Justin Hiltner is a queer, disabled banjo player, songwriter, and music writer known from the Peabody Award-winning podcast Dolly Parton’s America and currently playing banjo with the Broadway national tour of the 2019 Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Past releases include Watch it Burn (2018) and Room at the Table (2022) with Jon Weisberger, Silver Dagger (2021), “Hold Each Other Up” (2020) with Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, and “Live and Let Live” (2019) with Bluegrass Pride, Laurie Lewis, Melody Walker, and more. The critically acclaimed instrumentalist and songwriter has announced his debut solo album, 1992 available December 9, 2022. The project’s lead single and title track is a heartbreaking and singular exploration of survivor’s guilt, disability, and embodiment and is available now via streaming platforms, download, and Bandcamp. (Justin Hiltner, 2022)
Premiering on The Bluegrass Situation, Hiltner described the single: “At the time I began writing [‘1992’], I was reading [Randy Shilts’] And the Band Played On and spending a good amount of time studying the movement for queer rights in the ’60s, ’70s, and ’80s. It dawned on me that I was not born after the HIV/AIDS epidemic, I was born into it. And almost certainly there were gay men and queer folks dying of HIV in the very same hospital where I was born.” Accompanied simply by stark, low-tuned banjo, the story within “1992” is entrancing and solemn, a truly original message – especially within the genres and regions Hiltner has called home.
1992 was recorded in September 2020 with Grammy Award winning producers and bluegrass, folk, and children’s music stalwarts Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer engineering and co-producing at their studio in Lansing, North Carolina – the hometown of bluegrass and old-time forebear Ola Belle Reed. The collection’s twelve original songs, each recorded live and the majority tracked in single takes, were captured atop the idyllic and gorgeous Blue Ridge Mountains with a panoramic view of Pond Mountain, White Top, and New Pinnacle from Ashe County, NC, a setting that complicates and unspools narratives around where queer folks belong while upending stereotypes of “ownership,” “authenticity,” and placemaking in bluegrass, Appalachia, and the South.
Other songs on the album deal with class issues and social justice, love, loss, and longing, and Hiltner’s journey through cancer – his treatment, recovery, disability, and the traumas of surviving cancer only to land in the COVID-19 pandemic. The banjo playing throughout is technically impressive and challenging, but serves each song tastefully and, often, subtly, reminding of solo pickers and performers like John Hartford and Darrell Scott. “Pieces,” a song about the slow drip of losing oneself in love, was co-written with Rounder recording artist Caroline Spence, a longtime friend of Hiltner’s. “Benson Street,” which was written with flat picker and songwriter Molly Tuttle, is full of pining and the imagery of southern summers.
Hiltner’s highly anticipated solo debut feels strikingly mature and sharp, with a point of view rare even in the fast growing queer country movement, a reminder of why NPR Music called him “A leader in the burgeoning movement to welcome and highlight queer voices in bluegrass.”
1992 will be available wherever you download, stream, or purchase music on December 9, 2022. Pre-order open now.
1992 Track List:
U R the HWY 1 (APT 2)
10 Years (Gotta Get Out)
I Wanted More
I Cry Every Day Now
hours minutes seconds
1992 release date