“I’m really enjoying this,” Christian Holden said as a smile replaced the poker face he’d been using in the first level of the WSOP Main Event. “This is my first time playing the Main Event. When Brian [Rast] sat down I chose, in that moment, to say that this is an experience. I am playing, you know, with a legend. And I’m just playing my hardest, being competitive, having fun.”
This experience is a new one for the 31-year-old Holden who, this week, is taking some time away from his main gig, that of the primary singer/songwriter for the Worchester, MA indie rock/emo band The Hotelier. A band that, starting this fall, will be back on tour for the first time in a number of years to celebrate the 10th anniversary of their landmark album Home, Like Noplace Is There, a record Spin Magazine named to its Best 101 Albums of the 2010s.
Holden’s music career has taken him all over the world, where he’s performed in front of crowds the likes of the Pitchfork Music Festival in Chicago to a set at the prestigious Primavera Sound in Barcelona and every place both under and in-between. And actually, it was on one of those tours that Holden recalls the start of his passion for the game of poker.
“Yeah, we just picked [the game of poker] up as a band on our Australian tour. [The Hotelier] did an Australian tour, and we just played poker with each other every day. And then me and the guys came home, and two of us got really into playing online.”
And sometimes they would take their love of the game with them on the road. Holden once talked about nights when, after a show, he would find a game and, on occasion, make more money in playing poker than the band was paid for the music.
“I mean, yeah, it’s not like music is the most lucrative job in the world, by any means,” Holden said. “It’s a very competitive world. And pay is not all that great. There are a lot of musicians that are doing it simply because, you know, they would do it for free. Right? So people are just like, ‘Oh, I’ll take whatever you’ll give me because I’ll do it for I would do it for free.’
“But poker is a swingy game and so there would be days in which I made more playing in a game…and there are days where I would lose more money than I’ve maybe ever made in music,” he laughed.
Those were the days when The Hotelier were paying their dues before they could pay the rent. Now, as they embark on their co-headlining tour with the band Foxing, the demand by fans to experience Home, Like Noplace Is There live should more than cover the costs of the journey. It’s pent-up demand for a band that has been somewhat reclusive in the past few years after Holden opted to step out of the spotlight for a break.
“I’m always busy. I mean, you do 100 shows a year, every year, you get burnt out. Whatever hobby you’re into when you’re young, you’re not going to interact with it in a way that allows you to sustain it forever in a healthy way. So I got resentful of music, I got resent resentful of touring. And I really just didn’t want to do it anymore,” he said.
“But I love music. I love thinking about music and talking about music and listening to music and making music. And I think I needed to remove it from my life a little bit and then reintegrate if it felt right, which is also what I did with poker. I took a good amount of time during the pandemic off of poker. And it was just I just said, you know, if it doesn’t come back into my life, it wasn’t meant to be. But it’s made its way back.”
And that led Holden to the WSOP. Typically a cash game player, Holden has only booked a single live tournament score (back in 2019), instead opting to play online tournaments when he’s chilling out on a Sunday. But he’s hoping that stat will change here in the Main Event. At the dinner break, he was sitting on 66,000 in chips or, as he optimistically put it, “110% of my starting stack”.
It’s not that Holden never wanted to come out, test his mettle, and pursue that summer poker dream. It’s just that the timing was never really right for him. Finally, it looks like, things have fallen into place.
“It was a ‘time is right’ thing. I had never really been here to do the WSOP thing, but I carved out some days so that I could be down here and compete in the Main Event,” he said. “And I have a bunch of friends who are here and you know, I have a bunch of people that I’ve met in the poker world. I really like making friends and whatever I do, so there’s a bunch of buddies that I’m seeing and saying hi to and it’s just a good social experience.”
And that time is now. Come November, when the touring starts up again, it will be time to put poker away again. For a while at least. The coast-to-coast tour which splits dates between November and February, will likely consume all of Holden’s time and focus. After all, just like how he’s playing his hardest in the Main Event, Holden will be giving his all to his music and the fans that come out to enjoy it.
“I mean, when it comes to making music, performing music or just being myself as an artist, I take that as seriously as I take anything and I have fans that look up to the work I make and I don’t want to let them down. I want to surprise them. I want to show them that I still got it. You know what I mean? And I feel like everything will go on the back burner when I start buckling down for music stuff.”
But in talking with Holden, it seems clear that, right now, he’s thoroughly enjoying both music and poker. He had recently played some solo shows and, in addition to diving back into his main creative focus The Hotelier, formed a new co-op record label, Dreams of Field Recordings (DoFR), with his friend Chad Matheny of the band Emperor X that will support both bands and their future music endeavors.
But even with all of that going on, Holden feels like there will still be a place in his life for the game of poker.
“(Poker) fits into my life. I have a comfy life. You know, I make music. I can come out to Vegas and play poker. I can play poker when I’m at home. I can spend time with the people that I love. It’s just…I don’t know, I live a blessed life. So it’ll fit in to my blessed life.”