The hottest ticket in Los Angeles on January 29th was for a quiet, bearded fellow playing guitar at the 500-capacity Troubadour. The few tickets to be had were selling on eBay for $200.
Down the street at the equivalently sized Roxy was a show that was actually a little easier to get into - that is, if you know how to work an angle on a sold-out show and don't have 200 bucks. That show, the Kings of Leon, had it all: a buzz band rocking the house, with Courtney Love, Jerry Cantrell and Drea de Matteo in attendance.
So what the hell could make the Ray LaMontagne show such a sought-after ticket? How could some dude with an unpronounceable name and strange back story fill the club so quickly and make the ticket such a tough find? (His manager Michael McDonald, was obviously part of the crowd, and members of Goldenvoice and Moir/Borman Entertainment were also spotted.)
When LaMontagne sang, the audience was so quiet you could hear bread break. In between songs, the noise was deafening. The singer/songwriter
with producer Ethan Johns on drums, Ellis Marsalis prot‚g‚e Chris Thomas on bass and a local string quintet - accepted the applause by scratching his beard and his head, then with a soft "thank you."
"You know, we're selling out shows as far ahead as March, so it's pretty surprising to me," LaMontagne told Pollstar before the show, adding that the 2,000-seat Shepherds Bush in London was already sold out and the 1,400-seat Webster Hall was close. "They're selling like hotcakes already. It's been on sale for five days and they've already sold 700 tickets. We may do two nights there; that would be really fun."
unassuming and private - has a singing voice that in no way matches his look or personality. He learned to sing, and to play guitar, only a few years ago while living in a log cabin (without electricity) in Maine and working at a shoe factory. He grew up moving from place to place with his mother and siblings - living in tents, cars, chicken coops and backyards.
But one thing is universal in music: Successful artists
no matter how unique their background - are business savvy. After LaMontagne signed with RCA, he insisted on not taking tour support.
McDonald, who until he met LaMontagne only managed John Mayer (and helped run ATO Records), told Pollstar it was the plan all along to keep things profitable.
"At first, it was him alone with me tour managing. Then, we added a tour manager, then a bass player and now we've added a drummer," he said. "And we've made the strings affordable because we're not paying to house them or move them."
LaMontagne met McDonald at RCA soon after playing his music in-house for Steve Rabolvsky and others.
"I liked those guys (at RCA) really, really quick on a gut level," he said. "I felt a good vibe from them. I know it sounds really tacky, but it's true; you get an instinctive feel about people when you meet them.
"And Michael had a lot going for him. First, he was independent; he wasn't attached to any bigger entity. I liked that. I also liked the fact that he was part of an independent label, ATO. And, he's obviously a smart guy; he know what's good for an artist from both perspectives as a manager and by signing someone to an artist-friendly label."
"And he's understated, too. He could really talk himself up about what he's accomplished to this point in his career, but he never did."
LaMontagne also liked that McDonald only managed Mayer.
Ray's touring schedule includes time off for a home life with his wife and kids, but the 32-year-old singer will still be globetrotting.
"He has some well-earned time off and then he has some big shows coming up in the first week of April," McDonald said. "He's sold out in Boston, two New Yorks, San Francisco and L.A."
May is the Japan and Australia run. He'll have U.S. gigs in July and the first half of August, then it's off to Europe again in mid-August and September.
"We're really trying to keep it in very concentrated focus first, then take off as much time as we can," the manager said. "But, he's well aware that it takes a tremendous amount of work to succeed."
McDonald said choosing an agent for his artist was tough, not because he couldn't find the right match but because he knew so many good folks who wanted to sign LaMontagne would be disappointed. Finally, Ray was matched with Little Big Man's Marty Diamond.
"I talk to Marty every once in awhile. He comes to shows here and there, so that's when I talk to Marty," LaMontagne said. "He'll ask me how it's going. He's a sweet guy. I really don't understand what he does, but he's (certainly) doing something."
The singer has been prolific lately; the shows are filled with just as many new songs as recorded ones, and LaMontagne will try to get back in the studio soon, after Ethan Johns and his wife have their child. Lately, the shows have been closing with a song called "Can I Stay"
a quiet, unaccompanied song.
"It's a really intimate way to end a show," McDonald said. "From a fan's perspective, it's great to end a show with either an explosive finale or that number that really draws you into the artist."
And by the way, it's pronounced LAH-MAHN-tayne.