- The Washington Times - Friday, May 23, 2008

Musician Eric Hutchinson recalls feeling a bit invisible back when he was a student at Montgomery Blair High School in Silver Spring.

“At the time, I was really into making movies, making music and writing songs, but always outside school,” he says. “I didn’t have a great community there. The school was just so big … and it was so easy to blend into.”

Ten years after graduating from Blair, Mr. Hutchinson is a standout. His earnest blue-eyed soul tunes and witty onstage personality have won him fans in high places, a No. 5 spot on iTunes’ album chart last fall, more than 21,000 friends on MySpace, and designation on his high school’s Wikipedia page as a “notable” alumnus alongside Goldie Hawn and Connie Chung.

“All I could do was hope to dream that all this stuff was going to come together,” Mr. Hutchinson says. “I had a plan, and it’s all come exactly to fruition. It’s a very surreal feeling. Oftentimes, I look around and think how I got to this point.” As it turns out, morphing from invisible local kid to nationally and even internationally recognized touring artist has required a lot of drive, determination and patience - in addition to some serious talent.

The musician comes from a big family with music in its bloodlines. His grandmother played viola behind heavy hitters including Aretha Franklin and Tony Bennett in her day, and his parents met when his mom took guitar lessons from his dad. Her six-string later became her son’s first guitar when he unearthed it one day in the basement.

Initially, music was just “a hobby” for the young Mr. Hutchinson, but while he was attending Emerson College in Boston, it began to take on a larger role in his life as he started booking gigs and building a following. After graduation, he packed up and headed west to Los Angeles.

“I kept telling myself I wasn’t going out there to chase the dream,” Mr. Hutchinson says. “I had a ton of friends from college who moved there … so I kind of decided to go because I knew people and thought it’d be fun.”

Things didn’t turn out as rosily as the musician had anticipated, though. After self-releasing his debut album, 2003’s “That Could’ve Gone Better,” Madonna’s Maverick Records signed him - but his major-label debut hopes soon were dashed when the label shuttered.

This false start disheartened Mr. Hutchinson, but his audiences gave him motivation to keep on strumming.

“I continued to do shows … and made real connections through music in a way that the record companies couldn’t do for me,” he says. “When I was actually able to perform, I remembered why I loved doing it.”

After he saved up enough funds to self-release his next studio album, 2007’s “Sounds Like This,” one of his high school pals decided to tip off celebrity blogger Perez Hilton about Mr. Hutchinson’s undeniably catchy pop songs (which sound like a cross between those by Jason Mraz, John Mayer and Billy Joel).

“I had limited knowledge of Perez Hilton at the time,” Mr. Hutchinson says. “I knew my sister liked him. Honestly, I thought, best-case scenario, I’ll get up on his site, my sister will see it, and we’ll have a laugh. That was really all I was expecting.”

However, when the blogger posted a wholehearted endorsement of Mr. Hutchinson online for all his millions of readers to see, the performing artist’s career went from a slow simmer to a full boil almost overnight. His inbox suddenly was flooded, his recently self-released album was shooting up the iTunes chart, and record labels were calling.

Warner Bros. eventually snapped him up and decided to re-release “Sounds Like This” without changing a chord or chorus.

“I didn’t believe in luck for a long time, mainly because I didn’t think I was getting any,” Mr. Hutchinson says. “Now I’ve adjusted my philosophy that you have to create your own luck. You… have to put yourself in as many opportunities as you can where luck can find you.”

Mr. Hutchinson may be a lot busier and more popular these days, but as a person and a performer, he’s still the same old guy: an unassuming, shaggy-haired, jeans-and-T-shirt-clad dude with a penchant for movies, musical greats like the Beatles, self-deprecating humor and his parents’ Fourth of July parties in Takoma Park.

How can you tell he remains a local boy at heart? It’s all in his goals. Among them: headlining the 9:30 Club. (He opened for OneRepublic at the venue in December but has yet to earn top billing.)

“It’s been a huge dream of mine to play there because I grew up going there,” he says. “To me, if you were a cool band, it was the only place to play in D.C.”


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