Courtesy of Steve Schoonmaker
It is an old story: Boy meets guitar, boy falls in love with guitar, boy moves to Alaska for the wilderness, boy falls in love with Alaska, boy struggles to make living playing guitar in Alaska.
Alright, perhaps it isn’t quite the cookie-cutter fairy tale. Most run off to Los Angeles or New York, but Robb Justice ran for the Kenai Peninsula. He started with music as he was coming out of high school, looking around for his next step.
“I suppose I was about 18. I always enjoyed music. I decided it was time to get a guitar,” Justice said.
“Everybody’s got all this stuff inside of them they want to get out, you know, expression. I just kept at it, and it’s a constant learning process. Trying to figure out how to express yourself with the essence of what you’re really trying to express. It’s always been, just fascinating to me and really enjoyable.”
Justice is a regular at Kaladi Brothers Coffee in Soldotna and Veronica’s Coffee House in Kenai. He sat down at Kaladi on Saturday night with a guitar and harmonica and started into a laid-back set. The themes he covered were of a philosophical nature: life, work, love. Not only did he play some of his own music -- folk with flavors of blues and country -- he covered Bob Dylan, John Lennon and Hank Williams, among others.
“To me what’s most attractive are things that don’t have a lot of superficiality, things that hit you with the real truth, kind of. What we all go through, it’s not about being a pop star. The actual roots of music have been forgotten somewhat, when that’s probably the most important thing, you know?” he said.
“What it does for everybody, that’s something I’m trying to keep in touch with. That’s why I’m such a fan of people like Bob Dylan and John Lennon, people that aren’t afraid to say what they’re really going through.”
His own song writing efforts are a way for him to take out some of his own questions and dust them off in the light of day. He tries to capture his personal experiences -- and thereby the greater human experience -- through lyrics. One of his songs from Saturday night, “Turns on You,” is a play on words.
“It’s one of those multimeaning phrases. Those are great when it comes to writing a song. ‘The World Turns on You,’ you can take that in a lot of different ways. Everybody has those dark days, when it feels like they’re alone, or left behind, like I said in the song, but the world does actually continue to turn. Thoughts like that, they’re always racing in my mind,” Justice said.
“There’s just so much inside that I just pursue it and pursue it, even when people say, ‘What are you doing, you need to get a real job.’ It feels like that sometimes, things are working against you, but at the same time, things are working for you, you know, it just keeps on turning.”
Justice has chosen a challenging path. He has a home studio where he’s working to put together an album of his own work for distribution. He works as his own booking manager, supports himself as a painter, and he’ll be trying out the commercial fishing experience this summer. But he sees music as the work that sustains him. He said he is glad to live in a community where people will support your dream and encourage you toward it.
“It’s not easy. I still do painting and stuff like that. I’ve worked for myself for the last eight years doing painting. I lived in Montana and Minnesota before I lived up here and came up for the wilderness. Good people up here. Great people up here. A lot of community efforts, touching the roots of more than even the music, you know, working together. Stuff that seems so lost in this day and age,” he said of the Alaska community that has welcomed him as a friend and artist.
Originally from Minnesota, Justice is a long way from family and sometimes finds it difficult to stay connected. He has found a home and family among the residents of the peninsula, he said.
“My friends are my family. I’ve made some important friendships with people through my travels. I don’t really look at them any different than my blood family. That’s what’s good to me. That feels right,” he said.
He looks forward to the summer festival season, during which he will participate in the Solstice Festival and the Clam Jam among others. On April 28, he’ll play with other local musicians for Band-Aid at Kenai Peninsula College, a concert to benefit the Kenai Peninsula Food Bank.
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