ELLSWORTH — Bar Harbor’s Criterion Theatre will be a scene of unity on Feb. 15, if everything goes according to Martin Sexton’s plan.
The sprawling, opera-style theater — opened in 1932 by a former bootlegger, according to the venue’s history — will host Sexton that night. He’s in the middle of a cross country winter tour, stopping for his first show in Bar Harbor.
Sexton is a singer and songwriter from Syracuse, N.Y., who now lives outside Boston. Born the 10th out of 12 children, his mother’s father was the mayor of Syracuse in the 1950s. For 25 years, he’s been touring and singing.
When he performs, his goal is to bring people together.
“I look out on my audience, and they’re not all one people,” he said in a recent interview with The American. “And what happens is that we all sing in harmony. It’s like church every night I’m working.”
He was reminded of this perspective recently. His mother, Virginia C. Sexton, who also was from a large family and grew up in Syrcause, died in late January. All the brothers and sisters gathered together to be with her during her final days.
“It was this beautiful, unifying experience,” Sexton said. His family encompasses many identities — conservative, liberal, gay, straight. They came together and celebrated her life, he said. “We were all there for that experience.”
It was about three years ago that he had made a pledge to make his music a force of unification. It was a “mission statement.” One with roots to his mother, who always told him to keep his siblings from bickering. That was before the 2016 presidential election, before the candidates even announced, and since then he’s seen his appreciation for that focus work grow.
“I feel honored to be in the role I’m in, which is a messenger of a healing force: music,” he said. “Music is like medicine. It empowers people, it inspires people, it heals people.”
As for the music, his eighth and latest album is called “Mixtape of the Open Road.” It’s inspired by the mixtapes he used to make with friends and family — the kind with tape-and-Sharpie labels tacked on to cassette tapes. The album opens with an upbeat Hawaiian-country tune, “Do It Daily.”
His voice stands out prominently in the tracks, a main fixture of the music. Frequently stringing melodies over an acoustic guitar and light percussion, his voice has a haunting and alluring quality. The songs are versatile, revealing an artist who’s comfortable writing anything from a stripped-down slow song to a hard-rolling blues track.
But his work doesn’t stick to just writing, recording and performing. Sexton launched his own record label in 2002, called Kitchen Table Records. He’s collaborated with John Mayer and Peter Frampton. He’s performed at the Newport Folk Festival, Bonnaroo and the New Orleans Jazz Festival — three huge events, highlighting his inability to stick within one, clear-cut musical space. His work has appeared on NBC’s “Scrubs” and “Parenthood,” as well as Showtime’s “Brotherhood.”
His music can be found on Spotify, iTunes and Amazon. His show is at Bar Harbor’s Criterion Theatre on Thursday, Feb. 15, at 8 p.m. Tickets can be found at criteriontheatre.showare.com.