The first thing I noticed about Martin Sexton was how comfortable he looked. Dressed in an unbuttoned black shirt and chapo, he was the only one on a narrow stage, surrounded by scores of drunk patrons and a few somber concert attendees crammed inside a bar on what appeared to be white fold-out chairs. But he loved being five feet away from all us all, packed in tight to the intimate venue.
The perfect combination of soulful and smiles, Martin exuded a legendary persona that eclipses a somewhat modest career. The tenth son of Irish-American immigrants, he began performing during the late eighties on street corners in Boston, and today is considered one of the heaviest hitters of the “new folk” movement. Hailing from a working class family, Martin is a deeply affectionate poet, very much in touch with the average man; one might say more Bruce Springsteen that well, Bruce Springteen. And last weekend at The Pour House in Charleston, he dazzled the crowd with nothing more than an acoustic/electric guitar and the sound of his voice, characterized by a unique range that spans from bass to tenor and everywhere in between (yodels and whistling anyone?).
Martin performed several songs off his most recent Mixtape of the Open Road album, as well as some older popular tunes including the first song he ever wrote in the foyer of Boston University, titled “Caught in the Rain”, during which he beckoned the crowd to sing along. The crowd obliged, and cheered shouts of “we love you Marty!” through several other well-known hits, including “Love Keep Us Together”, “Gypsy Woman” (in which he transitioned to a few measures of Led Zeppelin’s "Babe I’m Gonna Leave You”), and the well-known “Glory Bound”. It was during this portion of the set where he interspersed his signature open-palm tap with a show stopping beat-box performance that surprised everyone and sent the room into an uproar. He also scratched out a beautiful rendition of “In the Journey” which moved everyone to silence and “Angeline”, where he knocked on his guitar and asked the audience, “whose there?” (they shouted, “Angeline!”).
A master of crowd interaction, Martin shared several stories with the packed in mass before ending the night. Among them, the unique revelation that a woman in Charleston taught him how to catch blue crabs with a broken chicken axe. There were plenty of chuckles to go around during his anecdotes, but it was the touching story of how a family banjo was passed down from his grandparents that seemed to intrigue the crowd the most before he pulled the very banjo out and began performing "This Little Light of Mine" and "Amazing Grace" to a dancing, rollocking, fully engaged crowd. The evening concluded with "Black Sheep" (not ironically, his ode to leaving town) and chants of "goodbye" as Martin waved and dipped backstage, his larger-than-life presence still looming over the room.
To follow Martin Sexton in his tour, click HERE.