Editor’s note: The Backbeat of Bend is The Bulletin’s series profiling the behind-the-scenes figures who make the local music scene what it is. This month, learn how Jasmine Helsley-Barnett’s advocacy for Central Oregon musicians over the years continues to shape the scene.
Jasmine Helsley-Barnett smiled as she rattled off her current jobs in Bend’s bustling music scene — volunteer and host coordinator at Les Schwab Amphitheater and assistant for Sionna Productions and Clear Summer Nights — during a recent interview in downtown Bend.
“So that’s kind of really all I’m doing right now,” she said, before making the air-quote sign with her hands. “‘All.’”
Then she kept going. There’s Heartbeat of Bend, the political action committee she founded with other music-scene players last year in response to Bend’s ongoing debate over its noise ordinance and outdoor concerts. She is also the community coordinator for the Arts & Culture Alliance of Central Oregon, a partnership of more than 50 nonprofit groups, arts organizations and individuals that advocates for all forms of art in the region.
That covers official titles. Helsley-Barnett was also a promoter and booker for many years with venues such as Silver Moon Brewing, Volcanic Theatre Pub and Liquid Lounge, as well as running her own promotion company JAH Promotions for two years. And if you’ve been to a show in Central Oregon in the last decade, you’ve probably run into her supporting one of the many local musicians she has helped out over the years.
“I volunteer a lot — I’m on the Bend South Little League board because last year it wasn’t running as well as it could be, and I noticed that, so I just hopped on the board,” she said. “We volunteer at the family kitchens to serve meals. I just feel a great connection to our community and the local music community. I feel like it’s a big thing. People are always wanting other people to go support them — well, you have to go support other people to make that happen.”
Local music in the spotlight
Her work advocating for artists of all stripes in the Central Oregon area has not gone unnoticed. Bend is known for its abundance of shows in off-the-beaten-path venues — restaurants, bookshops, barbershops and beyond — as well as a robust roster of local performers who often get the chance to open up touring acts passing through town. Much of that is thanks to her, according to musicians and other key players on the scene.
“She’s got a lot of just local musicians that played in the garages or whatever — she got them on main stages at festivals and made their lives a little bit better, I think as far as that’s concerned,” said local photographer Gary Calicott, who got his start shooting local musicians thanks in part to Helsley-Barnett’s encouragement nearly a decade ago. “She was definitely the leader in that. It’s really cool to see some of the people that she was involved with now opening up for some of the national acts that are coming through.”
Tim Coffey and Katherine Hilst, who make up progressive roots music duo Coyote Willow, said Helsley-Barnett helped them and other musicians who didn’t fit the bar- or party-band mold.
“That’s where she came in helping us,” Coffey said. “Maybe we didn’t fit exactly into the genre or the beer band thing that goes on a lot, especially on the festival side of things. But she found value in what we do, and I think she found value in what a number of different acts did that maybe didn’t fall exactly into that dance/party mode band, and helped people recognize that or notice it.”
For Helsley-Barnett, helping local musicians get a foothold with promoters looking for opening acts was a matter of seeing a need and filling it, a recurring theme in most of her work.
“I felt that was a huge thing that I helped contribute to — I mean, not just me, tons of other people were doing the same thing,” Helsley-Barnett said. “But if you have a local act that’s just as good as a national touring act to open, or a touring band, why are you not utilizing our local music community? So that was kind of an eye-opener. Before, I feel like it was — nobody was really utilizing our local scene, and I pushed for that a lot.”
Born in Ashland and raised in San Andreas, California, and Yreka, California, Helsley-Barnett grew up in an arts-oriented family. Her father, Les Helsley, is a teacher and potter, while her grandfather, Elmo Smith, was a touring jazz guitarist when he wasn’t working as a banker. “It was kind of a funny contradiction there,” Helsley-Barnett said.
At age 9, she started learning piano. But her father was also a coach, and she soon focused on playing “every single (sport) I could get my hands on or that my dad was coaching.”
“I was a four-sport athlete in high school, but I was also in student government and the art club,” she said. “So I was painting, I was doing a lot of stuff using both sides of my brain. But I had art teachers all through middle school, through high school. That’s one of the greatest things I remember about middle school and high school because I was a very awkward person — I still am, I feel like — but I think that got me through a lot of awkward moments growing up.”
