Ray LaMontagne Tour Profile

Aug 1, 2011 9:00 AM, By Candace Horgan



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Pictured here from a concert in 2007, Ray LaMontagne has retained his oneness with his guitar.

Pictured here from a concert in 2007, Ray LaMontagne has retained his oneness with his guitar.

It's the voice that first hits you. A mixture of yearning and heartbreak, delivered in a raspy, delicate fashion that bypasses the ears and punches deep within. You realize that the music is very well written, a perfect backing track for that sad, aching voice.

System tech Mike Savage (left) and front-of-house engineer Doug Dawson

System tech Mike Savage (left) and front-of-house engineer Doug Dawson

After a late start, Ray LaMontagne has garnered a very successful career, with his songs covered by many artists. Backed by his band, the Pariah Dogs (drummer Jay Bellerose, bassist Jennifer Condos, and guitarists Eric Heywood and Greg Leisz), the live performances are low on flash and chatter with the audience. In fact, in June 2011 at Red Rocks (Morrison, Colo.), LaMontagne may not have spoken more than 10 sentences to the sold-out crowd during the course of two hours. LaMontagne sets himself up on stage-left, with Condos standing to his right, Bellerose in the middle and the guitarists on stage-right. The band performs in a semicircle so they can see each other playing and cue off of each other. "I hate to say it, but you could turn the band off, and as long as you can hear his voice nice and loud, they're going to cry," says front-of-house engineer Doug Dawson.

Dawson and monitor engineer Dean Norman have been with LaMontagne since 2007, but the two have a working relationship that stretches back 17 years. Norman was working FOH for Emmylou Harris, and when Buddy Miller joined Harris, he brought in Dawson, who he had worked with in Jim Lauderdale's band, to handle monitors. "Whoever gets the gig first gets front of house and then talks the other one in to do monitors," says Norman with a laugh. "Doug and I have toured together for 16, 17 years with five, six, seven bands. We've worked together a lot, and always try to get the other one in if one of us gets a gig."

Dawson first came on with LaMontagne for a temporary two-week stint, but Dawson's talents at mixing vocals led to a more full-time job. "I got on when the tour manager called me up one day and asked me to fill in for two weeks," he says. "I flew out and it was a lot of these guys' first show. By the end of the two weeks, Ray was having a hard time onstage with sounds, and they offered me the job, then hired Dean and we fixed a lot stuff with his acoustic guitar sounds to make him more at ease in theaters, which we had a lot experience in. I do a lot of theater work with bands who aren't familiar with halls and volume. He was having a hard time because it's a loud band and you have to turn it down."

Despite his predilection for analog, Dawson is mixing on an Avid Profile board and finds he does like the console’s ease of use. "I use Crane Song Phoenix plug-ins, which I love. I'm really an analog guy,” Dawson says. “I think digital is easy. If I could, I'd carry the biggest, most analog-y system I could find, but it's really for the ease. I also use a Crane Song head—which is a harmonically enhanced device—on the left and right, and it gives me a sort of tube flavor. It's digital, but it makes it sound big; I can't stand thin. People comment on how fat my mixes are. I can't stand it when it's shrill; it has to be big and fat.

"Ray sings so delicately—it's a very delicate mix, very vocal-oriented—so I have a few good preamps on the main instruments and that makes a huge difference,” Dawson continues. “I have some preamps that I use that are D.I.Y.; they are kits you buy from Seventh Circle Audio in L.A., and they sound fantastic. I have about eight mics that are spread out through the band and Ray's vocal that I have the preamps on; they are very pristine-sounding.'

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