Justin’s great-grandmother, his grandparents, and his parents pooled their money together to buy him a mandolin of his very own and thus his career in music began. “Dad played guitar,” he explained, “and Mom played the piano, so we were a music family. Dad taught me my first three chords, G, C, and D the night I opened my Christmas present and I was off and running.”
After Justin’s Dad had taught him the basics, he took about six weeks of lessons from Harley Millsaps, a local musician in Madisonville, who used cassette tapes to record tunes he wanted Justin to learn. Learning by ear, Justin also began to expand the repertoire upon which he could build. “He would teach me two or three songs at each session, and I would go back the next week, show him I had learned them, and ask for more. Remember the technology back in the 1980s was cassette tapes so that was my main source for learning and showing my teacher what I had accomplished,” he said with a smile.
“Music allows me to do something creative, to express myself, and to move other people emotionally. I enjoy watching their smiles come to light during our shows,” he continued.
“I play the mandolin, the guitar, banjo, dobro, the fiddle, and the bass and I thoroughly enjoy each one. Choosing just one favorite would be like picking a favorite child,” he said with a chuckle. Justin enjoys the improvisational aspect of playing instrumental music. “Bluegrass music in particular features a lot of improv where you make up solos on the spur of the moment, and even more so sometimes on instrumental tunes.”
As part of the U.S. State Department’s American Music Abroad program in 2014, Justin and his then “future” wife, Sierra Hull, began their journey in Washington D.C. then to Houston, Honolulu, Guam, Micronesia, Hong Kong, Turkey, Tel Aviv and the West Bank. On Chuuk, a tiny island in the South Pacific, and in the West Bank they played music for school children who loved the toe-tapping tunes and harmony vocals; they also played with local musicians at various events.
“Music is truly a universal language,” Justin explained. “The musicians didn’t always speak English, but we could communicate with our music.” Justin and Sierra have also played in France and Prague at Mandolin Festivals; music has taken them around the world. “We learned that language and cultures may have their differences, but we’re really all the same at heart” Justin added.
Last fall, Justin won 2018 Dobro Player of the Year from the International Bluegrass Music Association. On the same night, Sierra took home Mandolin Player of the Year for the third straight time. Only a couple months later, both Justin and Sierra were featured on national television at the CMA Awards in Nashville, Tennessee, alongside Moses’ former boss Ricky Skaggs, Brad Paisely and Carson Peters in honor of Skaggs’ induction to the Country Music Hall of Fame. “Last year was an exciting year for us,” Moses said.
At Paramount Bristol, on Saturday, April 20 at 8 p.m. The Del McCoury Band with a Little Help from Our Friends will include sets from Justin and Sierra. Also included will be the Gibson Brothers, Dre Anders and Cody Kilby. The entertainers will use a “Grand Ole Opry” format where each performer plays a set then they will all join for the finale. Tickets may be obtained online at paramountbristol.org.
Prior to the event, Justin and Sierra will conduct a workshop where attendees can have an up-close experience and have their musical questions answered.