When the Roots North Music Festival announced Ron Sexsmith as one of this year’s headliners, it created excitement among fans and local music lovers.
Turns out the feeling is mutual.
“I don’t think my name has ever been at the top of a poster,” Sexsmith said of a promotional poster listing the acts that will be featured at the April 26-27 festival in Orillia.
His fans are in for a treat. His April 26 performance at St. Paul's Centre will be one of his first in about a year.
“I’m just looking forward to playing. It’s been so long,” Sexsmith told OrilliaMatters.
The Juno Award winner has been revisiting old set lists to help him decide what to play.
“It’s been fun running through the songs and brushing up on them,” said Sexsmith, who has played only “scattered gigs” since his last tour in 2017. “Sometimes you get rusty if you don’t play.”
The upcoming shows have motivated him in another way, too. He’s been hitting the gym and has been on a juice fast.
“Since Christmas, I’ve been drinking and eating my face off,” he said. “I get very self-conscious if I feel I’ve let myself go. These gigs are good for me to get my head in gear.”
He admits it is “more daunting” when he hasn’t performed in a while.
“It’s also more nerve racking when I play solo,” he said, noting he can’t pass the buck if things go south. “Every note is me.”
But, he can’t deny the rush of hitting the stage and hearing and seeing an enthusiastic audience.
“It’s sort of an addictive thing,” he said. “Most of us who do this have low self-esteem.”
Sexsmith’s music has been described in many ways. One of the common words critics have tacked to his sound throughout his career is “melancholic.” It’s a label that doesn’t sit well with the musician, who considers his sound to be more “pop” and “melodic.”
“I think sometimes my voice made it sound sadder than I intended,” he said. “I’ve always tried to inject humour in my music and write catchy and hopeful songs. Even in my saddest songs, I’ve always tried to have some kind of upward feeling.”
While he considers his music to be pop, he said he won’t feel out of place performing at a festival that has “roots” in its name.
“They’re all kind of morphing into each other,” he said, noting jazz and folk festivals these days feature a variety of genres.
Regardless, the local festival later this month has Sexsmith feeling optimistic — and fans should be, too.
“Just the words ‘roots’ and ‘music’ together for a lot of people means they’re not going to hear auto-tune,” he said.
And, if they’re fortunate, fans will hear some new music at the Orillia show. Since last July, Sexsmith has been working on a follow-up to his 2017 album, The Last Rider.
“I’ve been taking my time,” he said, adding he’s hoping to release it in early 2020.
Don’t get too excited, though. Sexsmith did not commit to playing any new material when he performs in Orillia.
“I’m definitely thinking about it. I just might.”
The next album likely won’t be his last project, but that begs the question: For a guy who has authored and illustrated a book, played and worked with world-class musicians, been the subject of a documentary and released 17 albums, what could possibly be next? Well, a musical, of course.
Sexsmith said he has been working on a musical version of his book, Deer Life.
“That would be a huge achievement for me if it ever happens,” he said.
In the meantime, fans can focus on the music.
For more details about the Roots North Music Festival, including ticket information, click here.