Saturday night, Ryan Montbleau and opener Giovanina Bucci closed out the summer concert season for The Yard Amphitheater at Ray Brothers Barbeque in Bouckville, NY. With each musician performing strong solo acoustic sets, the tunes floated freely across the breeze, enchanting an eager audience.
Giovanina Bucci began the evening with gorgeous melodies that featured poignant stories of both heartbreak and triumph, elegant guitar work, and a voice that sometimes seemed as subtle as a feather in the wind yet also as strong as the foundations with which to hold up hope. Her songs were brimming with conviction.
The crowd, though keeping a bit separated from their host on stage, was attentive. They quickly became captivated by her ability to soothe them through her set. She was feeling the love back and at one moment, asked everyone to walk forward and bring themselves right up to the front of the stage. From that point on, many stayed there for the rest of the evening, and the remaining spots in the lawn were soon filled by newcomers.
Her set was a lovely prologue to Ryan who would appear shortly after. It was apparent that by the end, she had certainly earned some new admirers and followers.
By the time Montbleau came on, the yard had the strong semblance of an Electric Company reunion, Utica’s legendary former live music venue where Montbleau had built an impressive following over the years. Past EC’ers came from far and wide and could be found in every corner of the crowd. They, along with everyone else, greeted Montbleau with great enthusiasm when he took the stage.
Though fighting a summer cold through drowsy eyes and a mildly raspy voice, Ryan immediately engaged with the cheerful congregation, as he always does. He played two delightful hours filled with new tunes off his latest LP’s, Wood, Fire, Water, and Air, as well as time-tested classics that had made everyone fall in love with his music years ago.
In between numbers he kept things light by telling jokes about himself, touting Ray Brothers Barbeque’s excellent brisket, praising the love he felt from the crowd, and giving the origins of some of his songs. One song, in particular, had been written during what he called “the worst hangover of my life on the island of St. Croix.” He then went on, “but all the rest of my worst hangovers came in Utica, New York. So thank you for that.” Many in the audience already knew that because they shared in, and helped give him, those hangovers, and so cheered and laughed loudly at the mention of those great nights.
Overall, Montbleau’s set was lively. The entire yard was in a joyous atmosphere all the way through. Attendee Laura Law, who had come to try the food and see Ryan for the first time since his Utica playing days said, “It had been years since I’d seen him and I needed a night out with a great meal and his sound. I wasn’t sure what to expect. I always remembered he was fun to see and he didn’t disappoint. His positive energy was palpable and oozing into everyone here.” And the food? “I’m glad Ryan told us about the brisket,” she laughed, “so now I can try that next time. Tonight I had the wings. And they were the best wings I have ever had. I’m so glad I came.”
Laura’s sentiment seemed to be felt by everyone in attendance. After Montbleau ended, members of the exiting crowd were elated and could be heard talking about what they had just seen and made plans to see him again when he returns to the area in November, to play at the Wescott Theater in Syracuse.
The pairing of Bucci and Montbleau made for a steady night full of storytelling similarities and strong playing. Both artists sang of regret, awkward relationships, things left unsaid and lost love. Both sang of warnings for your mind and heart. But they also sang of the silliness it all brings and how no matter what, there are always reasons to carry an unwavering optimism, to find the light in the dark, and to have fun doing it. No matter how down some of their lyrics may actually have been at the core, their very performances helped bring that optimism through buoyant beats and colorful arrangements. It was a perfectly woven tapestry illustrating the emotional roller coaster we all take as humans. And it was perfect for a soft summer evening that whispered change, assurance, and promise are all in the air.