Eric Leadbetter performs for The House Concert for the Central Oregon Creative Artists Relief Effort.

Eric Leadbetter, the first featured artist for the Central Oregon Creative Artists Relief Effort, lost a lot of work to the pandemic, as all musicians did.

But his life changed in positive ways too during the lockdown: Most notably, he became a father. Leadbetter and his wife, Briana, welcomed their son on April 1.

Becoming a father changed Leadbetter’s outlook and his art for the better, he said.

“It helped to evolve my personality; it’s helped to evolve my understanding of my role not only as a man and as a father, but as a community member,” Leadbetter said. “I want to share the joy that I get from being a father with everyone, and music is a great tool to do that.

“And I’ve noticed that my music has evolved. … I feel like it’s opened up. You know, how all art is kind of like a flower, and if you tend to it, it becomes stronger and greater and can withstand the elements more. I feel like my art right now and my music is opening up to another level.”

The shift can be heard on “Middle Ground,” Leadbetter’s first solo album, released in September. The album is a gentler and more personal affair than Leadbetter’s eponymous, hard-rocking blues band or his previous project, Jive Coulis.

It could also be seen earlier in the pandemic as Leadbetter joined the livestreaming trend. Leadbetter used donations from live streaming shows to fund the St. Charles Meal Mission, which provided weekly meals for the hospital’s units on a rotating basis. Local musicians such as Bobby Lindstrom, Jeshua Marshall and Jennifer Lande got involved, as did restaurants and food trucks such as Southern Accent and Bleu Rooster.

“We wanted to say our thanks, and then it grew from there because other musicians and food carts and restaurants saw what I was doing and they wanted to contribute to that,” Leadbetter said.

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In 2019, Leadbetter played 256 shows and taught more than 100 music lessons. As he pointed out, “It’s still really hard to make a living even with that much work.” In 2020, the live shows dropped to about a third of that.

“We were all trying to get creative with live streaming and stuff, but it’s just not the same,” he said. “I think that was really helping people get by, but it’s just obviously not the same.”

As Central Oregon slowly reopened, Leadbetter was among the first musicians to go back to in-person shows. He currently hosts the Worthy Star Bar Sessions every Wednesday and Saturday at Worthy Brewing, which features a different performer for each edition. Saturday will feature Dead Lee, while Coyote Willow performs Wednesday.

“I went over on a Wednesday afternoon and there was no one there, and Roger (Worthington, Worthy owner) and I were having a beer,” Leadbetter said. “I was just like, ‘Man, why don’t we do something up in the Star Bar? It’s open air, there’s heaters up there. Let’s do a little thing; let’s test it out.’ It started as just me doing a Wednesday night up there, and it just was such a hit and people loved it. It got some business coming back in, and it was really just a healing experience for everyone.”

The Leadbetter Band also is working on its second album with Evan Mullins, Leadbetter’s bandmate in Watkins Glen.

“It’s such a different sound than the first one,” he said.

Leadbetter jumped at the opportunity to record for The House Concert with Richard Schuurman (husband of The Bulletin publisher Heidi Wright). He also received some grant money in 2020 from Worthy Brewing and Bend Roots Revival’s Worthy Roots Relief Fund, which helped to fund his solo album’s vinyl release.

“I’m just really grateful to live in Bend; it’s an amazing community,” he said. “I appreciate everyone giving so freely of themselves. … Not everybody has this gift that we do, so we really do need to cherish it, otherwise it will go away.”

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Reporter: 541-617-7814, bmcelhiney@bendbulletin.com

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