Offstage, while having dinner at Smoke ‘n Bones in Oak Bluffs, singer/songwriter Ryan Montbleau is quiet and unassuming, just another approachable friendly guy eating ribs.
But onstage at the Pit Stop, later that same evening, Mr. Montbleau transforms into something much larger, captivating the audience with his spirited singing and playing.
While he usually performs with his band at venues significantly larger than a garage turned art space, Mr. Montbleau says he enjoys playing smaller venues such as those he has appeared at on the Island during the last several months.
“I love it, I love doing that,” he said. “I’ve seen people who come to listen and are into the lyrics, and my songwriter heart loves that.”
Over the last ten years, the Boston-based Ryan Montbleau Band has seen its following grow larger than just the New England scene. Last year, the band played again at Jazzfest in New Orleans — but this time on the main stage, not at the small clubs they had performed at in years past.
Mr. Montbleau recorded his most recent album, For Higher, in New Orleans last May, accompanied by a seasoned session band, including Ivan Neville, George Porter Jr., Simon Lott and Anders Osborne.
“It was amazing,” he said. “New Orleans is unlike any other American city, it’s very deep, dark and beautiful. Music is just in the fiber of the place.”
The album, comprised of both original songs and soulful covers, was released on May 15.
The Ryan Montbleau Band has performed on the Vineyard the past three summers, but with the closing of Nectar’s this year, Mr. Montbleau wasn’t sure if the band would be able to perform this summer. But with the possible opening of Dreamland later this summer, the band will have the opportunity to continue their summer tradition.
“It’s much needed,” he said of the new Dreamland venue. “My band needs to come here this summer, we always do.” They’re scheduled to perform on August 17, the night of the annual Oak Bluffs fireworks.
Besides the Pit Stop, Mr. Montbleau recently performed at the Dive Bar, joining Phil DaRosa’s set, as well as the Lampost. “They’re gigs I would not normally do, but am because I’m in the neighborhood. I just love to play.”
Mr. Montbleau has been “in the neighborhood” quite a bit lately, spending time with his girlfriend of four years, Jess Phaneuf, a deejay at WMVY radio. “I just sort of consider this partly my home now. I’ve really fallen in love with this place.”
And the Island has embraced him as well. This winter, Mr. Montbleau performed at the Chilmark Potluck Jam, where he connected with other local musicians. “The potluck was kind of a big night... that was the first night I really felt part of a community of people.”
At the Pit Stop, illuminated by dozens of candles, Mr. Montbleau played for almost an hour, making jokes and inviting the audience to sing along. At one point he was joined by Tall Heights, a guitar and cello duo from Boston, for a cover of Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car.
“Everywhere should have a room like that where you could go and listen,” he said of the Pit Stop. “It’s still relaxed and not pretentious — it’s really all about the music.”