By Allen Steinberg/Quinte Arts Council
When JUNO-award winner Justin Rutledge would spend his childhood summers in Prince Edward County, he never imagined that he’d find himself back there decades later surrounded by a family of his own with a highly successful music career in his back pocket. Back in the day, you could find him and his family frequenting Sandbanks and boarding the Glenora Ferry to Adolphustown where they’d go camping for a month every summer. Now, Rutledge’s life has come full-circle, as he finds himself living happily in the County for the past six years. As he revisits the places he once explored here when he was growing up, he sees everything with brand new eyes and draws inspiration from the surroundings that used to bring him and his family joy:
“In one way or another, you always come back to memories you made in your youth. There’s something that’s always appealed to me about the County. It’s a community that fosters and celebrates creativity. I’ve toured Canada several times and I think that the region is a very unique part of the entire country,” he says.
Rutledge moved to Prince Edward County from Toronto with hopes of starting a quieter life with his wife, Sarah and son Jack. He says that city living was “getting him down” and was in need of a change of scenery. The first song he wrote when he got here is titled “Allisonville” from his 2019 JUNO-award nominated record Passages. The song, named after the quaint Ontario town, illustrates how Rutledge allows his travels to play directly into his art. He says that this habit isn’t intentional, but that he owes a lot to the places he goes for feeding him inspiration, even if this process is subconscious:
“Geography has always played a very important role in my songwriting and my creative process. I’ve never really asked myself why, but I think it’s just because I’ve travelled so much. I sort of seek inspiration everywhere I go. I want to give the small towns some credit in my songs. For some reason, I think locating a song is really important to me.”
Also from Passages, is the upbeat sing-a-long track “Belleville Breakup,” which again, pays homage to the Quinte region. Rutledge says that he and his family have always had an admiration for the small-scale city of Belleville:
“I decided to write about Belleville because there is, to me, a beautiful quaintness to the city. I’ve met so many amazing people here. The move to the area was one of the best things I ever did. Growing up my family even had a dog named Quinte. We liked this area that much”
Although recently seeking out a life away from the hustle and bustle of Toronto, he can never truly buy a dull moment. When he’s not busy helping to raise Jack, he’s writing, recording or performing music. Before the COVID-19 pandemic struck, Rutledge was touring Canada frequently in support of Passages. In March of this year, he released his ninth studio album Islands which was recorded just before Ontario’s first lockdown. For this record, he tried something completely different. Instead of writing a batch of entirely new songs, he re-imagined some of his best material from his two-decade spanning discography. From these tracks include fan-favourite “Jelly Bean” which is packed full of contagious nursery-rhyme melodies. Even though that song has been a staple in his setlist for as long as he can remember, it wasn’t previously recorded as he felt like it never truly fit in with any of his past work.
He hasn’t been able to give Islands a proper touring cycle just yet, but has been properly adapting to the times by live-streaming shows on Twitch and engaging with his fans through social media. Rutledge says that he plans to write and record another album before he goes on a cross-country tour again, as he and Sarah welcomed their second son this fall.
This is an edited version of an article originally published in the Fall 2021 issue of Umbrella magazine, available now.