IS IT THE ERA OF ERIC VAN HOUTEN?
Something people from outside of Buffalo don’t always know is, Buffalo has a lively music scene.
Everything from rock to the symphony does well in area code 716. One of Buffalo’s most successful music products is the Goo Goo Dolls who rose to fame during one of the city’s most difficult economic times, the mid 1990’s. The Goo Goo Dolls were not an overnight success. They played bars like the old Continental and paid their rock and roll dues to finally get that golden ticket that started them on the road to true fame and fortune, and even then, they kept on working. A success story during a not so successful time in Buffalo’s history. Keep this in the back of your head for a bit.
Buffalo, New York is currently experiencing an amazing revitalization. Just a few short years ago, the downtown and waterfront sat mostly sad and vacant, waiting for someone to rescue them from despair. Prime Lake Erie properties were itching to be developed, with Buffalonians shaking their heads and asking why nothing was being done. For years it seemed hopeless, and then, seemingly out of nowhere, help arrived. In 2011, Terry and Kim Pegula, multi-billionaires, with interests in natural gas and real estate, purchased the NHL’s Buffalo Sabres, and then the NFL’s Buffalo Bills in 2014. These people had money they were ready and willing to invest in Buffalo, and not just the in the sports teams themselves. They were ready to make the area around downtown’s HSBC Arena (now KeyBank Center) better. Not just a little better. They were going to reinvent it, and they didn’t just talk about it. They DID it. In short order. The Buffalo waterfront went from a virtual ghost town to a place people FLOCK to. This was the miracle Buffalonians were waiting for. The Pegulas, who didn’t even reside in Buffalo, but loved the city and its sports teams, saved the day.
Buffalonians are optimistic and loyal. Tell us our sports teams are terrible and we might half-heartedly agree, but we’ll always say, “We’ll get ‘em next year.” Tell us our weather is the worst in the nation, and we’ll say, “At least we don’t have hurricanes.” Our waterfront was a shambles, but we knew one day it would turn around. We didn’t know how or when, but it would, and it did. You just keep grinding it out every single day and things will eventually be alright. That’s a Buffalo attitude. It’s been passed down for generations. Don’t give up. LIFE IS CYCLICAL. If it’s bad now, wait it out. The good is coming around. Hang in there and keep working with your head on straight.
Summing up what we have so far, Buffalo is a great music city. The Goo Goo Dolls found success in one of the darker economic eras in Buffalo’s long history and the Pegulas rescued Buffalo’s waterfront and downtown, resulting in a glorious renaissance that is occurring even as I type this piece. Sounds like I’ve dumped a 1000 piece puzzle in your lap and asked you to put it together, right? Stick with me. I’m going somewhere with this, I promise.
Eric Van Houten entered this world November 24, 1992. While Buffalo did have a winning football team at the time, the city itself was pretty much the last place on the planet anyone wanted to go. It was a rustbelt flyover city or a stop off on the way to Niagara Falls. Little did anyone suspect that the baby boy born on that late November day would be such a creative human being and such a BUFFALONIAN.
Being born – that’s the beginning for all of us. The middle – that’s where all the good stuff is, but I can’t tell you much of that – you see, I’ve only known Eric for about a year myself. I met Eric in 2016. We’re both Buffalo natives now living in Nashville. We both graduated from West Seneca West Senior High School and are both products of the West Seneca Central Schools, but many years apart. Coincidence or fate? I firmly believe in fate, but that’s just me. I also believe in Eric and everything he’s doing, but I can’t tell you most of his story, but others can.
Let’s start at the very beginning, a very good place to start… (did I just steal a line from somewhere?) with Eric’s mom, Michelle Young. I spoke with Michelle at Eric’s EP Release Party and she could probably go on for days about her son. Clearly, he’s been a marvel since he was really little. Singing and “performing” whenever the opportunity presented itself, whether that meant the living room or, at the Omega Deli in West Seneca, NY. PERFORMING at a deli? What? Yes. Given the choice of slicing meat or dressing up as a Wardynski brand wiener to attract customers, it was a no brainer for the young Van Houten. Proudly dancing as a roadside wiener likely helped bump up the Wardynski numbers during Van Houten’s time at the deli.
That wasn’t the only performing Eric did as a teenager. Michelle Young also shared a story about the time her son was crowned Mr. West 2009, after lip syncing Michael Jackson’s “The Way You Make Me Feel” at his high school. All of this was pre-planned without her knowledge. She was simply told she needed to be at the school that evening, only to be completely surprised by the performance and even more so by the fact that he won the title, the very first year it was awarded. Do you see a pattern here?
