Ron Sexsmith: Live At Jammin’ Java

Ron Sexsmith

Here in our region of the US east coast, we’ve enjoyed a relatively mild winter to date. Our poor snow shovel is hopefully enjoying a period of hibernation and not feeling too neglected. While I’m sure we’re not quite out of the woods yet, with a last-blast of seasonal weather likely to surprise us before the official arrival of spring, we had no complaints about spending this past Sunday in northern Virginia on a sunny, 60-degree day.

Better still, the day was spent with a pair of concert tickets tucked away in our back pockets for a highly-anticipated evening of music at Jammin’ Java in the company of revered Stratford, ON singer-songwriter Ron Sexsmith. Embarking on his first major US tour since 2015, Ron delighted a packed music room with two solid sets of music spanning his extensive back catalogue, and added several cuts from his latest album, “The Vivian Line” released just last week. “I’ve just played New York and Philly, and all of these stressful places, so it’s really nice to be back here,” Ron offered following a pair of opening tunes. “It always feels very relaxing. It’s a total rock and roll dressing room back there, with band’s stickers all over the mirrors, you can’t see yourself.”

I’m sure that for many, we can often recall roughly when or where we first heard music from an artist, and my own recollection of Ron’s material dates back to early 2008 or so – likely around the time he was releasing his “Exit Strategy of the Soul” album. “By the way, I’m doing two sets with a costume change, just in case you’re wondering,” Ron would joke early during his first set. “And I’m trying to play at least one from each record because I’m not sure which ones you might know or like here, to maximize my chances of entertaining you.” And true to his word, hearing the performance of “Brandy Alexander” brought back fond memories of that 2008 offering – this particular song a co-write with Feist, who recorded the tune first for her 2007 “The Reminder” album.

Discovering copies of his 1997 “Other Songs” and 1995 self-titled CDs shortly after the release of his 2008 album, we quickly became familiar with the exceptional songwriting and storytelling of this artist – making it a fond trip down memory lane to hear Ron perform cuts from these early albums too (“Strawberry Blonde” and “Lebanon, Tennessee” respectively). He would also perform “Secret Heart,” the opening track from his 1995 album, and one popularized by other artists over the years. “This is my most covered song,” he shared. “Rod Stewart did it, and Leslie Feist did it, and Nick Lowe, and I’m still not rich… But this is how I do it.”

Nobody expected Ron to fulfil the task of pulling a tune from every one of his albums, but he certainly gave it the old college try, and surprised many of us in attendance with cuts from his 2013 “Forever Endeavour” album (“Sneak out the Back Door”), the 2002 “Cobblestone Runway” album (“Gold In Them Hills”), and closed his first set with a moving tune from his 1999 “Whereabouts” album (“In a Flash”). “This song I wrote initially for Jeff Buckley when he passed away in the late 90s,” he would share, prior to the first set finale. “Later on, I would sing it for Elliott Smith, but most recently we lost a really good friend in Canada named Dallas Good from The Sadies, so now I’d like to sing this for Dallas.”  Thanks Ron – this was a beautiful tribute to honor the first anniversary of Dallas Good’s passing – a loss that many of us are still mourning.

Ron Sexsmith

Returning to the stage following a 15-minute intermission, and sporting a different shirt and blazer (he really did do a costume change), Ron dug deep into the back catalogue once more, performing “On A Whim” by request for an audience member who was celebrating a birthday. Now much more comfortable in the company of the Java faithful, he went on to share several amusing tales and ‘behind-the-song’ anecdotes, leading into a second song-by-request, and one of several cuts performed from his popular 2011 “Long Player Late Bloomer” album (one reissued last year as his first Record Store Day vinyl offering). Opening the show with “Miracles,” and wrapping up his encore with “Nowadays,” he would precede “Get in Line” with a quick fact about how this album spent a total of 3 weeks in the UK official album chart, yet garnered little merit back here at home.  It would be the ‘by-request’ inclusion of “Eye Candy,” however, that provided Ron an opportunity to share the humorous origins of this particular tune.

“When I lived in Toronto, I used to go to this bar called The Dakota Tavern, a great place for live music, and one night these girls came in and you could tell they weren’t from around there,” he commenced, painting a fun scene before us. “They looked like they’d come from a club or something, and they were standing next to me and were really trying to pick up guys.”  “They didn’t wanna listen to no band / Why don’t they grab a cab back to club-land / Now they’re coming on to every guy / Like two drunken socialites / Eye candy, ear poison / Oh Mother, keep your boys in / Cause uptown came downtown / And now they keep hanging around.”  “I was privy to all the stuff they were saying and it was interesting,” Ron added. “They weren’t trying to pick me up, that’s for sure, but anyway, I wrote this song on the way home from that bar experience.”  “You should see the way they dance / Rubbing up against everybody’s leg / And like a bad masseuse / Everything they do / Rubs me the wrong way.

