The newly renovated Cumberland County Civic Center will host the opening performance of Maine’s own Ray LaMontagne’s new U.S. tour, he will be joined by Jason Isbell and The Belle Brigade. The latter act is made up of siblings Barbara and Ethan Gruska, who’s dad — Jay Gruska — has been involved in popular music for decades now … most recently as one of the two composers on the hit show “Supernatural.” The young musicians formed the band a couple of years ago and released their self-titled debut in 2011 on Reprise Records … it was one of the last CDs I reviewed and I’ve been a huge fan of their intelligent, hook-laden folk-rock ever since. Recently they released their sophomore album, “Just Because,” and they are out supporting the 2014 ATO Records CD. The three of us chatted recently about the upcoming show in Portland.

Q: Where are you calling from?

Barbara: We got back to Los Angeles last night so we’re here for a couple of days.

Q: Well, I’ve got to say, I’m a big fan of your father’s work.

Barbara: Aw, thank you.

Ethan: Yeah, thanks so much!


Q: Will this upcoming show be your band’s first performance in Maine?

Barbara: Yes, it’s our first time performing in Maine and it’s also the only state that I haven’t been to, and I haven’t been to Alaska either — so Maine and Alaska.

Q: But you’ve had a Maine connection in your music — your debut album was mastered in Portland by Bob Ludwig, correct?

Ethan: Yeah, that’s right — he’s great!

Q: You guys are not only opening the show for Ray LaMontagne, you’re also in his backing band. How did that gig come about?

Barbara: There are a few ways that it could have come up, mostly I think we got really lucky that he thought of us; but I was playing with Jenny Lewis and we opened for him at the Hollywood Bowl in 2009. He called me about a year-and-a-half ago and said that he wanted to collaborate some way with Ethan and I so I think that that connection happened initially there.


Q: Well, I read in the bio you guys also do side projects performing in other groups and with other musicians — like Barbara with Jenny Lewis. What’s the balance between that and The Belle Brigade…is it equally split?

Ethan: The other projects are just kind of more for fun and nonprofessional — for me, at least, Barb plays with tons of other people drumming and recording and stuff, but the only real project right now has been Belle Brigade for the last couple of years.

Q: How long will Belle Brigade get the stage opening the show … do you know yet?

Ethan: I’m actually not sure.

Barbara: I think that there are some nights where we’re first of three and then there’s some nights where we’re main support. I think the nights where we’re first of three we’ll probably get a half-an-hour and the nights we’re main support we’ll probably get 40 to 45 minutes.

Q: I believe that there are three acts listed for the Portland show.


Barbara: Yeah, so it’ll be a shorter set in Portland but we’ll make it worth your while!

Q: Now, “Just Because” recently came out … how’s it going?

Ethan: I don’t know but it’s good that it’s finally out — we’ve been sitting on it for a while.

Barbara: But we’ve gotten a lot of good feedback on it. I think that in terms of really promoting it, this tour with Ray is our big opportunity to be able to do that. We’re looking forward to putting it out there through the tour — we’ll start doing that when this tour starts in Portland.

Q: When you start up here in Maine, who will be in the band with you two?

Ethan: Our bass player’s name is Keith Karman and he’ll be with us the whole tour, and we have a keyboard player named Tyler Cash — he’ll also be with us for the entire tour — and they’re both great.


Q: Will Keith and Tyler also be backing Ray with you two or does he have some players of his own?

Ethan: He has his own keyboardist and bassist traveling with him.

Q: Is there anything you’d like to pass on to the folks reading this article?

Ethan: We’re really excited to come to Maine — we’ve never been there and it’ll be fun to explore the city and to play for everyone there.

Barbara: And I’m excited to eat in Portland — I’ve only heard incredible things about it so I’m looking forward to get a nice meal in Portland. I’m so excited!

Lucky Clark has spent 45 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

Comments are no longer available on this story

filed under: