Nashville-bound: Buffalo-native Eric Van Houten chases his country music dream

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Country singer Eric Van Houten didn’t always want to play country music.

It wasn’t until he was asked to play country one day –– and went home to listen to Ketih Urban’s 2002 record “Golden Road” for four days straight –– that he realized his passion. 

Van Houten, a 26-year-old Buffalo native, grew up in West Seneca with no initial plan to move to Nashville. But after opening for Kelsea Ballerini in January 2016, her record label told him he needed to move to Nashville to jumpstart a career and sure enough, he did three months later. Van Houten, who knew “deep down” he had to be in Nashville if he wanted to pursue country music, has since played all across the country and occasionally comes back to Buffalo for hometown gigs.

“I always grew up listening to country. My dad listened to old-school country and my mom always listened to Shania Twain and the ‘90s and 2000s women of country,” Van Houten said. “It was always a part of my musical influence.”

Van Houten remembers holidays and family functions growing up: His entire family would play guitar and sing, which he “always wanted to be a part of.” When his parents divorced when he was 11 years old, he decided to pick up the guitar and go for it himself.

“I stayed in my room all day and taught myself how to play the guitar,” Van Houten said. “I would play until I could make sounds that made sense.”

In 2015, he began playing shows in Buffalo and Rochester at local breweries and beaches. Eventually, he was traveling to places like Nashville, New Jersey and Florida playing shows almost every weekend. He finally decided to make the move to Nashville in 2016, after opening for Kelsea Ballberini and her entire record label told him he needed to move.

He still likes to come home and have a “good hometown show,” though. Recently he’s played at Woodlawn Beach, Jam in the Valley and St. John Vianney Church, all in Buffalo.

His family knew how risky the move to Nashville was but was supportive. And Van Houten quickly fell in love with it. He said no one is there to win, just to make good country music.

“The music community [in Nashville] is a very welcoming community of songwriters, artists and industry people who want everyone to win,” Van Houten said. “No one is out here trying to take the top spot and control it.”

Van Houten tries to write as many of his own songs as he can, but has a few writers he trusts to write music for him.

“I’m an artist too, and I get that sometimes you can’t write the best song and you have to have the best song to win in this industry,” Van Houten said. “Sometimes you have to go outside and find it.”

Marc Antecki, Van Houton’s cousin, said he’s “incredibly proud” of his cousin’s musical development.

“Being his cousin, we’re super close so it’s been fun watching him play at local bars and then watching him move onto bigger stages like Taste of Country and Jam in the Valley,” Antecki said. “And you know, it’s just the beginning for him.”

Antecki described Van Houton as “an angel” and a “loving, giving and thoughtful person.”

“He really cares about his fans, he genuinely cares if someone wants an autograph or a picture, that’s always really exciting for him,” Antecki said. “He has a really strong focus, so he’s going to be a big shot.”

His newest release, “Well Enough,” was written by three of Van Houten’s “good friends.” He said it was tough to say no to a song that resonated so well with his life at the time.

“They put themselves in this place of heartbreak and ended up rolling on a title ‘Well Enough,’” Van Houten said. “They were like, ‘Hey everybody’s been in that scenario where they’ve had an ex run into you at a bar, ruin your mojo and all you want to say is, look, you know, I’m doing fine.’”

Van Houten doesn’t have a favorite song of his, as he said they’re all “like kids to him.”

Van Houten said country music has evolved into more than just making a good country song, but telling a good story.

“Whether that means a bit of pop or a little bit of all the genres, as long as it’s a good song that tells a good story, chances are the song will do well,” Van Houten said.

In the years to come, Van Houten said he would love to be on tour and playing shows for thousands of people. But Van Houten primarily cares about having an authentic connection with his fans.

“I want to create a fan base that cares about the music and who I am as an artist, I want to continue to grow with my fans and not just for myself,” Van Houten said. “And if that leads me to playing at the same place for the next twenty years of my life, as long as it’s a fan base that cares, I’m good.”

Brittany Gorny is the senior news editor and can be reached at brittany.gorny@ubspectrum.com or on Twitter @BrittanyGorny.