Ryan Montbleau, who has been recording and touring as both a solo act and bandleader for much of the last 15 years, moves people. A gifted songwriter, he has developed a very special history and bond to a deeply-rooted fanbase that now stretches all over the United States and beyond. Montbleau’s transcendent songcraft and powerful, uplifting voice can tackle intense topics just as easily as expressing life’s simple, everyday joys. He continues to speak to a generation of fans who have been along for his rise. Like an intense, slow-burning wildfire, Montbleau has toured relentlessly and connected with audiences night after night, year after year.
A self-described late-bloomer, Montbleau didn’t start singing until he was 21 years old while attending his final semsester of college at Villanova University. “I had been playing guitar night and day during those years and eventually I was studying poetry very seriously and writing poetry of my own. Once I started to sing, all of those elements came into alignment I knew what I wanted to do.” In 2003, he formed the Ryan Montbleau Band, which spent 10 solid years on the road until disbanding in 2013 after countless successful national tours, three studio records, and a double-live album recorded in partnership with Boston-based Life is good.
“Currently I am a band of one,” Montbleau said in 2014. “I had an amazing group of guys on the road for a decade. We drove about 60,000 miles a year and played 200 shows a year. But last year we closed that chapter of our musical lives. We’ll see what the future brings. In the meantime I’m continuing to play solo, as I have always loved to do. And I’m excited to be putting together new band configurations. It’s all taking me back to the center of who I am as a performer and as a songwriter and who I want to be as an artist.”
In 2014, Montbleau’s band configurations have been as inspired as his art. For his Gathering of the Vibes performance in July—his tenth appearance at the Festival—the band of ‘Friends’ he assembled included Marco Benevento, Mike Dillon, Stanley Jordan, Marc Friedman, John Kimock and Kenwood Denard.
He’s no stranger to playing with such world-class players. Montbleau’s last record, For Higher, featured George Porter, Jr. on bass, Anders Osborne on guitar, Ivan Neville on keys and Simon Lott on drums, and was recorded over the course of two days in New Orleans with Galactic’s Ben Ellman producing. The album is a bit different than Montbleau’s band records in that he added some inspired cover tunes to the mix. But at the end of the day, Montbleau is a writer through and through.
“Songwriting sits at the center of my life, basically. I always look at life through the lens of songwriting and poetry. I tend to get little scraps of writing done constantly throughout each day and night of my life. The real challenge is to build and create finished pieces and to uncover the truth of a particular song. The words have to be just right and I don’t stop until I get it right.”
At the end of the day, it works. An example is one of his best-known songs, ’75 and Sunny,’ a deceptively upbeat tune heavy on introspection and wordplay, as are most of Montbleau’s songs. He was also invited to contribute songwriting (‘Something Beautiful,’ ‘One Night Only’) to Backatown, Trombone Shorty’s Grammy-nominated debut album. That went so well, Montbleau co-wrote two more songs (‘Do To Me,’ ‘Roses’) for Shorty’s 2011 follow-up, For True.
“I’ve gone through a huge transition over the last year and I feel like I’m coming out on the other side beaming brighter than ever. I’m excited by the new people I’ve gotten to play with as well as just being able to see the effect that these songs can still have on a crowd. Whether it’s solo acoustic, with a trio, or with a full band of amazing players, my goal is to put on a great show every single night and to sing my truth as clearly as I can. I think I’ve been doing that and it’s what I love to do.”