Next week, Indie Entertainment Media will cover the latest news from SXSW 2021, the annual film and music festival held in Austin, Texas. We recently caught up with Austin-based, American guitarist, singer/songwriter, and actor Charlie Sexton, who starred alongside Ben Dickey and Ethan Hawke in the award-winning film Blaze that premiered at Sundance in 2018. Sexton has performed as a key member of Bob Dylan’s touring band since 1999, and recently performed in the groundbreaking online concert A Bowie Celebration: Just For One Day!, produced by Mike Garson, in honor of the late music icon’s 74th birthday.  Following is our exclusive interview. (originally published in IEM’s Park City special issue.)

NM: A Bowie Celebration just made history, taking the touring show, online, mixing virtual and live performances, holographs, etc. How was this experience for you as one of the live performers?

CS: I was very honored to be part of A Bowie Celebration in general, but especially given so many of the wonderful musicians involved. David was amazing as an “abstract casting director,” so to speak. 

A Bowie Celebration

NM: You had a special relationship with the late David Bowie beginning early on in your career.  What influence did he have on you, professionally and also, personally?

CS: The brief, yet important time I spent with David, was so very special, and in some ways quite easy. He had that way about him, making people feel at ease, such grace. The first time I became aware of him, I was probably five years old, and it made me quite curious about the world outside my little world, musically, humanly, etc. And as I looked further into his work, later all of that broadened massively and kept expanding in many musical directions, particularly in the aspect of recording. He was so very kind to me and supportive, and quite the hilarious rascal.

NM: Can you share with us a special moment or story about him, or any advice he might have given you over the years?

CS: In some ways when we met, we were both in transitional places, yet obviously in different ways. (I’m not keen on telling stories.) I did ask him once if he ever had singing lessons. He laughed so hard, “Oh dear, singing lessons?” We thought that was hilarious. I’ll just say he was one of the most important friends I’ve ever had.

NM: You attended Sundance a few years ago when the film BLAZE (starring Ethan Hawke, Ben Dickey, and you), was an official selection and award winner. In the film you played the late Townes Van Zandt, receiving critical acclaim.  How was the experience working on this film and playing someone who you knew rather well?

Cast and Crew of BLAZE | Sundance 2018

CS: I will always be indebted to Ethan for Blaze, for getting it made, for the opportunity to play Townes, which was difficult, yet important, and strangely steeped in destiny and synergy, as I learned after we made it. Ethan is a true artist! And after years of slogging, it out, off and on….so thankful for the role. Of course, Ben Dickey was fabulous!

NM: You also worked with Ethan again on his acclaimed Showtime TV series The Good Lord Bird. How was the experience playing a character like Reverend Martin?

CS: I am a huge fan of the book and James McBride’s work, and proud of Ethan for getting it made. Reverend Martin, I can’t say I am at all fond of. It was “The Work” and not exactly the most pleasant skin to be in. He’s pretty despicable. Accepting it {the role} was for the greater good, and there were so many amazing talented actors in the project.

Reverend Martin | The Good Lord Bird

NM: Do you have any other film or TV projects in the works? 

CS: Yes, I’m accepting all theatrical offers that aren’t coming in! (laughs)

NM: You have been an important figure in the Austin music scene, literally your entire life. How do you feel Austin changed over the years?

CS: Austin is a very special place. Of course, it has changed especially since I arrived in 1972, but still has ‘that something’!

NM: You have worked with some of the most respected names in the industry – Bob Dylan, Keith Richards, Don Henley, Willie Nelson, Shawn Colvin, Edie Brickell, Lucinda Williams, and of course, David Bowie.  What music projects or collaborations do you have in the works or on the horizon, either as a producer, music director, or performer?

CS: I’m constantly working – recording, writing, producing. I learned long ago that creativity expands when collaborating. I’d say it’s the “we,” the “us,” that makes things possible.