Brandi Carlile and Ray LaMontagne
- Article by: Troy Akers; Photo by: Jeremy Cowart
- Posted: 09/22/2011
Ray LaMontagne and his entourage, featuring The Secret Sisters and Brandi Carlile, set up tent Wednesday evening to the fully packed Grand Ole Opry House. The ghosts of Opries past graced the stage during The Secret Sisters’ set while Hank Williams’ “Your Cheatin’ Heart” rang through the rafters.
Laura and Lydia Rogers, still reeling from their recent success, won the crowd over with their endearing excitement about being on the same stage as the legends who inspired them to sing when they were younger.
At the dimming of the lights, a small silhouette walked quietly onstage with her troubadour twin brother band. Brandi Carlile has been no stranger to Nashville from the very genesis of her career, playing everywhere from small dinner clubs like 3rd & Lindsley to Exit/In and now the Opry House. Opening with Give Up The Ghost’s “Oh Dear,” Carlile seemed to convince everyone in the room that her voice couldn’t possibly be contained in a venue any smaller than where she now stood.
Carlile and crew quickly honed in on what has separated their music from the likes of most others in music today. Unadorned by flashing lights or choreography, she and the Hanseroth twins made it all about the song and the feeling it emits.
Reminiscing about their early days of touring, Carlile said she was awestruck by the setting for the evening. Having grown up under the influence of country legends, she described her band’s opening days with bands like Hanson as merely the means to an end.
Tearing through longtime staples like “Closer to You” and “What Can I Say,” the entire band took a daring moment to do what not many would be brave enough to even try.
“At all of our shows, no matter where we are,” Carlile explained while walking to the Opry circle stage front, “we like to break through the illusion of the stage. So tonight, we would like to sing a song to you – without anything plugged in.”
Assuring the crowd in the farthest spaces of the upper tier that they would soon be “rocked” if they had a hard time hearing, the team broke into “Dying Day,” another cut from Give Up The Ghost. Within that moment, something happened: Carlile proved to the room, in all its grandeur, stature and history, that it still comes down to the voice. And in this case, it all came down to hers.
Fittingly, after a medley of Johnny Cash covers, Carlile introduced LaMontagne as “the voice of our generation.” While LaMontagne is perhaps one of these voices, remnants of Carlile’s lilted through the room for the remainder of the evening.
LaMontagne quieted the crowd with his stark song “Burn” from his freshman release, Trouble. Not many can get away with opening lines like “Try to ignore / all this blood on the floor / it’s just this heart on my sleeve that’s bleeding” – but of course, a man as mysterious as Ray LaMontagne can.
Rolling through pedal steel-ridden takes of songs like “Empty,” “Beg, Steal or Borrow” and “Blue Canadian Rockies,” LaMontagne seemed more like a modern day country vagabond than a traditional folk artist. Nodding to his own idols such as Merle Haggard, he exuded a stature of silence, sticking to the songs and only punctuating them with a few thank yous on the side.
Just as Carlile had asserted earlier, it all came down to the song. Complying with drunken callouts to sing “Jolene,” LaMontagne did just that. Shedding his band, minus one accompanying bass guitarist, he wove the tale of a drug-ridden courtship between lover and vice. A strange moment, indeed, to hear so many sing along. Ending the evening after a much-deserved encore of applause, LaMontagne let the curtain close with “Like Rock & Roll and Radio.”
“Counting curtain calls / waiting for the axe to fall [on me],” he sang out, letting every word hang in the air. Everyone in the room was wrapped by the echoing of a music movement lit on fire by the predecessors that took this very stage to the ranks of legendary.