to do.’ That helped. Music can help the healing.”
“It’s a terrible loss,” said Jon Nelson, UB Department of Music professor and co-owner, with wife Lazara Nelson, of Pausa Art House in Allentown.
“Ryan was a big help to Pausa. Lazara and I went to five banks to get a loan when we were trying to start Pausa, and none of them would even look at us. When we finally went to Ryan at First Niagara, he loved the idea, and ushered it through to make it happen.”
For Casullo, said Music is Art Executive Director Tracy Shattuck, “it was all about giving the next generation access to music, whether he was picking up a truck-load of (donated) instruments (for our instrument drive), helping our high school Battle of the Bands winners find opportunities for exposure, or introducing us to new friends who could assist with our mission.”
New friends – these words come up often in discussions about Casullo. He had the ability to make a first-time encounter into the basis for a deep friendship.
“Over the past few years, I saw this over and over again – he’d meet someone, and then they were friends, and that was all there was to it,” Takac said. “Obviously, with what Music is Art does, this was a wonderful quality, because making new connections and spreading ideas is what it’s all about. But even more importantly, it’s just a wonderful human quality.”
Casullo’s death is one of many suffered by our area’s music scene over the past year.
“It’s been just a terrible year, dude,” Takac sighed near the end of our phone conversation.
“With Lance (Diamond) going, and Teddy (Reinhardt, revered drummer) so soon after – it just feels like mortality is creeping up on us. But this is even worse, because Ryan was so young and so full of life, and so in love with his wife and his kids.”
Those of us who knew Casullo would surely agree that the best way we can honor his memory is by continuing to support the work he so tirelessly engaged in. There’s so much left to be done. The annual Music is Art Festival is on the horizon, and that’s just for starters.
“You know, Ryan was so incredibly talented that it didn’t surprise me at all that he was recruited for big gigs in other parts of the country,” Takac said. “Pretty recently, he was offered an incredible opportunity in Arizona, and it was something he absolutely would’ve been foolish not to consider. We got together to have a heart to heart about it, and at the end of the conversation, he looked at me and said ‘I’m not done here yet. There’s too much left to do.’ ”