PORT ANGELES — Nashville drummer and Port Angeles native Ben Eyestone, one of the founding members of the Lonely H band, has died at the age of 28.
Eyestone died Wednesday at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn., from the effects of colon cancer, said his father, Paul Eyestone.
Eyestone grew up in Port Angeles, and carved a name for himself as one of the founding members of Lonely H — a rock ‘n’ roll band bound for Music City since its Port Angeles inception. The band started in 2002 and lasted until 2013, releasing four albums and making several national tours along the way.
Eyestone also played drums for Nashville-based country singer Nikki Lane and country band Little Bandit, among others.
He is survived by his father, his mother Laura Eyestone, his sister Bonnie Eyestone and his brother Erik Eyestone.
In anticipation of cancer treatment, Eyestone’s friend and fellow Nashville musician Hugh Masterson set up a GoFundMe page, “Ben Eyestone’s Recovery Fund,” on June 19 to raise money for Eyestone’s expected medical expenses.
“I have cancer,” Eyestone wrote in a public Facebook post July 9. “Don’t worry. I’m gonna kick its ass.”
The funds raised from the GoFundMe page will contribute to Eyestone’s arrangements, medical bills and the family’s travel costs, Masterson said.
“Anything helps, as we know how hard these times can be financially for a family,” he said.
“Now that his family is all in town I see what a beautiful group of people they all are and why Ben had been shaped the way he was.”
Eyestone’s friend Brendan Winger said the family plans a cremation.
Winger has known Eyestone since he was 8 years old, he said.
“He was my brother,” Winger said. “His mom was one of my moms.”
They both attended Port Angeles High School, and Winger likely watched “more Lonely H concerts than anyone else” — if not in the audience then enjoying the music while selling merchandise or videotaping from the side.
Winger witnessed the band’s genius in the casual moments, too.
Just messing around, Eyestone would start a beat on the drums, lead singer Mark Fredson would jump in with vocals, followed by Johnny Whitman on bass and Eric Whitman on guitar. A song would emerge in 15 minutes or so. It was shocking, Winger said.
“They actually did that,” he said. “They would have these creative, tricky songs on the first try.”
“It was just so natural between them,” he added.
The bandmates and Winger, all great friends, came together through music.
Winger always had an inkling about his best friend’s musical talent, but he said it became “real” when the Lonely H placed second at the EMP Sound Off! battle of the bands in 2004. All but one of the members, Johnny Whitman, were high school freshmen at the time.
When the realization hit Eyestone’s father, Paul willingly sacrificed his yard to the Lonely H, and built a studio for the teenagers behind his home.
“It was pretty wild,” Winger said.
All the bandmates pitched in for the construction — Winger recalls installing siding and carpets alongside Eyestone, Fredson and the Whitman brothers.
Then, they spent exorbitant periods of time after school doing what they loved to do best, he said.
“We’d all go in there as teenagers do and play music,” he said. “That was our spot; that was our hang.”
Outside of the studio, Winger knew Eyestone as an “unbelievably passionate” person; an avid hiker, snowboarder and wakeboarder; a beer aficionado, a “go-getter” and a big fan of “Seinfield” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.”
His sense of humor was “very dry,” Winger said, but good in the “philosophical sense.” Eyestone’s humorous take on the absurdities in life always generated a lot of laughs, he said.
“Our conversations were narrated by laughter.”
Aside from music and humor, Winger and his closest circle of friends shared the same spirit, Winger said.
“Growing up in Port Angeles in this remote corner of the world — what I consider a quaint, small town — and hiking and exploring all the time meant we all wanted to get out and adventure,” he said.
“It instilled a spirit in all of us and put us all on the same wavelength growing up.”
So, when they all moved to Nashville in September 2010 to pursue their musical fate, the bandmates were eager to experience life beyond the North Olympic Peninsula.
Winger marvels to think of it today: “Kids from a rural town became nationally recognized musicians.”
“They have a hell of a story,” he said.
Eyestone played a special role in pushing his friends to achieve what they set out to do, Winger said. He would also set grand goals from himself, like releasing three records before the age of 21, and accomplish them.
Eyestone’s upbringing, spurred by the encouragement of parents who were also musicians, created a force of creativity and passion that could not be matched, Winger said.
“Port Angeles was an incubator for someone ready to unleash on the world,” he said. “And he did.”
Reporter Sarah Sharp can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].