After high school, she attended College of the Siskiyous in Weed, California, eventually transferring to Central Oregon Community College when she moved to Bend 11 years ago. She obtained a bachelor’s degree in marketing and management through Linfield College’s online program, something that would come in handy as she broke into music promotion and booking in Central Oregon.
“I was always managing something, just in my previous positions,” she said. “I was a restaurant manager, winery manager. I’m the oldest of three kids, so that kind of management role is very natural for me.”
Breaking onto the scene
Though she said she naturally gravitated to music and musicians while in college, Helsley-Barnett didn’t get heavily involved with a music scene until she moved to Bend and began meeting local musicians such as Tim Coffey, Rob Sydell and future husband Brent Barnett. Through those conversations, she saw a need she thought she could help fill.
“When I was talking to everybody, there was this kind of consensus that people couldn’t get gigs, or musicians couldn’t get gigs, and I just was like, why?” Helsley-Barnett said. “It should be so easy. So I kind of naively jumped into that role — kind of a see a need, fill a need type of situation — and I just started booking just by saying, oh, that doesn’t look too hard.”
At the time, she worked as front-of-house manager at the now closed Common Table, and she began booking local bands for shows. Her philosophy, then and now, was that “any establishment can be a music venue.”
From there, she started working the door at Silver Moon Brewing, which at the time was looking for a new booking manager.
“The very first show I worked the door, they didn’t have a sound guy or sound engineer,” she said. “… And that’s kind of how I got that gig, was I was there and I was like, this needs to be run a little bit more efficiently. And so I kind of just jumped into that role, and then Tyler (Reichert, former Silver Moon owner) hired me right there.”
Helsley-Barnett worked for Silver Moon for 18 months, and by 2011, she started her own promotion company, JAH Promotions. She booked shows at Volcanic Theatre Pub and the now-closed Liquid Lounge before getting contacted by C3Events to book the Locals Only stages for Bend’s seasonal street festivals. She ended up booking that stage for the Spring, Summer and Fall festivals from 2013 to 2016.
Hilst and Coffey of Coyote Willow said they met Helsley-Barnett while she was booking C3Events’ festivals. The duo would end up working with Helsley-Barnett for about a year and a half.
“She was very helpful with just connecting us with people who we otherwise wouldn’t have been connected with,” Coffey said. “Kat would send her ideas for marketing and things like that, and they’d bounce things back and forth and Jas would help with that. She also did some of the actual posting the gigs or the events with The Source and The Bulletin, that type of thing.”
“It was our first foray, I think, into getting someone to help with the stuff that we’re doing,” Hilst added.
Fighting for music
Most recently, Helsley-Barnett has worked for two of the city’s largest summer concert purveyors. She began pouring drinks for No Line at Les Schwab Amphitheater in 2015 and moved up to volunteer and host coordinator for the venue during the 2017 season. She also serves as an assistant with Siona Productions, which hosts the Clear Summer Nights concert series at the Athletic Club of Bend.
“There’s a certain personality that works really well in the concert world,” Les Schwab Director Marney Smith said. “Nothing you expect to happen will, and everything you didn’t think could happen will also happen. So being able to manage confusing situations on the fly with a calm demeanor and a great attitude is something we’re always looking for, and it’s pretty rare, and Jasmine’s got that.”
Last year, Helsley-Barnett moved into lobbying with Heartbeat of Bend, the political action committee she helped form.
The issue resurfaced publicly last year when Bend Radio Group, which hosts annual concerts at the Century Center, circulated a petition on social media to keep outdoor live music alive in Bend. After mediation sessions between the River West Neighborhood Association and Century Center businesses ended last year, the council voted in February to limit temporary change of occupancy permits to three per year per venue (the Century Center was the only venue in town that consistently applied for more than that each year).
“It was one of those moments where I was waiting for that person to take the reins and to be the leader,” Helsley-Barnett said. “Then I had so many people contacting me, I just thought, I can’t not do anything. I can’t just stand by and watch this happen. If somebody doesn’t step in and start advocating for our music scene, the city will open the code again; that’s going to happen if we don’t get ahead of this. I’ve met with some of the city councilors, I’m being reassured by several of them that they will not consider reopening the noise ordinance.”
— Reporter: 541-617-7814,