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Ray LaMontagne performing at the BMO Harris Pavilion on opening day of Summerfest.
Ray LaMontagne performing at the BMO Harris Pavilion on opening day of Summerfest. (Photo: David Bernacchi)
Irish musician Foy Vance, who opened the show, proved to be a tremendous talent.
Irish musician Foy Vance, who opened the show, proved to be a tremendous talent. (Photo: David Bernacchi)

LaMontagne pours out his lyrical soul at BMO Harris Pavilion

If you haven’t heard by now, it was really cold by the lake last night during Summerfest. I mean really cold. It was so cold that I think my honey lager had turned into a delicious slush. Okay, I’m exaggerating a bit, but it was undoubtedly a chilly, foggy night that warmed up just a little bit when New England native singer, songwriter and musician Ray LaMontagne took the stage to an anxious crowd at the BMO Harris Pavilion.

Before LaMontagne took the stage, however, opener Foy Vance, sporting what appeared to be a legendary mustache, greeted the Milwaukee crowd as it was slowly pouring into the seats. Vance, an Irish musician, opened with the single, "Closed Hand, Full of Friends," from his 2013 full-length album, "Joy of Nothing."

During the song, he hit the first high note of the night midway through that sent shivers down my spine. It might’ve been the cold temperature, but I’m more willing to guess the power of his voice, which went on to impress more and more throughout his set.

After he wrapped up "Closed Hand, Full of Friends," he was given an acoustic guitar for his next song of the night, "Janey," which was my personal favorite of the night. After each song that followed, the crowd grew more and more receptive and enthusiastic. As each high-note pierced through, the unenthusiastic claps turned into boisterous cheers, whistles and wolf-like howls. 

As he tried to move the crowd with his music, Vance attempted to get them involved by asking, "How do you feel about singing at Summerfest?" This wasn’t met with the greatest amount of enthusiasm, but people sang along anyway. He even went as far as to say, "Can I get an amen? A hallelujah?" followed by trying to get everyone in the crowd to clap their hands to a song’s rhythm. 

During his performance of "Feel For Me," he asked once again, "How do you feel singing again?" The crowd didn’t seem to be really into it anymore. He probably sensed this, because he quipped, "If you’re not enjoying yourself, my name is James Blunt, not Foy Vance."

Perhaps the anxiousness for LaMontagne to come on stage was too high, but I could sense the audience getting very anxious for Vance to leave the stage towards the end of his set. This was understandable, as Vance belted out tunes for nearly an hour and fifteen minutes before telling the audience, "Brothers and sisters of Milwaukee, I’ve got one more song for you."

He closed out with the supremely beautiful song, "Guiding Light."

In between sets -- the change-over took a little over 40 minutes -- I increasingly regretted my decision to leave a sweatshirt or anything remotely warm at home. Finally, a little past 10 p.m., the colorful lights inside the Pavilion faded to black. It was time for LaMontagne.

Framed by large and hypnotic LED digital stained glass windows, LaMontagne took the stage wearing his signature hat, accompanied by assembled band members that included brother and sister duo Barbara and Ethan Duska -- who perform today on the same stage as part of their band The Bell Brigades -- Zach Hickman, who performed earlier with the opening act with a stand up bass in tow, and Dave Depper.

With an eruption of applause and cheers, LaMontagne wasted little time and started off with the title track from his 2008 album, "Gossip in the Grain." He, then, immediately moved onto "Lavender" from his fifth studio album, "Supernova." From that point, a large portion of his set consisted of songs from the album including, "Supernova," of course, "She’s The One," "Pick Up a Gun," "Airwaves," "Smashing," "Julia" and "Drive-In Movies."

Many of these songs sound different from his earlier work, because LaMontagne is going in a much different and much welcomed direction as proved with "Supernova," an album produced by The Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach. The songs have a hint, if subtle and influenced, of 1960s and '70s pop rock. The majority of the songs, however, still maintain the rhythmic and raw touch for which LaMontagne is known.

After performing "She’s The One," LaMontagne, who is usually a man of very few words when he’s not pouring out his lyrical soul on stage, merely said to the crowd, "So, how are you doing?" before quickly moving onto the next tune, "For The Summer."

Each song throughout the set was performed with clear passion for the craft, and that ripped through the entire Pavilion, bringing people to their feet, especially during "Jolene" and "Trouble," both of which garnered a noisy response. LaMontagne wrapped up with the fantastic "Drive-In Movies," followed by "Hey Me, Hey Mama" as the much-expected encore.

"It’s been lovely being with you," he said at the show’s end. 

From the point that LaMontagne took the stage and to the point that he stepped off, I forgot that I was freezing cold. Maybe my whole body went numb … who knows. Regardless, it was a show that most definitely won’t be topped anytime soon.

Set list:

Gossip In The Grain
She’s The One
For The Summer
Pick Up A Gun
Beg, Steal, or Borrow
Meg White
God Willin’ And The Creek Don’t Rise
Drive-In Movies


Hey Me, Hey Mama


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