Michelle made mention of Eric having difficulty writing in English class. One of his very astute teachers noticed that Eric had a musical brain and did better work if he wrote as if her were writing music. Suddenly, he was getting good grades in English. I would have loved to have talked to this teacher. Clearly, he understood that everyone learns differently, and Eric’s creative mind just needed someone to see that.
Others wanted to share their thoughts. Dominic Vaccaro of Lancaster, NY played a gig and met Eric afterward. “I was doing a show with my band WASTED WHISKEY. Eric was at the show and as we were packing up he came up to us with a big smile and made a joke, we shook hands and talked for about an hour. That was the first time I ever met him and I can honestly say it was like I knew him my whole life, that is Eric. He always seems to have a smile on his face and can literally put you in a good mood being around him. Truly a great guy. Nashville is a bit better of a town because he is there.”
There are those that remember the first time they ever saw Eric play. Carrie Farley of Batavia, NY recalls, “I first saw and heard Eric on November 30, 2012 at the old Club Infinity. He was opening for James Wesley. I remember being impressed and loved his singing. No band that night. It was a great show.”
Ken Dominguez, who is involved in booking shows, and has had the opportunity to work with Eric had this to say, “He has worked very hard over the years to get where he is, he loves music and the people who have supported him along the way. From watching him play for about six years now I love the fact I’ve been able to witness him grow as an artist and a writer over that time. I know he’s going to continue to work at it and it will pay off for him!”
Amanda Galioto, Eric’s girlfriend, obviously knows about his day to day activities. “He’s such a hard worker. Being with him every day in Nashville and seeing the work he puts into his music is inspiring. I’m so happy to be a part of it all!”
Fellow country artist Mick Fury kept it simple, “Eric… Great performer but more importantly a great guy.”
From Matt Smith of Buffalo, “I’ve known Eric for over ten years and he has always had his guitar in his hands and was always playing. Every concert we went to he always said, ‘one day I’ll be on that stage’, one of those stages happens to be Taste of Country. I couldn’t be more proud of the kid. He has more drive to succeed than anyone I know. I’m proud to call him my friend and always look forward to seeing what he is going to do next.”
Danny Beach from Rochester, NY says, “I met Eric about five years ago (maybe more) at a CDCTT event here in Caledonia. I was bartending and he was playing an acoustic set on our two stage event. I was blown away at the natural talent this kid had. The look, the voice, this kid had it. My brother and I have been in contact with Eric since that day and he has been to Caledonia numerous times since. Overall, I don’t know him all that well, but at the same time he makes me feel like I am his only fan. He has a connection with people that most aspire to have. For example, Eric and his band were performing at The Ryman in the Country Showcase Competition. I was texting with him the whole time, giving him words of encouragement and he would text back the scene and the vibe. It was, at that time, the biggest moment of his career, and there he was, texting a fan, letting me know the lowdown on the night. Instant respect. Eric is on the brink of fame, but his personality keeps him in check. He respects where he came from, which is evident by having his big release back in Buffalo. He has the heart, the drive, and I can only see him having continued success. The sky’s the limit and this kid is a rocket. Watch out Nashville and country music. Your next Eric Church is a Western New Yorker!”
You’ve heard what others had to say. The theme was echoed at the EP Release Party as well. Eric is a hard worker that never quits. Now I’ll give you my opinion, which is only based on one year’s worth of knowing Eric, and then, I’ll take those puzzle pieces that are falling all over the place and put them together for you.
Eric, at once, strikes me as extremely humble. For a country music artist, who isn’t just a side musician, that is quite unusual. If you were to sit down with him and interview him, there is no question that you, as the interviewer, would probably be the louder, more animated of the two sitting at the table. You might even feel as though you had to “pull out” some words for Eric. He’s a bit quiet and reserved when answering questions, but not the least bit arrogant or standoffish. He’s just that soft-spoken and unpretentious. If you had never seen him perform prior to your interview, you might be wary of his ability to handle an audience, but never fear dear interviewer! This guy can work a stage!
Off the job, or at least when he’s not in performance mode, he’s all business. He’s getting things done. He’s kind, generous, and if you need something from him, expect it from him quickly. Unless he’s in a rehearsal or a meeting and can’t do it in a minute, he WILL do it that minute. This is a guy that believes in getting things done. He’s a hustler and as an independent artist, he knows it’s all him. I am so impressed by his work ethic. He must have looked up the word “independent” in the dictionary and really studied the definition, because he has it all figured out. If a label signs him, he’ll be their golden child for sure. I didn’t mention the fact that his voice is incredible and he writes like it’s his job, because it is. He also chooses where he plays carefully. He does a lot of songwriter rounds. Smart guy. Show them you aren’t just a cover song wonder.
