Des Moines music community mourns loss of bluegrass giant – DesMoinesRegister.com
There are lines in songs that can carry unimaginable power.
Lines such as: âMomma said someday Iâd go to Heaven/That I could join in the angel band/Singing praise to the Lord and Savior/Making sweet music in the Gloryland.â
Those 28 words, from the song âGloryland,â were written by Jeff Blanchard, a staple figure in the Des Moines jam and bluegrass scene. A long-time musician known as the frontman of the group Mr. Baberâs Neighbors: The Solar String Band, Blanchard died Wednesday night at the age of 47. His cause of death has not been released.
His death stirred the community as hundreds took to Facebook Thursday and Friday to share condolences, using words like âdeep soulâ and âgreatly admiredâ to describe Blanchard. His bandmate of two decades, Jerry Hoehle, described Blanchard as a person who âloved everybody.â
“(He was) just the consummate frontman,â Hoehle said. âHe had that down more than anybody Iâve ever played with.â
When off stage, Blanchard was, as described by those close to him, jovial and fun-loving. He and his group were a regular at Iowa music traditions such as the Iowa State Fair, Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival, Little Big Fest, 80/35 Music Festival and overnight summer gathering Camp Euforia. While fronted by Blanchard, Babers performed at Hoyt Sherman Place and Simon Estes Amphitheater, sharing the stage with national acts such as Hot Buttered Rum and Crooked Still.
For Eric Quiner, executive director of Camp Euforia in Lone Tree, growing close to Blanchard meant learning about the joyous frontman on stage and the behind-the-scenes leadership role he adapted for the band off stage.
âYou would see that band in suits because (he) wanted â¦ the appearance (to) match the traditional bluegrass bands,â Quiner said.Â “Itâd be 95 degrees out and heâd still have his band in suits.”
Hailing from Boscobel, Wisconsin, Blanchard moved to Des Moines in the 1990s and launched Babers alongside Hoehle around the year 2000. During his time as an Iowan, Blanchard worked at notable Des Moines establishments such as Lazer 103.3 and el Bait Shop. When not working a crowd from behind the microphone, Blanchard enjoyed hunting, woodworking and foosball.
More than anything, Hoehle said, he believes his bandmate and friend will be remembered for his ability to connect with people off stage, after the music stopped playing.
âThis guy that was not only an incredible musician but took the time to get to know (people) personally and talk to them and relate them (on a different) level,â Hoehle said.
A memorial show for Blanchard is in the planning phases. Check back with this story for more details in the coming days.