Going Pro: Ostdiek Crafts Music With Meaning
LONGMONT, Colo. - The reasons why someone becomes an artist are often simple. For many, artistic pursuits are self-aggrandizing, a fight for center stage, a quest to quench a thirst for personal glory. Some simply find joy in drawing beauty out of raw materials, sounds and blank canvases. Still, others aim to inspire and delight those around them through the exercise of their talent and creativity. Count Tim Ostdiek among the latter.
About two years ago, the Longmont-based singer-songwriter untied his latte-spattered apron at the local coffeehouse for the last time. He had chosen to channel all his energy into a full-time career that requires shouldering a guitar night after night and stepping on stage. The excitement was palpable, but so was the gravitas and sense of uncertainty that accompanies most major life decisions.
“That was a scary moment when I knew that if I had a tough week I couldn’t go back,” he said, laughing as he recalled the pivotal moment. “I wanted a life in music and I knew that I had to take that step if I really wanted it to happen.”
Finally quitting his day job marked a culmination of several key moments in his life including when he learned he could play Bob Dylan songs with only a few memorized chords, and when he retired his soccer cleats as a high school freshman to focus on musicmaking. Ostdiek seems aware of this pattern in his history and how it informs a core tenet of his work.
“I feel a lot of purpose. Doing this feels like I’m offering the best of myself to the world,” he said. “I hope that it helps people.”
What began with a few chords quickly blossomed into playing solo sets at the various small venues dotting his hometown of Scottsbluff, Nebraska. He studied music at Western Nebraska Community College, then communications at the University of Nebraska before the death of a friend, a breakup and a desire to start anew prompted a move to Longmont. Now, in addition to having posted numerous cover tunes to YouTube, which range eclectically from contemporaneous artists like The Avett Brothers to “Billie Jean”, Ostdiek’s diligence has yielded two collections of songs, 2014’s five-song EP Temporary Home and his 2017 full-length debut Roots Below.
“It’s kind of a mystery how the songwriting actually started. What I remember is how exciting it was,” he said.
Promotional materials bill Ostdiek’s approach to music as playful and uplifting with pop sensibilities akin to Josh Ritter, Brett Dennen, Amos Lee or Paul Simon. Such descriptions are accurate, but the hopeful, feel-good atmosphere of Ostdiek’s folky style often mollifies a weighty subject matter woven throughout his lyrics. This seemingly incongruous commingling of emotions, heard clearly in the stirring “Row” or the closing refrain of the soaring ballad “I Want to Feel Love”, lends a measure of meaningfulness to the songs, as though the music’s optimism evolved as a coping mechanism for the poignant lyrical strains.
Songs like Temporary Home closer “Goodbye” move with a bouncy rhythm and sunny acoustic strumming while Ostdiek croons a meditation on the sort of relief that comes from weathering loss, pain and hard times.
“Joy and sadness, it’s all a part of it. You need both,” he said. “An idea might come from a dark place, but the song doesn’t have to sound that way. It can be about facing it or working through it.”
Translating that complex interplay of feeling into the live setting is not without its challenges, but Ostdiek manages to tackle the heavier material with remarkable levity. Whether in a concert hall, club, brewery, or living room, he aims his performance at the hearts of his listeners with the goal of sending them out a little brighter than when they came in.
He describes his concerts as opportunities to tell the stories of the characters portrayed in his songs. These characters may be fictitious or semi-autobiographical, but Ostdiek said he always tries to make them relatable.
“I want the music to feel like that close friend you can sit and have a beer with, like someone you can be open with about what you have going on,” he said. “I want to be as in the moment as I can be and for people to leave with a full heart.”
Much of Ostdiek’s development as an artist can be attributed to time spent off-stage and contributing to the Ancova Empowerment Project (AEP), a non-profit arts program for at-risk youth, and supporting the film production company Ancova International. Dave Calkins, AEP director and Ancova International’s chief executive officer, coached Ostdiek on guitar and vocal techniques and was an early supporter of his aspirations to become a professional.
“The minute he hits the stage you can tell that he belongs there. He makes it look easy,” Calkins said. “He has this empathy for people. It’s just part of his personality, but it’s is something that makes him a great performer. People respond to that.”
That inborn compassion meshes harmoniously with Ostdiek’s role as an AEP faculty member, where he harnesses his musical knowledge and background to help students create films, songs or recordings and live performances.
“Working with those kids is so fun. They have so much energy and there’s an honesty there that makes their art so special,” he said of the project, which often sees its faculty members traveling to group homes, in-patient settings, youth shelters, and detention facilities to meet one-on-one with students. “It’s powerful to create something and it’s amazing to see the kids do that and see how it changes them.”
While serving as his instructor, Calkins also impressed upon Ostdiek that artists cannot make a living with talent alone. He imparted the importance of innovation and having the savvy to manage the small business-like aspects of his career. In keeping with his teaching, Ostdiek regularly applies film editing, sound engineering and IT support skills to Ancova International projects to help pay the bills.
“You have to be an entrepreneur if you want to be a musician,” Calkins said. “Tim is doing that. He’s always been so focused on being a musician, but he’s using all of his skills to make a living.”
Ostdiek’s songs have earned him top marks in several competitions, including the John Lennon Songwriting Contest, the Rocky Mountain Folks Fest Songwriting Contest and the 2017 Telluride Troubador. His song “Goodbye” found airtime in a 2017 episode of the PBS show Roadtrip Nation and he has opened for some prominent touring artists, such as Sarah Jarosz.
The list of accomplishments grows ever longer as Ostdiek continually hatches new plans for building a sustainable living as an independent musician and devises fresh sets of professional goals.
Currently, he hosts local open mic events and songwriting group and wants to eventually launch an online cooking show featuring the stories and favorite entrées of fellow artists. Founding a five-piece band and touring larger swathes of the country, however, might be his greatest ambition and his best opportunity for establishing deeper connections with old and new friends and fans.
With so much in the works, the early years may seem like a distant memory when Ostdiek tunes up for one of the 150-plus shows he will play this year, but his reasons why have never been clearer or purer.
“If you want a career as an artist, you have to be able to say you would be unhappy doing anything else,” Calkins said. “You have to have a strong sense of who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tim is not up there because his ego demands the spotlight. He’s not promoting himself. He’s promoting his music.”