On May 1, 2010, musician Jeff LeBlanc was gearing up for the biggest show of his life. And he was nervous.
Little did he know, he had every reason to be.
The 24-year-old singer-songwriter and three of his college buddies had piled into a minivan bound for Bryant University in Rhode Island, not far behind the tour’s headlining band, Third Eye Blind. And when Mr. LeBlanc arrived on location, it was pure chaos.
The power had gone out. There was no time for a sound check. And the school had held the concert for two hours before Mr. LeBlanc opened up for Third Eye Blind, turning what may have been a docile audience into a frustrated mob.
“All these people had stood in the hot sun for hours, so when they came in, they were so angry. And they were expecting Third Eye Blind,” Mr. LeBlanc recalled over breakfast on Wednesday morning at Panera Bread in Hampton Bays. “Instead, they got me.”
And they had no problem booing him before, during and after his 30-minute set, Mr. LeBlanc said. It was a rude awakening for the musician, a Center Moriches native who grew up playing local gigs around the East End.
Earlier street performances had given him a tough skin, he thought, but nothing could have prepared him for this.
“That night, back in the hotel room, I was like, ‘Man, maybe I shouldn’t do music.’ I was pondering quitting after that show,” Mr. LeBlanc said. “Then, the next day just totally killed it. Brought me back to reality.”
The next day, on May 2, 2010, Mr. LeBlanc opened for the band at Marist College in Poughkeepsie, New York. It was one of the best shows of his life.
Since then, there have been countless other memorable times on stage: opening for musicians Colbie Caillat, Howie Day, David Archuleta, Andy Grammer and the Goo Goo Dolls, as well as headlining his own tours and drawing big crowds, from Joe’s Pub in Manhattan—which he sold out on Tuesday, July 30, at a release concert for his newest album, “My Own Way There”—to the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett, where he will return on Wednesday, August 7, after playing to a packed house last season.
At the Talkhouse, Mr. LeBlanc and his five-piece studio band from Manhattan will perform his most recent record in its near entirety, he said. The show will also include some older favorites, including “What Do You Got To Lose” and “Happier” off his second album, “Worth Holding Onto.” It quickly rose to number 3 on the iTunes Singer/Songwriter Top 200 Chart after its release in 2011, landing the musician national attention and praise as “the new John Mayer”—Mr. LeBlanc’s biggest influence.
“When I was 15, ‘Room for Squares’ changed what I listened to. I was really into rap music, and that record was like, whoa,” he said of his idol’s debut album. “I love Mayer and I’ll always be into whatever he’s doing, but I’ve kind of distanced myself from it in the past couple years. I’ll be playing a gig and some dude will be like, ‘Hey, John Mayer! John Mayer!’ I’m like, it’s not my fault I’m six-four with curly brown hair, you know?”
As far as musicians go, Mr. LeBlanc got a late start, he said, strumming a guitar for the first time when he was 17. His only prior musical experience had been on the clarinet—“I know, it’s really sexy,” he deadpanned—but he picked up guitar right away.
“I was always the sports kid playing volleyball and basketball. But I remember thinking it was so cool when I got two notes to sound good. I was like, ‘Ladies …’” he waggled his eyebrows and lowered his voice, wailing on air guitar.
As a high-schooler, Mr. LeBlanc began playing shows every weekend, mostly tucked in alleyways along Main Street in Westhampton Beach. Outside the Beach Bakery Cafe was a favorite local haunt, he said.
“You play wherever someone will let you play,” he said. “I always attribute those times to giving me my tough skin when it comes to performing because I’m just used to people walking by and yelling stuff, being obnoxious and screaming for cover songs.”
With three albums under his belt, covers are few and far between for the musician, who co-writes many of his songs with Joe Beleznay—the inspiration behind the new album’s title track. The pair met at the registrar’s office of Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where Mr. LeBlanc studied history and music.
It didn’t take long for Mr. LeBlanc to learn that his new friend used to jam with John Mayer in their high school band, Villanova Junction.
“One time, I was at Joe’s house and John came over,” he said. “It was the first time I met him and I was like, ‘Oh, hi.’ That was super weird, but not even as weird as it got. Last May, he put out a new album and had a release party in the city. Joe got invited and brought me along. I just remember there was a taco truck outside of the party and I was eating tacos outside with John Mayer in the streets of New York, everybody walking by not even realizing who it was.”
Just two years earlier, Mr. LeBlanc had been down and out in Rhode Island, questioning his entire musical career. But the next day, before his life-changing show, a conversation with Third Eye Blind frontman Stephan Jenkins put him on the right track.
Glancing over the top of his newspaper, Mr. Jenkins had asked Mr. LeBlanc, “Dude, didn’t that crowd suck last night?”
“Yeah, man,” he responded with a slightly shocked stutter.
“F–k ’em, man,” Mr. Jenkins said. “Remember: brotherhood.”
The six-times platinum rockstar gave Mr. LeBlanc a fist bump, he said, and went back to reading the newspaper.
“It was one of the coolest moments of my life,” he said. “That gave me a new mindset. Now, it’s ‘You’re gonna get 30 minutes of me, whether you like it or not.’ But I’m never going to convince everybody. I’m George Costanza, I want everybody to like me, but I have to realize not everybody will. Now, I’m like, ‘Bring it on, son.’”
He laughed and took a final bite of his bagel, running his other hand through his hair simultaneously. “It’s all about taking a risk,” he continued. “All it is, is that one moment or that one song. It could just propel you. So you just have to keep pluggin’. That’s what keeps me going. That hope.”
Jeff LeBlanc will play the Stephen Talkhouse in Amagansett on Wednesday, August 7, at 8 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance, or $20 at the door. For more information, call 267-3117 or visit jeffleblancmusic.com.