Local musician plays his own benefit

Charlie Denison

Les LaFranier plays his own benefit Saturday night at the Eagles. His son, Richey, backs him up on drums. Many musician joined Les on stage throughout the evening.

Photo by Charlie Denison

Isis, left, and Lucy Sharpe sell lemonade for Les during his benefit Saturday night. In all, more than $2,000 was raised for LaFranier thanks to donations from many in attendance.
Photo by Charlie Denison

Les LaFranier doesn’t know how many benefits he’s played in his life.

“Oh, gosh, I’ve played at least 2-3 a year for about 20 years,” he said. “I’ve lost count.”

Known around the state as a member of the band Mustache Pete, LaFranier – a bass player and vocalist – has had quite the career as a Montana musician. In Lewistown, he’s made his mark as a regular performer at the summertime street jam Wednesday nights in front of Brooks Market.

He takes great pride in the street jam. He even made the last one of the season despite having his gall bladder taken out the day before.

“I’m not going to miss a street jam,” he said.

He might feel it the next day, but – when it comes to music – Les will be there. He simply can’t get enough.

That was the case Saturday, as well, as LaFranier was playing another benefit – his own.

Last August, LaFranier was diagnosed with Stage Four colorectal cancer.

“I wish it wasn’t my own benefit, but I’ve got to deal with what I’ve got to deal with,” he said. “I’m going to keep fighting and I’m going to keep playing.”

LaFranier has done four treatments of chemotherapy, and – although he’s been tired and sick at times – he remains upbeat. Part of this is the music –he’s had several performances since his diagnosis – and part of it is the support he’s received from the community.

“People have been amazing,” he said.

Originally from Billings, LaFranier can’t believe how much people care. He also can’t believe how many people recognize him.

“When I had my surgery, one of the nurses looked at me and said, ‘Are you Mustache Pete?’” he said. “I get that all the time.”

Someone even said that at his benefit, recognizing LaFranier from the Bar 19, where Mustache Pete played regularly.

Kevin Kemp, co-founder of Mustache Pete, came to Les’s benefit from Billings, providing sound equipment and joining him on many of their signature songs. Neil and Colie Hamilton, Brent Eades, Nik Scebba, Paul Armstad, Chris Hildebrant, Dave Rummans and others joined LaFranier on stage Saturday. LaFranier led the way on bass and vocals most the night, but he took several breaks as the night went on, spending more time dancing to the music.

“I never get to do this,” he said. “I’m always too busy playing.”

Men and women of all ages took to the dance floor during the night, which also brought joy to LaFranier. As a musician who has played his fair share of bars, it’s always his goal to get the audience moving.

They were into it from start to finish, as was LaFranier. He even felt a little guilty about it.

“I feel bad for playing my own benefit,” he said.

“Don’t,” Hildebrant told him. “People want to see you doing well. They want to see you doing what you love.”

More than $2,000 was raised for LaFranier at the benefit, which featured a slew of silent auction items donated by Gene Meier, Deb Moore, Tammi’s Travel, Don’s Store, Hansen Music of Billings and others. Randy Sharpe served a pulled pork meal. Carl DeBelly paid for the food and was instrumental in orchestrating the event. He was pleased with the turnout and pleased with the atmosphere: it was more of a celebration and jam session than a benefit. There were even noise complaints, which LaFranier couldn’t help but laugh about.

“It’s my benefit. I can be as loud as I want,” he joked.

In all seriousness, LaFranier said he had “a blast” and couldn’t be happier with the evening. He started chemo treatments again this week, but he feels good and remains optimistic he’ll get through this trying time.

“I’m not going to miss the street jam,” he said.

For those wanting to help LaFranier, donations can be sent to P.O. Box 445, Lewistown, MT 59457.



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