The coronavirus pandemic might have shut down Robb Justice’s performance schedule for May, but he’s got a biggie coming up anyway.
Justice, a singer-songwriter from Nelson, will appear on Prairie Public’s "Prairie Musicians" show on Thursday, May 21.
“They contacted me and said that they had been watching some of my stuff for a while,” Justice said. “It was pretty awesome.”
The show was recorded in the Prairie Public studio in January, and he brought along two musicians he recorded his last album with, Abram Heyn and David Stanoch.
Justice was born and raised in the Alexandria area, and graduated from Jefferson High School in 1996. He has spent years painting houses, hiking and rock climbing in Montana and Alaska, where he also co-owned a music store, and his travels have given what Prairie Public producer Barbara Gravel called a feeling of “big open spaces” to his music.
“He was able to bring that big open landscape into his music,” she said.
Live on Facebook
This month, Justice should be playing gigs at Carlos Creek Winery and weddings.
“This was a waste of money,” he says, tossing aside a large 2020 planner.
Instead, he has been performing Friday nights on Facebook Live.
On a recent Friday, after their kids are in bed, he and his wife, Krista, set up his camera to film a concert in his home studio. A small gas fire flickers in a heater and a variety of guitars hang from the white walls. There’s a giant map of Alaska, where he and Krista lived for 12 years before moving home with their two boys. There’s a piano, a pump organ and a didgeridoo.
“Hey, everybody, how’s it going?” he beams. “Thanks for tuning in.”
It’s an odd shift from performing for a live audience. The sound quality is only as good as a listener’s device. The only feedback he gets is when Krista writes audience comments on a white board.
Someone compliments his shirt, she writes. Someone else wonders if he can play Simon and Garfunkel. It’s a slow night, just 17 devices tuned in, although typically they get from 20 to 100, Krista says.
He delivers anyway, a toe-tapping mix of roots rock, a mix of his own stuff and listener faves. “Danny’s Song” by Loggins and Messina, the one that goes, “Even though we ain’t got money,” and Willie Nelson’s “Blue Eyes Crying in the Rain,” and one, “Good Woman,” one of those songs that sounds instantly familiar, but it’s his own.
“She’s as good of a woman as a good woman ever was,” he sings.
He wrote it for Krista, who he met at D. Michael B’s. He was shooting pool and she was wearing baby blue pants.
“I turned around and there she was,” he said. “I’ll never forget it.”
He woke up wanting a guitar
Justice — his real name, thanks to the Americanization of an Italian forebear’s last name — started writing poetry when he was young.
“I had a lot of emotions,” he said. “My family split up when I was young. … I’m a very creative person and that’s how I deal with things. I deal with my emotions in art and painting and poetry. I learned at a young age that it really helps me. I would write about girls, I would write about what I was sad about or happy about. A lot of sad.”
It wasn’t until he was out of high school, sharing a house with a buddy and unloading watermelons off a semi at the old Olson Produce in Alexandria, that he literally woke up one morning and decided he needed a guitar.
“I needed something positive in my life,” he said. “I wasn’t really interested in going to college because I was working. You’re having a good time, you’re partying. I just wanted something positive, something long lasting.”
That same day, he went to Alexandria Music and bought a guitar.
“I haven’t turned back,” he said.
Justice taught himself to play, and figured out he could combine his poetry with his music. It was when he was in Montana that he first played for an audience, starting with open mic and then performing at the Haufbrau in Bozeman, a landmark bar dating back to the early 1900s. He spent time in Hawaii, where there were also open mic nights.
In fact, if you enjoy open mic nights around the Alexandria area, Justice is one of the ones to thank.
Bill Seykora recalls when he was running the Depot Express Justice and Shane Dewald approached him about adding an open mic night on Sunday nights, which were typically dead.
“They really filled a void,” Seykora said. “All their friends would come. It brought a group of people that I normally wouldn’t get.”
That was during a time Justice was back home for a while.
It was long before he was gone again, this time with Krista, to Montana for a while, then up to Alaska, where he taught music, became a part owner of a music store and played gigs.
They moved back to the Alexandria area two years ago. His mom had nearly died of a heart blockage, and they wanted to raise their two boys around family.
Show set for May 21
Justice will kick off the Thursday, May 21 “Prairie Musicians” performance at 8:30 p.m. with eight original songs.
Prairie Public gets Legacy funding from Minnesota to showcase Minnesota musicians. Gravel says she looks for musicians who play a variety of genres, either original or songs in the public domain. The program helps to raise the profiles of local performers. They have gotten hymns and jazz, reggae and country, clog music, polka and more.
Gravel said she is always searching for musicians and found Justice’s music online.
“The style of music that I thought he was performing and writing fit into the mission of the show,” she said.
For more information, visit pbs.org/show/prairie-musicians.