Sunday, October 17, 2004

Justin Rutledge

Never Been to Tennessee
University of Guelph, Guelph, ON

One nice thing about traveling to (sort of) foreign lands is that I sometimes walk into gasping buzz about a musician who is unknown in the U.S. Justin Rutledge is one of those guys. I was told about him a mere 48 hours before his show tonight, but the re-telling was pretty much constant. So, happy accident that he’s playing at this festival.

We’re in the same room as last night and it’s cozy. But this time it is immediately apparent that there are four classes of audience members attending the show:

1. Industry people who watch critically as if they have power to shape Justin’s career, but who actually do not;

2. Connected festival-goers who spend the entire show craning their necks to see who else is in the room;

3. Distracted people who want to see anything, really, and spend their time noisily consulting the schedule to see who is on next;

4. Engaged audience members who have vaguely heard of Justin and are completely taken aback to discover that he is quite good.

Justin has one of those alt. country drawls that works perfectly for a band like Drive By Truckers, but sounds a little fakey coming from someone who grew up in Toronto. It is off-putting to hear a Southern accent in a song that mentions Bloor Street West. But no matter--the writing is lovely and the audience, at least the #4s, eat it up.

For the last song Justin invites up the members of the D. Rangers to accompany him for what turns out to be an excellent sing-along. (This is a refreshing display of respect to this bluegrass band after Justin’s spectator behavior last night in a hotel room where the D. Rangers were putting on a show. Justin stumbled into the room and, exactly ten feet from where the band was playing, got on the room phone and stayed there for ten minutes. Then he got up, grabbed the Do Not Disturb sign from the doorknob, went into the bathroom, banged around for five minutes, and stumbled out again. His behavior tonight is appx. 1 million times better and we instantly forgive him.)

Even the people who were prepared to write off this performer were delighted. He has some catchy songs. It was a treat, and time will tell if people jump to create and accept a Tennessee-Toronto connection.

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