It often takes musicians years of performing at a venue to establish themselves as a “regular” at the place. But sometimes it only takes three months.
Ethan Waldman, 23, moved to Schenectady in November of last year from Ithaca, where he went to college. He’d already established himself there as a performer, playing the local club scene, but he was a stranger in Schenectady. So he started going to the Moon & River Café’s Sunday open mike nights, just down the street from where he lives.
Ethan Waldman, with Kyle Miller
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 24
Where: Moon & River Café, 115 S. Ferry St., Schenectady
How Much: Free
More Info: 382-1938, www.moonandrivercafe.com
“Really, this is my neighborhood hangout; it’s kind of my home away from home,” he said during a recent interview at — where else — the Moon & River. “I really enjoyed the open mike, and Richard [Genest, owner] is just so easygoing, and offered me gigs, so I started playing.”
Now, it’s not unusual to see Waldman’s name on the cafe’s calendar multiple times a month, and that’s not including all the shows he plays as a backing musician. The singer, songwriter, guitarist and violinist is performing three nights in a row next week at the cafe, starting on Tuesday with Kyle Miller, backed by bassist Arya Chowdhury and drummer Steve Moss. He’ll be backing Hannah Imbesi and Rick Sacchetti the next night, and folk-country outfit Lockhart Mountain Boys on Thursday.
“Yeah, it’s getting ridiculous,” he said, laughing. “I just think that music is a great way to make friends. You start jamming with somebody and your styles mesh well, you almost bond that way, through playing.”
He has been spending most of his life bonding with others through music. He first picked up classical violin at age 7 while growing up in New Jersey, and spent time in the New Jersey Youth Symphony. He later picked up the guitar in high school.
From an early age, he was surrounded by music. His father is a drummer, and Waldman’s early experiments behind his father’s kit led to him playing drums in a high school ska band.
After starting school at Ithaca College, where he studied organizational communications, learning and design, Waldman put down the violin for a while to focus on guitar.
“I was going to minor in music in Ithaca, but the music program was really strenuous, and I was feeling really burnt out from playing violin for the last 12 years,” he said.
“What I liked about the guitar over the violin is that I can really play the music that I like listening to, like rock and pop music. And I really didn’t pick up violin again, playing a lot, until I kind of merged those two worlds and ended up collaborating with some musicians in Ithaca.”
A weekly cover show with friend Nate Marshall led Waldman to reconnect with the violin. The duo arranged acoustic renditions of Beatles songs and other ’60s pop covers, something that Waldman still does at his shows today.
But there’s also his original material, which spans pop, rock and folk with oftentimes quirky, humorous lyrics. “Ants are Included,” which features lyrics ripped from a Sky Mall catalog product description of “Surf Ants,” is one of his more popular songs, and can be heard on his MySpace page (www.myspace.com/myfullnameistaken).
“I love doing stuff like that,” he said. “I really admire the kind of storytelling songwriting that you hear in folk music, or the band The Decemberists is another group that I like lyrically. But I never felt like a good storyteller, so I always end up writing about . . . my feelings and thoughts or a situation that happened to me.”
Currently, Waldman is participating in the RPM Challenge (www.rpmchallenge.com), which has musicians write and record a 10-song album during the month of February. When he spoke with the Gazette, he was three songs in.
“It’s just like a personal challenge to see if you can do it,” Waldman said. “I feel like I’ve already learned a lot in three days, because I’ve never written that fast — usually it’s like one or two songs a month. But when you’re trying to meet a deadline, and you stop procrastinating and just sit down and do something, it’s great.”
And Waldman, who works as an e-learning technology consultant at the Energy Learning Center in Niskayuna, admits that he actually has more time for music now, with a full-time job, than he did in Ithaca.
“In that security that having a job, a steady job, gives you, you’re almost free to be more creative because you don’t have to worry about, like, ‘Do I have enough money to pay rent?’ ”