I went to see Martin Sexton play in Hermosa Beach on Wednesday May 17th.
The opening act was on when I arrived. Acoustic guitar. Striped shirt. Glasses. Marcus Eaton is his name. I thought he sounded best when he was picking fast.
After I noticed a few things on the walls, in the music, and in my imagination, I started wondering if Saint Rocke was a Christian music venue, which led me to snoop around and look for crucifixes. What I found instead was a disproportionate number of framed photos of Miles Davis.
At the beginning of Marcus Eaton’s last song, I noticed that a short man in a blue jean shirt had slipped in front of me and started bobbing his head. From behind and above and slightly to the right, his hairline had that sexy Chinatown-era Jack Nicholson recede. I peeked over and around the hair, and, sure enough, it was Martin Sexton himself, inches away.
I thought about tapping him on the shoulder and acknowledging his awesomeness, but a song was playing, and I didn’t want to be rude.
The acknowledgement would have to be silent. A thumbs up, maybe. Maybe two.
I hesitated and then decided to play it cool, let him listen to the song.
Ten seconds later, he turned, ducked between the people to my left, and slipped backstage.
When the song ended, I clapped, checked the clock, saw that I had twenty minutes, and remembered I hadn’t eaten dinner.
While walking toward the door, I made a plan to ask the woman at the front desk if Saint Rocke was a Christian music venue. Three steps later, I chickened out and walked past her without making eye contact.
At the door, I asked the bouncer if I was allowed to leave and come back.
He looked suspicious. The kissylips tattooed on his neck frowned a little. “Are you going to another bar?”
“Just getting a burrito or something.”
He paused, a short pause, very short, short to the point that it might not have been a pause at all, and said, “I guess that’s ok.”
I walked north, considered an empty Mexican restaurant, then noticed people in the windows at Poulet du Jour across the street.
Inside, I ordered a falafel sandwich from a man in a white apron and sat at the counter.
Another man, this one in a brown Cliff Huxtable sweater, seemed to be running the show. He had different facial hair, but I figured he must be related to the man in the white apron. I asked him for a beer recommendation, something to go with a falafel sandwich.
He gave me a Singha, from Thailand.
Cooling my fingertips on the brown condensation droplets, I asked how long they’d been in business.
“Twelve years yesterday,” he said. He adjusted the wireless cellphone accessory in his right ear. “You’re gonna like your falafel.”
“Best falafel in the state of California.”
His brother brought it to me.
I ate it, drank the Singha, complimented the chefs, realized that I’d sort of lied to the bouncer, and didn’t feel bad about it.
When I showed my hand stamp back at the Saint Rocke door, the bouncer asked if I’d had a burrito.
“Falafel,” I said, pointing north.
He knew the place, approved of my choice, and the kissylips smiled. We were friends again.
As soon as I walked back into the bar, I got the Christian vibe again, so I asked the girl working the merch table what she thought.
She was young (late college maybe), small (though not as memorably small as Martin Sexton), quiet (I had to lean out over the table to hear her over the clink and rumble of the bar), and she told me she didn’t know of a religious affiliation.
I asked her how she got the gig running the merch table.
She’s had it off and on for a long time, she said. Seen hundreds of shows.
Her name’s Brianna. Martin Sexton’s her dad. This is their first time touring just the two of them. It’s been great. He’s a fun guy. But long drives are tough. Been driving three days straight since the last show.
I asked what they’d been listening to in the car.
No music in the car, she said. Just chatting, reading, scenery.
The show started, and Martin did his thing. Whistling, yodeling, mouth percussion. Rewinding and restarting. Hallelujahs. Amens. Songs about big dreams and songs about big fears.
At the ends of each of the first few songs, I leaned out over the merch table and asked Brianna more questions.
What instrument do you play? Piano.
What song should I request, something you want to hear? “The Way I Am.”
You know the characters in all these songs? Most of them are before my time.
Martin came out for his encore with an acoustic guitar. He stepped up to an older, more distinguished looking mic that he hadn’t used yet. He asked everyone to be really quiet for a just a second. And he taught us how to help him sing “Black Sheep.”
After the lights came up, I took another lap around the venue and checked back in on the Miles Davises. I had one more thing to talk to Brianna about, and I figured I’d wait until she had sold what she could sell.
This is a totally crazy request, I told her, but if you guys are ever in Baltimore on a Sunday and looking for something musical to do, will you stop by Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church in East Baltimore and sing with my father-in-law? He’s the musical director there, and he’s a big fan of your dad’s.
I’d asked too much, so, embarrassed, I smiled and I left without giving her the address.
If you’re reading this, Brianna, it’s 6420 East Pratt Street, Baltimore, MD, 21224.
Any Sunday, ever.
Jake de Grazia is Trop's Musical Theater Correspondent.