The new tunes were mixed into both sets perfectly, and included his late 2022 teasers, “What I Had in Mind,” “Diamond Wave,” and recent single, “When Our Love Was New.” He would also seek permission to perform “Ever Wonder,” the album’s closing track, and one he had yet to share on this tour. “I’d like to try another one from my new record, if that’s okay? It’s the only way I’m ever gonna learn them, by playing them,” he jested. “This one I wrote on the piano and originally it kind of sounded like a Beach Boys kind of thing, but when we got into the studio, it sorta turned into a Roger Miller kind of vibe.” “We’re not so different / In the small or grand scheme / Not so different / When we wonder what it all means / Ever wonder about that?

Ron Sexsmith

Injecting some light-hearted banter into a deeply personal tale, Ron demonstrated his natural ability to captivate his audience when discussing the new tune, “One Bird Calling,” a craft honed through his experience as a well-traveled and well-versed entertainer. “I feel a little better this set. I try to be ‘Neil Diamond,’ but sometimes I can’t do it, I can’t get there,” he offered, referring to his ‘clumsiness’ during the first set (no doubt due in part to pre-show jitters and a guitar that refused to stay in tune). “I was going through a real depression a few years back and Colleen bought me… Colleen, my wife, by the way, my road manager – she’s my first road manager that will let me snuggle with them after the show,” he continued, pausing perfectly to soak up the response. “But I was going through this existential crisis, and she bought me this Neil Diamond ‘live DVD’ from 2009, and it just blew my mind because he was so un-ironic. He was like ‘Love on the Rocks,’ he was just so truthful to his Neil Diamond-ness and had so much self-belief, and I never had that.”  A cry of ‘Do a Neil Diamond tune’ emanated from the back of the room. “Well, I’ve got enough of my own songs to sing,” came Ron’s candid, yet sincere retort. “But I love Neil Diamond, and the next tour I did, I felt my confidence rising. But I still turn back into a pumpkin from time to time.”

With the night winding down, Ron returned to both his “Other Songs” and “Cobblestone Runway” albums to source material for his final pair of tunes, sharing “April After All” (a song written with Bing Crosby in mind – “maybe he’ll do it one day”), and closing with “Former Glory.” Exiting briefly from the stage, he would return for two encore numbers, one of which would be in tribute to the recent passing of Burt Bacharach – leading Ron to perform his only cover version of the night, a beautiful rendition of “I’ll Never Fall in Love Again” – before capping a solid two-hour performance and bidding us farewell with “Nowadays.” 

An outstanding evening of music from one of Canada’s elite songwriters and performers – I’m sure I speak for many when stating that we really, really do not want to wait almost a decade again for Ron Sexsmith to tour these parts once more.  Ron’s US road trip resumes tonight in Charlotte, NC, and runs through mid-April – check out the official tour poster below to see if he’s performing in a town near you – and go see him – we insist!!!

Set List – First Set:

  1. Miracles
  2. Imaginary Friends
  3. You Don’t Wanna Hear It
  4. What I Had In Mind
  5. When Our Love Was New
  6. Pretty Little Cemetery
  7. Spring Of The Following Year
  8. Lebanon, Tennessee
  9. Just My Heart Talkin’
  10. Ever Wonder
  11. It Won’t Last For Long
  12. Sure As The Sky
  13. In A Flash (Dallas Good tribute)

Set List – Second Set:

  1. On A Whim
  2. Strawberry Blonde
  3. Get In Line
  4. Whatever It Takes
  5. One Bird Calling
  6. Gold In Them Hills
  7. All In Good Time
  8. Eye Candy
  9. Secret Heart
  10. Powder Blue
  11. Diamond Wave
  12. Sneak Out The Back Door
  13. Brandy Alexander
  14. April After All
  15. Former Glory


  1. I’ll Never Fall In Love Again (Burt Bacharach cover)
  2. Nowadays
Ron Sexsmith

The British guy that crossed the ocean and crash landed in central Pennsylvania (to quote Greg Keelor, “And I wonder what am I doing here?”). As the youngest of four siblings, exposure to music from a very early age nurtured my passion and appreciation for many musical genres. Continuing to discover some amazingly diverse and talented musicians based in Canada, I gravitate to live music experiences and remain devoted to spreading the word about such a vibrant music scene.

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