BRATTLEBORO — Billboard calls him "the real thing, people." Singer-songwriter Martin Sexton returns to the Stone Church for the second time, on Friday, Sept. 15 with what Rolling Stone calls his "soul-marinated voice," along with his acoustic guitar and a suitcase full of heartfelt songs.
His 2023 tour has taken Sexton across North America in support of his latest release, 2020 Vision, produced by three-time Grammy nominee John Alagía, whose work includes collaborations with Lukas Nelson, John Mayer (who guests on Sexton's album), and Dave Matthews. Alagía is also still reinventing his own classic songs for these intimate solo performances.
"His live shows are emotional and interactive; the audiences sing along and dance, and fans shout out suggestions that they fully expect Sexton, ever the crowd-pleaser, to play. He unabashedly mixes folk, rhythm & blues, jazz, boogie woogie and rock into his songs," Marie Elsie St. Leger wrote in a review of Sexton's album Wonder Bar in Rolling Stone in 2000.
Sexton started in the streets around Harvard Square in Cambridge, Massachusetts, in the 1990s. Despite headlining venues from The Fillmore to Carnegie Hall, he remains "fiercely independent and has influenced a generation of contemporary artists," according to his biographical information.
His songs have appeared in a number of television series, including Scrubs, Parenthood, Masters of Sex, and Sprung, and in numerous films, though it's his live shows, honest lyrics, and vocal proficiency that keep fans coming back for a novel experience each time.
An EP on lockdown
During lockdown, the tracks for 2020 Vision - his first release in six years - were recorded virtually in Los Angeles and Longmeadow, Massachusetts.
In those songs, he tackled difficult issues like the global health pandemic, the opioid epidemic, and life lessons like "the power of togetherness."
According to publicity materials, the album, which includes "snapshots or moments of clarity during the pandemic," resulted in "a poetically emotive and an elegantly evocative pandemic scrapbook."
"In one song, I'm building a treehouse with my son," Sexton said. "In another song, I'm crossing America and seeing the beauty in people rising through adversity and loving each other."
"I love that we have community leaders, politicians, actors, and artists from all backgrounds speaking up, raising their voices, and becoming the heroes of today," he said. "My faith is renewed to see the injustices of the world now beginning to be met with accountability. I remain hopeful and optimistic."
Unity through music
"My mission statement for the past 15 years has been unity through music, and I am committed to sharing peace and harmony through my songs," Sexton told The Commons from the road recently.
He called music "such a powerful, motivating force."
"I've always tried to use it to bring people together who would not otherwise be together," he said. "In this divided world we live in, we need to remember we are all family, all children of this planet."
"I am so honored every night when I see my audience, people of all different walks of life singing in three-part harmony at my shows. Folks tend to leave their differences outside the door and focus on our likenesses. And that's my mission accomplished," Sexton added.
When asked about how he and Mayer began working together, Sexton said that he first met him "way back at my show in Atlanta in 1999. He was a young guy cutting his teeth, handing me his demo."
"Fast forward two years, I was opening for him on his sold-out arena tour, he had just won a Grammy, and his girlfriend was [actor and singer] Jennifer Love Hewitt."
Sexton described Mayer as "so gracious over the years: tipping his hat, inviting me on shows, etc. And what a treat it was to have him play on my latest record. Dig it!"
When asked about advice he would give to a young singer/songwriter who is just starting out, Sexton says, "Stay true to your heart, write a lot, and play your ass off."
Stone Church sets fall lineup
Robin Johnson, owner of The Stone Church, thinks this Friday night show will probably sell out, just as Sexton's previous shows there.
He described Sexton's first show in the venue as "magic."
"Martin is an incredible performer who has to be experienced live," Johnson said. "We don't have a lot of listening room shows these days, but for a show like this, the atmosphere in the church is unparalleled."
Looking forward to fall, Johnson described what he called a "spectacular" lineup of shows, including The Nude Party, Courtney Barnett, and Lady Lamb.
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Martin Sexton plays at The Stone Church, 210 Main St., Brattleboro, on Friday, Sept. 15. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show is at 8 p.m. Tickets are $45 in advance and $50 at the door. For more information and to buy tickets, visit stonechurchvt.com.
This The Arts item by Victoria Chertok was written for The Commons.