Home ‘I am a folk musician’: Staunton native Ethan Hawkins writes and sings in band

‘I am a folk musician’: Staunton native Ethan Hawkins writes and sings in band

Corner House
Cellist Casey Murray, guitarist Ethan Hawkins, bluegrass mandolinist Ethan Setiawan and Scottish fiddle player Louise Bichan are Corner House. They will perform at Red Wing Roots Music Festival on June 24. Photo courtesy Corner House.

By Rebecca J. Barnabi
For Augusta Free Press

Ethan Hawkins was born and raised in Staunton, and we’ll return to the Queen City in late June to perform with his band Corner House.

The band plays bluegrass, folk and Celtic music. Hawkins sings, writes songs and plays guitar in the band.

“Everywhere you turn, there’s all sorts of pain going on in the world,” Hawkins said of his inspiration for writing. “It’s sort of how I process things.”

Hawkins said he is better at writing down in words what’s going on than being social.

“I think I use music to escape [being social],” he said. He is used to grabbing his guitar and playing a song in social situations. “Being behind my guitar has always made me feel comfortable.”

Folk music provides a broad spectrum of opportunities for songwriters like Hawkins to reach others with music. He loves Appalachian peddle music.

“I think on that spectrum we all connect in that way, and I wanted to bring a new living sound,” he said of the music genre. “The music comes first, then you start to define it.”

Corner House’s sound, according to Hawkins, developed naturally into what worked for the members of the band, and where they found common ground with each. That common ground was folk music.

“I started getting real serious about [music] when I was 18,” Hawkins, who lives in Maine now, said. He was working in a banjo shop and listening to music all day. “And I just decided I really wanted that for my life.”

Hawkins was also encouraged at the time because his grandfather had just passed away, who had been a musician. Hawkins said his grandfather told him he would become a professional musician.

A 2009 graduate of Robert E Lee High School, Hawkins’ mother, Kim, stepdad, Phil, brother, Carter and an aunt and uncle live in Waynesboro.

Hawkins’ father taught him to play bass when he was 12 years old.

“My dad taught me my first three chords,” he said.

He pursued college at Berklee College of Music, but did not graduate. Instead, he and housemates, Louise Bichan and Ethan Setiawan, formed Corner House, along with cellist Casey Murray, who lived down the street at the time.

“I’ve pretty much made it my life’s work to be a musician and share songs and write songs for people,” Hawkins said.

Right now, Hawkins is learning to play the fiddle. As a songwriter, he allows himself to be influenced. He does not write with just folk, bluegrass or Celtic in mind.

“I don’t ever sit down and define a song,” he said of his writing process. “I am a folk musician.”

Hawkins said he is not good at being social, and knows that in the past he has used his guitar as an escape. The COVID-19 pandemic reminded him of the importance of having people in his life.

The band’s first full-length album, “How Beautiful It’s Been” will be released on May 27. Hawkins wrote five of the songs and sings them, including “Angel Falls,” which he said he wrote with a friend who identifies as queer. Hawkin’s friend, Nathan Moore, who lives in Staunton, wrote a song on the album, and most of the rest of the songs were written by other band members.

Hawkins described the album as part instrumental, part vocal, with themes of working out relationships with family and working on what it means to be human.

The band will perform at the Red Wing Roots Music Festival in Mt. Solon on June 24. Hawkins last performed locally in Staunton for a solo show at Marino’s last year and performed with a friend as an opening act at the Blackburn Inn in September.

“I play Staunton quite a bit. It’s my home. Anybody who has ever touched me musically is down there,” Hawkins said.

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.