Hailing from Center Moriches, Jeff LeBlanc got his start playing guitar on the streets of Westhampton. Now he’s performing at Westhampton Beach Performing Arts Center (WHBPAC) for a second time on Saturday, October 6.
Soon after receiving his first guitar around the age of 17, LeBlanc’s friends asked him to begin playing with them. “I literally knew how to play three songs,” he admits. The group of amateurs was given the chance to perform in front of Beach Bakery, and that first show was less than stellar. “We played [the same] five songs over and over and over again. It was so bad!”
Determined to hone his skill, LeBlanc taught himself many songs over the course of the next year and began playing starter shows with friends every weekend, while balancing a job at the Bath and Tennis club and resort. He continued to accept small gigs around the village, and credits the experience for building his stage presence and confidence in front of an audience. “I look back on those days with great fondness,” he reminisces. “It seems like not that long ago, but to come from [Beach Bakery] being my biggest gig, to coming back to the [WHBPAC] now for a second time, is kind of surreal.”
As much as LeBlanc enjoyed music during his young adulthood, he always thought of it as a hobby. He attended Sacred Heart University in Connecticut and received the degree required to teach middle/high school social studies. “That’s what I thought I’d be doing, but [music] was the hobby that turned into a job,” he notes. He performed more and more frequently, until eventually he realized that at five or more gigs per week, he’d found his career.
The shift in focus, which was ultimately met with great success, came with plenty of challenges. “The part of the job that gets me mental is the uncertainty of it,” LeBlanc points out. “You’ll be on a tour; you’re eating great catering; you’re hanging out with a major artist on a tour bus, and then two months later, you don’t know what’s gonna happen next. Where as, if you were teaching eighth grade, you’d know what you were gonna do every year.”
Part of what makes the job so stressful—and all the more rewarding—is being a team of one. LeBlanc has had managers and agents in the past, but he’s found that he can’t sit idly on the sidelines waiting for a gig to come to him. He prefers to hustle and make things happen. “It’s an exhausting experience sometimes, because you’ve got to write the songs; you’ve got to record the songs; you’ve got to book the shows, advance all the hotels and everything. I’m doing the job of many people, but sometimes you work harder for yourself than someone else would work for you,” he says. “It’s juice worth the squeeze; you’ve got to put in the effort to get the results.”
LeBlanc’s efforts have certainly paid off, with three of his albums reaching top 20 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Chart. He’s played sold-out solo shows and TV spots, toured the country with Gavin DeGraw, Boz Scaggs, Chris Isaak, Daughtry and others, and opened for top comedians Paul Reiser and Sandra Bernhard. Although what he finds most rewarding is connecting with people through his music. “That’s the kind of stuff that keeps you going,” he says.
It’s not always easy to write lyrics that people will connect with, but it’s something that LeBlanc strives for with each new track. “Every song is different. Sometimes it takes months, and then other times it literally takes 10 minutes,” he explains. “There’s really no rhyme or reason. When you find a moment where it feels like [the song is] being really genuine and coming out of you, you just have to go for it. If you try to force it, people can always feel when it’s not genuine.”
Released this year, the romantic “Way You Are” is LeBlanc’s latest single and describes the immense love and appreciation he has for his girlfriend, not wanting any other man to see her the way he sees her. It’s to be followed by more singles in the coming months. His smooth, dreamy pop is available for streaming on Spotify, iTunes and SoundCloud.
LeBlanc is eagerly awaiting his return home to the Westhampton Beach stage. “Coming back a second time is a dream come true, not to sound corny,” he remarks. “It’s crazy how you can envision something, and then it actually happens.” He’s ready to wow the audience with his music, new and classic, and is backed by a full band, including Snarky Puppy trumpeter Mike Maher. “The first show was such a big deal to go from the bakery to WHBPAC, but now I want to show you what I’ve been up to and take it to the next level.”
Jeff LeBlanc’s homecoming begins at 8 p.m. on October 6. Visit whbpac.org or call 631-288-1500 for tickets.