Celebrated blues musician James Montgomery is itching to get back on the road, but is using this hiatus from touring to work on two documentaries, one about his late brother, Jeff, a pioneer in LGBTQ advocacy, the other about blues harmonica player, singer, songwriter, and bandleader James Henry Cotton (information on both may be found at www.jamesmontgomery.com). “Not being able to play live has affected every musician I know tremendously,” he said. “I usually do 100 shows a year, and I miss it. I miss the chance to connect with fellow musicians and with the audience.” Montgomery, who leads the New England-based James Montgomery Band, has toured with some of the music industry’s biggest names, including Johnny Winter and the Allman Brothers. Born and raised in Grosse Pointe, Mich., he lives in Newport, R.I., with his cat, Mr. Pip. We caught up with Montgomery, 71, to talk about all things travel.
Favorite vacation destination?
Italy’s Amalfi Coast. It’s perhaps the most beautiful and enchanting place I have ever been to. My traveling companion at the time — who had been everywhere from Belize, to Hong Kong, to Machu Picchu, and other spectacular places — said, as we enjoyed a glass of wine midway between Salerno and Sorrento, “I’ve seen a lot of beautiful places but this blows them away.” Capri is a brief hydroplane boat ride away and is also spectacular. Remember the motto on the Isle of Capri is the same as the motto of Nantucket: “Why spend less?” The people throughout the whole Amalfi Coast are very welcoming and friendly, and the wine each village produces — available only by carafe in each town — is fantastic. The food they bring out from the kitchens served family style is always a wonderful culinary masterpiece.
Favorite food or drink while vacationing?
I always like to sample the red wine indigenous to the area in which I am traveling in hopes of discovering something new and experiencing something that the local people take pride in presenting as the wine of their area. I feel the same way about food. Think Anthony Bourdain …
Where would you like to travel to but haven’t?
I would love to travel to India. I am connected to that country on various spiritual levels and would visit certain specific places when I go. I haven’t been because of my schedule as a working musician — although COVID has put a stop to that. I couldn’t find the time to take the lengthy journey to go there and back and also, it would take a certain amount of planning.
One item you can’t leave home without when traveling?
[In “Cat’s Cradle,”] Kurt Vonnegut called traveling “dancing lessons from God.” That’s how I’ve always felt about it, so there is no specific item I can think of that I can’t leave home without. Take what the universe gives you. I have one medium-size roller that is always filled with my day-to-day needs when traveling, so I never have to pack essentials: Just throw in what I need for that specific trip and the rest is already there. Well, maybe one essential: the current New York Times crossword puzzle for the plane ride, or even for shorter trips; [doing them] helps me fall asleep after a show.
Aisle or window?
Definitely window. I love seeing each city you fly into and trying to put the landscape together from above: guessing how the lights, highways, rivers, etc., relate to the city I am flying into or out of — even if it is one of my two “home” airports. I love flying over my house and seeing its relationship to the rest of the world. But mainly, with the window seat you have that slight ability to lean your head back ever so slightly and get some sleep!
Favorite childhood travel memory?
Way too many childhood travel memories. My father was an executive at Chrysler Corporation, but his hobby was gourmet cooking. Family vacations were centered around going … around the world to eat at specific restaurants including Maxim’s and LaTour d’Argent in Paris. In the words of Joan Rivers, “Can we talk?”
Guilty pleasure when traveling?
Depends. Am I alone or with a companion?
Best travel tip?
Referring to Vonnegut’s quote … treat [travel] that way. Always get off the beaten path. As Antoine de Saint-Exupery wrote in his book “The Little Prince”: “Straight ahead of him, no one goes very far.” Experience as much as possible — and as safely as possible in today’s world — the culture and beauty and the historical reference to where you are. Understand that where you are standing is a place on this planet that is connected to the whole world and open yourself up to living and being that connectivity that helps you to see yourself as part of humanity and ultimately leads you to a better understanding of mankind.