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APRIL 1, 2017

Photos 90 East Photography

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April Fools Day was no joke in Buffalo, New York this year. One of their brightest came home to share his brand new self-titled EP. Eric Van Houten not only sold out his EP release party at VENU, he also sold OUT of those EPs before the night was even over!

Van Houten, quite coincidentally, moved to Nashville, exactly one year ago, April 1, 2016, and unlike so many others, he didn’t waste one minute of that year scrambling to make his dreams of a country music career move forward. Still an independent artist, but hustling, as if he was a signed one, Van Houten doesn’t sit on his laurels. He doesn’t settle for honky tonk gigs and hoping to be “discovered”. He knows it’s not that easy. He gets up in the morning and “punches the clock”, which in Music City, means, he gets up and he writes, and he writes, and he writes. He finds like-minded people to write with, and he doesn’t spend his time on the party circuit. He’s a workhorse. Plain and simple.

Where did this work ethic come from? Was he born with it? Was it environment? Was it taught? According to everything I’ve heard from people that have known him over the years, it’s a little bit of everything, but I’ll elaborate more on that in a separate piece. This piece, being my review, I can give you a little bit of insight into how the city of Buffalo works on the minds of its people. The truth is, I’m a native of Buffalo myself, now living in Nashville. Imagine that! One would think I shouldn’t even be allowed to write this review, due to the possible biases, but oddly enough, I did not even meet Eric Van Houten until he moved to Nashville in 2016, even though, quite coincidentally, we did graduate from the same high school – MANY years apart. It’s a strange world people. Embrace that.
Buffalo, New York was, for many years, a bustling industrial city on Lake Erie, jobs were plentiful, and people were proud to live there. Then years later, things changed, Buffalo became one of the cities that lost jobs and population. It was ridiculed for its difficult weather, failed sports teams and people that stayed there, endured unemployment and a constant barrage of jokes from comedians. If you were a Buffalonian, you either curled up in a corner in embarrassment or you toughened up A LOT. The vast majority bucked up, but they didn’t do it with arrogance. They handled whatever came their way and didn’t brag about it, they just got things done. That’s a Buffalonian. That’s Eric Van Houten. That’s exactly how he’s handling his music career. He isn’t out there partying his music career into the ground. He’s bucking up in the face of adversity (the madness of the music industry), going out and writing and networking, and silently, step by step (independently, at least for the moment), moving forward (releasing a quality EP). Buffalo roots serving him extremely well in Nashville.

Those very Buffalonians are why Van Houten chose to come home to celebrate this EP release. He could have done this in Nashville. He’s made some great friends and he’s well received at shows there, but this homecoming was something he needed to do. He needed to thank so many people that have supported him for years, this was the right time to do that. They were there, oh, they were ALL there!

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VENU is a nightclub on Buffalo’s Chippewa Street entertainment strip. It does not have the feel of a place one would go for a country music show. Techno comes more to mind actually, but it wasn’t where this show was originally booked in the first place. The original club closed down and VENU stepped in to save the show, so you know the old saying, “any port in a storm”. With it’s multi-colored, lighted floors, it wasn’t exactly country, but once the crowd filled in, you couldn’t even see the floor anymore.

The venue has two levels, no seating, and restrooms on the second level only. This is slightly inconvenient, especially for shows such as this, where the house is completely sold out. Thankfully, at least from what I could tell, things remained controlled.

Taking the stage just about on time, Van Houten and his band, opened with his original “Tongue Tied” from 2016. This song got things going in a big way, it’s catchy, and people, especially HIS people, know it.
“Runaway Love”, a track off the new EP, was extremely well received. This one, cowritten by Van Houten, Drew Dixon and Collin Nash, is what some would call “the perfect summer tune”, and as cliché as that sounds, it really is. Throw the top down on the convertible, jump on the highway, crank this one up and go. I personally love it, and judging by a crowd of longtime Eric Van Houten fans and many who had never seen him in their lives, this one might have been the favorite of the night.

Tongue Tied from 2016 opening for Chase Bryant

The crowd may have been dancing during “Runaway Love”, but the band used up quite a bit of energy too, because much to the delight of the ladies, Van Houten seemed to have “lost” his jacket after that number! Oh well, no search parties were called, and he forged on in a black t-shirt, must have been that Buffalonian in him. We do what we have to do.

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Ballads. Some people love them. Some people loathe them. Some people downright DEMAND them. Country music is one of them. You can’t just put out a record of high energy everything. You need to take it down a notch on a few tracks, and on an EP, you have to throw one in. Van Houten’s contribution is called “Get In My Arms”. He introduced it to the crowd with a simple question. “Who likes to make love?” Muffled mumbles. He answered back with “Weird people.” He asked again, but louder. This time they got it. We’ll give them a pass. It was mid show by now, and Buffalo IS a drinking town, and Labatt’s was a proud sponsor of the show. Let’s leave it right there. Actually, a pretty cool ballad, not the least bit schmaltzy, cowritten by Van Houten and Joey Hyde, it slowed things down but didn’t clear the room, always a good sign for the artist.

Play a cover and they will come. Truer words have never been written. Especially for this mostly 90’s generation filled house. A rip roaring version of Third Eye Blind’s “Semi Charmed Life”, created a supercharged singalong. This always works well after a ballad, once again, it did the trick.
This was followed by two numbers off Van Houten’s 2015 EP, which resulted in some “musician shifting”, as there has been some changing of the guard, so to speak, since his move to Nashville. Not to worry, this is show business kids. It happens all the time. Sometimes at the last minute. Nobody blinks an eye in Nashville at this sort of thing. The talent pool is so huge, if you need a guitar player in a pinch, you can usually find one at the eleventh hour. One of the musical shufflings of note was with guitarist Rob Burgio. Burgio has a successful hair salon in the Buffalo area in addition to his amazing guitar skills.

Musical chairs, or rather musical musicians being over, the “regular” band was back. It would be remiss not to mention them by name. Steve Amuso, on bass and background vocals (BGVs), Adam James, guitar and BGVs, Justin Meyers, guitar and Zack Fierman, drums.

Many people know Buffalo for the “horrible” weather (it truly is not that bad, thank one bad storm in 1977 for the reputation), the “horrible” sports teams (there’s a little more truth to the horror there, even though Buffalo fans remain devout and hopeful), but not many realize the music scene is alive and well. One of Buffalo’s greatest gifts to music is rock’s Goo Goo Dolls. Eric Van Houten made a very wise decision to include a cover of one the Goos best songs, “Iris”. He also realized that it would make a good singalong. Turning the microphone to the crowd and asking them to sing it “so I can take a break”, there was no hesitation. They knew the words. Every last one. Of course, he and the band did join in and it was a great moment for Van Houten, for the fans and for Buffalo itself. I don’t doubt there will be video of that moment, and that it will be shared over and over again for weeks to come. The Goo Goo Dolls made a struggling city proud. Buffalo, now actually going through a renaissance, with a booming waterfront and downtown, might just have a new hometown musical hero. This time he’s a country music guy, but who really cares what the genre is? Buffalonians love their music and they love their people. They love hard workers that scrape their way to the top. That’s how the Goos did it. That’s how Eric Van Houten is doing it. This is going to be fun to watch.

When you’re scraping your way to the top of the music world, you need to get your songs on the radio. Radio is all about getting your songs heard. If your songs get heard, and people like them, they’ll buy them, and that’s when you start making money. “Do You Wanna” is Eric Van Houten’s very first song to hit radio. This song was cowritten by Van Houten and Albion, NY native, Adam James, who also served as Van Houten’s guitarist at the EP release show. Buffalo radio station WYRK and Taste of Country Nights with Sam Alex has 62 stations across the country who will be playing it. That’s a pretty good step on a long ladder, for an independent artist! Will he stand on that step waiting for someone to hold his hand and help him to the next one? I really doubt it. He’ll stand on that step and try to see the top of the ladder, which will undoubtedly be obscured by clouds, because he’ll never be able to really see the top. He’ll be trying to figure out what he needs to do next to move up a step. That’s Eric. That’s a Buffalonian turned Nashvillian.

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The show rounded out with another original entitled “Freeway”. At the risk of being lazy, just go back and read the part about “Runaway Love”, minus the cowriters. Another great “drive forever with the music too loud” song.
I was thrilled to have Eric and the band end the show with a cover of The Cadillac Three’s “Get Your Buzz On”. This song is nothing but an in-your-face party song. If you wanted the night to end, it COULD, but after listening to a song like this, you might have decided to stay and party on, or move to any of the numerous other party bars Buffalo has to offer – with a 4 am closing time to boot. You didn’t have to stop anytime soon.
Homecoming. You say the word and you can think of all sorts of things. This time, it meant only one thing. The guy that took a risk and moved south EXACTLY ONE YEAR AGO came home. With a guitar and good news.

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