Ray Lamontagne live at the Tabernacle
By Rikki O.
Clearly, I can see now that I was delusional. In my mind, the flame I’ve held over the years for Ray Lamontagne was mine and mine alone. Sure, I was aware that I couldn’t be the ONLY fan of his music out there in the world, but it’s more than fair to say that among friends and acquaintances of mine, the mutual fans of Ray’s music could be counted on my fingers.
So when I found out that I had been approved to cover Ray’s performance at the sold-out Atlanta show in the beautiful and historic Tabernacle, not only was I balls to the wall excited to finally see him live but I also found myself daydreaming (seriously) that he and I would lock eyes from the stage to the photographer’s pit, time would cease movement and he would fall silent because he had finally, finally, spotted the girl he had been writing his haunted songs about his whole life…
While waiting in line for the doors to open, I stood next to my date for the night, staring up at the dark Tabernacle windows, wondering which one he must be gazing out of and if he could see me yet and was he already writing a song about the girl with the red headband that was staring back at his darkened silhouette?
But oh, how reality set in as I tore my eyes from the stained glass windows and onto the huge crowd forming in front and behind me. Sizing up my competition I quickly realized that I might not be the only one harboring such fantasies. The two girls behind us were making small talk about the sudden wintery weather that has settled in on
We find out with intoxicating bliss that we were assigned first row seats but that because there were seats instead of the Tabernacle’s usual standing room only, there would be no photographer’s pit up front – in fact, the photographers would have to shoot from all the way in the back of the room, between the sound board and the bar area. Ouch. Please, please, let there be amazing lighting tonight I prayed.
After having wildly entertaining conversations with several other concert-goers, including some fans who had driven up from Florida after paying scalpers over 100 bucks for each of their tickets, an older lady from Connecticut who had seen Ray last week and had now flown down here to see him again, and an enthusiastic bartender who followed us around telling us about a tomato plant (don’t ask), we finally settled in to watch the lovely and gifted opener Leonna Naess. The talented singer-songwriter, who sings backup vocals on a few of Ray’s new songs on Gossip In the Grain, seemed obviously tired from the touring (at one point asking the crowd what day it was) but nonetheless, played an incredible half hour set of her music to a receptive audience. Despite telling the crowd that the soundcheck earlier in the day had not gone well, she eventually settled into her skin and showed off amazing vocal ability to the rapidly filling venue with songs like “Heavy Like Sunday” and “Leave Your Boyfriend Behind.”
By now the venue was at capacity and the excitement was distinct and palpable. Right around , the lights went black and Ray and his backing band took the stage forming a perfect semi-circle. Though his name was on the ticket stub, Ray clearly had no intention of being front and center; instead he took his spot all the way on stage left (so far, far away from me!) with bassist Jennifer Condos, longtime producer Ethan Johns on drums, and the amazing Eric Heywood on guitar and pedal steel filling out the dimly-lit crescent. Opening with “You Are The Best Thing” from his just-released new album “Gossip In The Grain”, and then going immediately into the raspy and stunning “Hold You In My Arms”, Ray had very little to say to the adoring masses that couldn’t seem to refrain from screaming “I loooove you, Ray!!”- okay, okay, half the time that was me screaming, but he did welcome everyone shyly by saying “Thank you very much. Thank you for being here. Thank you…ummm, that’s all I have to say, really”
Though the performance was heavily weighted with material from the new album that had just been released this week, no one was complaining – in fact, most of the audience sang along throughout the entire show. He manages to hold the audience in complete rapture with a voice that can be as soft as a whispered lullaby one moment and commanding and searing the next. Old favorites like “Empty”, “Trouble”, “Three More Days”, and “You Can Bring Me Flowers” were strummed between newly beloved songs like “Roses and Cigarettes,” “Hey Me, Hey Mama” and “Henry Nearly Killed Me (It’s A Shame).” The band would play with him for a few songs and then leave him to play solo on some of the quieter, more smoldering songs like “Winter Birds” and “Burn”. There was even a playful cover of Rod Stewart’s “Stay with Me” thrown in for good measure. While Ray never left his spot behind his microphone, he moved and sang comfortably within his space; sinking and rising with the melodies, feet stomping with the beats. He and the band seemed to be having a genuinely good time, grinning and playing off one another while letting the stories spill out naturally and organically.
When Ray and the band left the stage to a standing ovation at the end of their set, the audience went wild with applause and cheers, stomping their feet and letting them know we weren’t going anywhere without an encore. A few moments later he came out with his bassist and gave us an incredible performance of a personal favorite of mine, “Jolene.” A guy somewhere in the balcony shouted “JESUS!!” to which Ray kind of laughed and said, “That’s a new one!” The very last song of the night was “All the Wild Horses.” Ray used his heart wrenching harmonica skills to lace the song around the last breathtaking lyrics, “May no man ever tame you/ May no man’s reigns ever chain you/ and as for the clouds/ just let them roll away.”
He thanked everyone once again and wished us all a safe drive home. As the sated crowd filtered out the doors I pondered a few last ditch efforts I could attempt to try to get backstage, to win Ray