Local singer, songwriter, guitar player and bandleader Jonathan Sexton was once a ubiquitous presence on the local music scene, leading popular local rock acts such as the Red House Project, the Whiskey Scars, and Jonathan Sexton’s Big Love Choir. And the fact that he’s less in circulation now only makes his live appearances — in the form of occasional solo gigs, and semi-regular shows with his ’70s blues-rock cover band Badlands — all the more notable.
One of the reasons Sexton is no longer an onstage regular hereabouts is his day gig, with Knoxville Entrepreneur Center (KEC). Co-founder of the Artist Growth company, producers of an innovative phone and computer app for working musicians, Sexton now helps spread the gospel of entrepreneurship in Knoxville. This month, though, his vocation and his avocation will cross over, as Sexton hosts the Cre865 Talent Showcase as part of KEC’s Innov865 Week.
“KEC is planning a week-long event celebrating innovation and technology in Knoxville with Innov865 Week,” Sexton explains. “A whole week of events centered around business, startups, tech. And with all the people that will be coming in from out of town for the event, the idea is that they need to be aware of Knoxville’s music scene. Which I think is our city’s best asset.”
The Cre865 Talent Showcase at Scruffy City Hall will feature Sexton and a handful of other local bands playing a few songs each, talent-show style. Sexton says the lineup for the evening hasn’t been settled yet, but Electric Darling and Cereus Bright are among the bands under consideration for the showcase.
For his part, Sexton says he’s been writing some new songs of late, some of which he has debuted at recent solo shows. “I recently did this weird, dumbass artist thing where I didn’t want to play any of my old stuff, for various reasons,” Sexton says with a chuckle. “So I started writing some new stuff, which I thought was better, but also edgier, darker, not so damned happy, and maybe a little more honest.
“It’s not that my old music was dishonest, but it just feels like I started to let the world in a little bit more. I started writing about how I honestly felt, instead of music that I hoped would somehow change the world. I guess it’s a little bit less grandiose.”
Sexton promises, however, that his Showcase performance will feature plenty of old favorites. “The last few shows I’ve done, I’ve pulled out songs going all the way back to my Red House Project days. And it’s been so much fun. It was like, wow, there are a lot of good songs in there. And I’m having a lot of fun doing it.”
In the meantime, Sexton has Badlands, a cover band fronted by local cover band impresario Dave Campbell and featuring the dueling lead guitars of Sexton and his father (!), Andrew “Stickman” Sexton. What’s it like being in a band with dad? According to Sexton the Younger, it’s a blast.
“There’s nothing like it,” Sexton enthuses. “Me and my dad, we’ve had our ups and downs, like most fathers and sons. But we always had music — there were times where that’s what got us through.
“My dad is my favorite guitar player, and he has been since I was five. So it’s inexplicably cool to be in a band with him.”
Jonathan Sexton will host the Cre865 Talent Showcase beginning at 5 p.m. Sept. 22 at Scruffy City Hall. Sexton will also play Preservation Pub Friday, Sept. 9 with Badlands.