Inspired by the terrific new album “East” by Justin Rutledge, we made the rainy road trip back across the Peace Bridge into Ontario to see Justin perform live at Mills Hardware in Hamilton, ON. Arriving promptly at the “Doors Open at 7pm” time printed on our tickets, we entered the venue to find Justin and his band working on their pre-show sound check. With an initial concern that the doors were open before wrapping up their rehearsal, Justin and his band were cool with us taking a seat once they learned that we had driven from Pennsylvania to see this show.
As a crowd started to accumulate, Joshua Hyslop took to the stage to open the show. Armed with just his acoustic Gibson guitar, Joshua performed several songs, including tracks from his “In Deepest Blue” album. It was great to take in the live version of his radio hit “Living and Dying,” and to demonstrate his phenomenal fretwork with the great sounding Gibson. We loved his tales of travelling in India, especially with the Canadian couple who tagged along with him, and whose eventual “break-up” became real-time fodder for a song as the drama around him unfolded. However, he really hit it out of the park when he inadvertently consumed a bug in mid-performance, and only let on to the crowd once he wrapped up the song. With the announcement of a new release scheduled for 2017, Joshua closed his set to an enthusiastic and appreciative crowd.
After a brief intermission (time to chat with Joshua), Justin Rutledge and his four-piece band took their positions on stage and delighted the crowd with a 16-song set list that spanned an entire back catalog of material. Although the tour is designed to promote “East,” Justin warmed up the crowd with tunes from “Man Descending” (“Everyone’s in Love” and “A Penny for the Band”), “Valleyheart” (“Four Lean Hounds” and “Kapuskasing Coffee”), and “Daredevil” (“Escape is at Hand for the Travellin’ Man”). Live renditions of the new material followed, and Justin did not disappoint with five straight pieces from “East” (“The Old Oak,” “The Great Ascension,” “Blue Jeans,” “Unsettled,” and “Almost Gone”). The new tracks were well received by the crowd, but from that moment, Justin wowed us with older material that I certainly did not expect to hear on this night. With a brief return to “Man Descending” (“St. Peter”), Justin delighted us with back-to-back tracks from “The Devil on a Bench in Stanley Park” (“This is War” and “Come Summertime”), before leading into a personal favorite of mine from “The Early Widows” (“Jack of Diamonds”). Returning to “Valleyheart,” Justin and his band closed the set with an amazing performance of their hit “Out of the Woods.” The band exited the stage to huge applause from a crowd that enjoyed live music and had an appreciation for true musicianship. Not sure if this was planned, but the positive reception was rewarded with a bonus solo encore from Justin to end the night.
In closing, Team GDW wish to thank both Joshua Hyslop and Justin Rutledge for taking the time to chat with us after the show, and to hear our pleas for them to consider touring in the US. We also wish to thank Mills Hardware for their hospitality, and we will plan to revisit this intimate venue for another gig very soon.