I thank you for staying with me all this time, because now, I’m going to sew it all up. Buffalo, New York. Some would say it’s the Armpit of the Country. I disagree. I mean, I TOTALLY disagree. It’s a damned cool city. It always has been. Even when it was considered a complete disaster it had some amazing pockets, you just had to know where they were, and the music scene was always one of the best things about it.
Throwing it back to the early 1990’s when The Goo Goo Dolls were struggling and so was Buffalo. The Goos were working to get somewhere with their music. Buffalonians were trying to keep a job and save face while late night TV hosts were convincing the rest of America that we were living in something akin to a third world country. We were constantly the butt of jokes and yet there we were taking it, one hit after another. What did we do? Kept on going. Like Buffalonians do. Smile with the knowledge that our day will come if we just keep on going.
Don’t look now, but here comes 1995, and The Goo Goo Dolls “A Boy Named Goo” goes platinum. Finally! Years of hard work were really paying off and the boys from Buffalo were hitting it big! That’s one great thing to come out of a still ugly economic situation in a still sad looking city (at least as far as the downtown was concerned). At least we could check something off our “Nothing Good Ever Happens in Buffalo” list. We had a winning rock band.
That winning rock band really shot into the stratosphere in 1998 when their song “Iris” was featured on the soundtrack of “City of Angels” and earned Grammy nominations for both Song of the Year and Record of the Year. These guys were bonified rock stars now, but downtown Buffalo was not. It was getting worse.
Flash forward 13 long years. Terry and Kim Pegula announced they were buying our beloved Buffalo Sabres hockey team and were going to redevelop the entire area around the then HSBC Arena. Buffalonians were skeptical. We had heard stories like this before. So many times, in fact, that our stock answer to that was, “We’ll believe it when we see it.” Well, this time, we saw it. They really redeveloped it and it’s beautiful. It’s vibrant. These are people of their word. Then they went and purchased the Buffalo Bills and sunk money into our football stadium. Again, doing what they said they would. These were unchartered waters for us in Buffalo. Nobody ever did this before! Promises being kept to people that work hard and just want something nice for a change. What a concept!
Now let’s flash forward to 2016. Buffalo is beginning to boom again. Things are really looking up. This is a time of positivity for a city that hasn’t seen something like this in decades. People are happy to go downtown with their families. They feel safe doing that. They go there with their friends to enjoy nightlife. It’s exciting. All the while there are exactly two common threads that have never changed over the years, whether they were the lean, desperate years, or these new years of rejuvenation. The people of Buffalo are still the hardest working, most humble, resilient and gracious you will ever meet. No matter what the adversity, be it rough weather, mockery from outsiders, economic downturn or frustrating sports teams, they keep moving forward, every single day. The other is music. The music scene has always been alive. In every corner of Buffalo. Whether it’s Allentown, Elmwood or in the suburbs, the music has always been an escape. The corner bar or a nightclub. It got so many of us through the worst, and now, the best times.
The Goo Goo Dolls hit it big during one of Buffalo’s worst times. Guess who might just be Buffalo’s next big music sensation during one of Buffalo’s best times? Are you following me now? I bet you are. Was it a coincidence that Eric Van Houten chose to play “Iris” at his EP Release Party in Buffalo? The very song that solidified The Goo Goo Dolls as true rock stars in 1998? Think on that.
Video courtesy of Mary Rebmann
LIFE IS CYCLICAL. If you just wait, and keep working and moving forward, your time will come. It’s a Buffalo thing. I told you I believe in fate. I have a friend that’s a medium. She always tells me, “There are no coincidences.” I have to believe she’s right. Look at all the crazy things we call coincidences. I have called them coincidences. We do that to make sense of things. Eric coming home exactly one year to the day that he moved to Nashville. HE called it a coincidence. Maybe it was. Maybe it wasn’t. Eric and me both graduating from the same school, years and years apart, and ending up in the same city, and becoming friends. The Goo Goo Dolls finding success during a difficult time in Buffalo economically. Eric possibly finding success during a good time in Buffalo economically. He’s country, they’re rock. Genres aside, Buffalo is a music city. Always has been, always will be. Maybe it’s our little secret. Maybe I just told the world.
If I sit here long enough, I’m sure I will find so many more of these so-called coincidences, and if you’re reading this and you know Eric, you will too. I’m waiting for the next step in Eric’s career. This EP is just another beginning, and he would agree, I’m sure. That’s how the music business is. You can celebrate now, but you have to follow up quickly. I can’t wait to see what happens, because I know it’s going to be even better. Better because he’s a Buffalonian at heart, and Nashville has adopted him as one of its own. What could be better than that?