Six years ago I met a guy named Chris Chabot. In the time between then and now, the guy known for his heartfelt one man acoustic guitar and harmonica shows in Bend has found a father, changed his name and come into his own
as a powerful songwriter. In fact, if you’ve heard live music at a coffee shop or restaurant in town, chances are he was the first to play there.
After living in Bend since the fall of 2005, the singer, now known as Chris Beland, is saying goodbye and moving back to his home state of California. Before he goes, he will release his third album on Sept. 29 at the Old Ironworks building at 50 Scott St. next to Sparrow Bakery.
I first met Beland, who is a father of four, including three young kids and a 15-year-old and, at a local church. I was impressed by the handful of original folk songs he sang there. He had a knack for pairing very personal lyrics with soft acoustic guitar and harmonica. It struck me that he was one of the most honest songwriters I had ever heard.
But his first real break came at Backporch Coffee Roasters, not because he was playing there, but because he was pulling shots of espresso and happened to meet Lance Newman, owner of Portello. The business owner invited him to give a show and Beland began his career playing coffee shops, restaurants and local bars, often being paid in nothing more than a meal and tips.
Those first few times putting himself out there were hard.
“I would play twenty minutes of originals,” said Beland. “And then just repeat the same set over and over again until I learned more songs.”
In the meantime, Beland continued to work at Backporch and went to school for a pre-nursing degree.
Eventually, he’d developed enough material for his first album, Outer Space, which was released in late 2009. It was rich in melancholy folk music as Beland, who was 30 at the time, sang songs about failing his 15-year-old son, who lives in Missouri, and being failed by his anonymous father. On the record’s title track, Beland questioned the universe with “Why am I fatherless?”
It was a lyric he did not expect an answer to, but within months had one nevertheless.
Through some difficult conversations with his mother, Beland learned that the famous guitar player and former Flying Burrito Brothers member John Beland was likely his dad. After a confirming paternity test, it became clear that the apple had not fallen far from the tree.
“I had a friend of mine who found his dad when he was 34,” said Chris Beland. “He told me it’s not going to be what you expect, it’s going to be better. And it was.”
As Beland prepared for the release of his sophomore album The Weatherman in 2010, John Beland flew to Bend to attend the release party. Local news outlets picked up on the story and were at the Redmond airport to capture father-and son meeting for the first time.
At the standing-room-only show, the two shared a special moment on stage when they collaborated on Simon & Garfunkel’s “The Boxer.” It was a defining experience for Beland, and he found inspiration for new music as he spent time getting to know his long lost family.
Today, he’s more passionate than ever about a music career—hence the move to San Luis Obispo, Calif., where his wife’s mother and sister live.
He hopes the proximity to more live music venues will help his dream of making a living at music become reality. But the move is also his way of paying back his wife for all the support she’s shown him while they lived in Bend, as she was hoping to live closer to her family.
“If it wasn’t for her, I wouldn’t be able to do what I do,” said Beland. “She’s the one that believes in me the most. I believe in her dreams and she does the same for me.”
Before leaving, though, and after a successful Kickstarter fundraising effort, Beland has one last album to share with Bend. Recorded locally at Lonely Garage Studios, his third effort, Danger of Love is easily the singer’s most ambitious to date. It features the same kind of intimate language found on his previous records, but this time the arrangements show a broader range.
The mandolin-laden second track “All That I Know,” ends with a sweet blues rock jam session. The title track builds to a Bon Iver type interlude. And “Only One” features Latin-inspired horns. On Danger of Love, Beland has finally become the artist who realizes the music underneath his lyrics are as much a part of the story as the words.
Nowhere on the album is that clearer than the standout track “Darkened Days.” It’s a sonorous rock song that gets gospel with aggressive organ playing and a rebellious chorus that pledges to get up after falling down. Beland beckons listeners, “Stop looking for your chance to make your stand and go and change your world.”
As Beland prepares to relocate, he’s been reflecting on his time in Bend and what he thinks were the biggest contributing factors to his success.
“It’s the whole culture of Bend,” said Beland. “The community and friends, the cold winters that last for like ten months. I write more when it’s cold and I’m bundled up. I’m worried about going to California and that I might get writersblock. I’m scared I’m going to stop writing songs if it’s sunny all the time.”
In my opinion, he'll be successful writing music no matter where he lives. In all the time I’ve known him, he’s never been afraid to share his stories. His music has always been about offering his emotions as a map that others might draw upon.
During his final night as a Bend resident, Beland hopes to leave the community that has grown with him, one last gesture of gratitude by sharing the new album it helped create. Beland will be joined on stage by a large cast of local talent for the most robust show of his career. Of course, it wouldn’t be a complete ensemble without his father, who will be also be there for perhaps one more duet.
Photo taken by Josh Shelton.
CD Release Party
Saturday, Sept. 29, 7 p.m.
50 Scott Street
$10 (includes album)