Queer, Disabled Banjoist & Songwriter Justin Hiltner Challenges Bluegrass and Appalachian Stereotypes on Solo Debut, 1992

Article Contributed by IVPR | Published on Friday, December 9, 2022

After more than a decade living in Music City, critically-acclaimed banjo player, songwriter, and community builder Justin Hiltner has independently released his solo, full-length debut, 1992 today. The project can be downloaded or streamed digitally everywhere, or purchased directly at this link.

“I can’t believe we’re here!” Hiltner exclaims, “After over ten years imagining this moment, my debut solo album is here and I couldn’t be more proud of it. I spent so much time over the past four years alone, synthesizing these stories into these songs – but they aren’t just mine anymore, they’re everyone’s now, too.”

Hiltner has made a name for himself in bluegrass, old-time, Americana, and country as a community builder and activist – as well as a multiple International Bluegrass Music Association Award nominee – highlighting and championing queer causes and disability rights in roots music. Known for his appearance on the Peabody Award-winning podcast, Dolly Parton’s America, Hiltner uses the banjo and Nashville-style songwriting to complicate and bring nuance to narratives around bluegrass, old-time, Appalachia, and underrepresented folks’ vital contributions to these regions and art forms.

1992, which was co-produced by Grammy winners Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer in the Blue Ridge Mountains, deals with class issues and social justice, love, loss, and longing, and Hiltner’s journey through cancer head on. The often devastating and poignant collection doesn’t just examine his treatment, recovery, subsequent disability, and the traumas of surviving cancer only to land in the COVID-19 pandemic. It also ties these personal, individual stories to the greater social and political issues of the day, all underpinned by technically impressive and challenging banjo picking that serves each song deftly and artfully throughout.

1992 is a masterwork that never listens as the debut it is, highlighting queer, disabled, and other contributions to bluegrass and Appalachia – contributions that almost always go unspoken and invisible.

Listen and purchase the 1992 here. DJs, download now via Airplay Direct.

More about Justin Hiltner: Justin Hiltner is a queer, disabled banjo player, songwriter, and music writer known from the Peabody Award-winning podcast Dolly Parton’s America and the Broadway national tour of the 2019 Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Oklahoma! Born and raised in Newark, Ohio, he currently makes his home in Nashville, Tennessee.

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.