Photographed and written by Bridget Schaefer

We all work hard. We grind day in and day out at our 9-5’s and for many of us, our side hustles too. But there’s something to be said about being a full-time musician in Buffalo. From playing acoustic sets in hip northtown restaurants to playing original music with his band First Ward downtown, Zak Ward is making it happen.


Tell us about yourself.

“I’m a musician and actor originally from Niagara Falls. I’ve been playing music for a living since 2004ish, but full-time since 2011. I’m in a band called First Ward but other than that, I play everywhere. I live in Kenmore with my wife and two year old daughter, and somehow I find a way to make it happen. I don’t want to complain, playing music full-time is a grind…. it gets tough trying to get everything done. But on the plus side, I don’t have a traditional boss or work week, which are all good problems to have.”

What have you noticed since you’ve started playing music full-time. 2011 vs. now?

“In Buffalo specifically, there are just way more places to play now. New restaurants and breweries want live music, which is great. There are spots where I can bring my acoustic guitar, take requests and just play for 3 hours. I set up in the corner of the bar, I’m self contained and out of the way – people are into it. People in Buffalo like to have a good time and they’re into music.”

Are you seeing more full-time musicians in the area?

“There are a lot of players and more people doing what I do. It’s a big risk to take… to quit your job and try to go full-time with it. When people ask me how I did it – I have no answers. It’s like any business, it’s about planting seeds and networking. Opportunity equals luck plus preparation. People will give you a chance, but you’ve got to knock it out of the park.”

Where’s your favorite place to play?

“If you asked a chef ‘what’s your favorite thing to eat?’.. What do they say? Haha. They just want to make food that satisfies people. That’s what I want to do. When I go out there to play, I’ve got all this prep work that I’ve done, I cater the set to the crowd that happens to be at the venue that day. So, my favorite place to play and my favorite songs to play are whatever are making the people around me happy. I’m at a point now where I pretty much play solo acoustic full-time so that I can play my original songs with First Ward too. That’s really where my heart is at – playing original music.”

What else is gratifying about your job?

“I’m part of Buffalo Music Hall of Fame Musician Medics program which is run by Rich Sargent. We go in and play at Oishei Children’s Hospital, the VA, a few senior centers. It’s phenomenal…there’s nothing else like it, we go from room to room and play for people. It’s immediately gratifying to see someone’s eyes light up, especially when they’re already in very difficult circumstances. It’s a very fortunate thing that we get to do.”