A Northern Star – Justin Williamson

If you like Country, then you know Superstar Brad Paisley!  What you may not know is that his fiddler, Justin Williamson, is one of our own.  An Alaskan success story.  A Northern Star.  We Alaskans love our success stories.

Brad Paisley visited Anchorage last April as part of his Country Nation World Tour.  Of course Justin, a long time key member of Paisley band was here too.  Paisley packed the house.  What good music!  I’m a big fan.

Brad Paisley, Country Nation World Tour, Anc 2015

I was able to spend time with Justin, his fiance’ Allie Toothman, and his grandmother, my longtime friend, Liz Zunganuk Ritch.  Liz is from Pilot Point, AK, and is the daughter of Reindeer Herder William Zunganuk.  Liz’s daughter Susan Williamson is Justin’s mother.  Liz’s other daughter, Justin’s Aunt Sharon also traveled to Anchorage with her family to see her nephew in concert.


Shown here, Justin with his Grandmother Liz.

Justin and Grandmother Liz Zunganuk Ritch

Justin wrote to me about his music career; its challenges and rewards.  His thoughts are reflected in our correspondence shared below.  All you fans and budding musicians – enjoy:)

Me:  Justin, what did your music career look like leading up to your job with the Brad Paisley?

Justin:  I was always involved in music growing up. I competed in fiddle competitions throughout the West, traveled with my family to various festivals to perform with my dad, John Williamson who plays guitar, and brother, Matt Williamson who plays bass. I also participated in school orchestra, band, and choir music programs. I traveled with my family regionally and also for these school events.

Me:  How did you come to get the Paisley gig?  Did you interview?  Was it a mutual friend?  Or what?

I went to Belmont University in Nashville majoring in classical performance and had heard of Brad because he graduated the previous year. Some of his friends were still there at the time and I ended up meeting them. To this day, some of them are his co-writers and I’ll occasionally see them. His drummer at that time was working with a buddy of mine, who was also going to Belmont, had mentioned Brad was looking for a fiddle player. I set up a meeting with him at BMI, which is right on Music Row down the street from Belmont U. I brought my fiddle and a little packet of my musical past and we sat down and jammed for about an hour. He said, “Well, you can play in tune. You’re hired.”

Me:  What is the hardest part of a working musician’s job?

Justin:  Travel.

Me:  What is the best part of a musician’s job?

Justin:  Playing music. Getting paid to play music. (I’d play either way.)

Me:  How much would you say your success is talent versus luck?

Justin:  I don’t believe in luck. I believe in fortune, which is preparation meets opportunity. Luck is like winning the lottery ticket. I spent my whole life specializing on being a side musician for country music in a country band. No matter what your profession or what your dream is, find the people that are best at it and learn from them. I had four teachers; Toby Lyons, my first teacher who taught me old time fiddle style; Susan Mullins, my second teacher who continued my lessons; Jim Mothersbaugh, who was my orchestra teacher and private instructor; and Elizabeth Small, who is a Julliard graduate and taught me classical music. I also had several other instructors off and on that I would take a few lessons from. I studied under these people because they were the best and they helped me refine my skills. I spent countless hours just playing in bands, whether it be professional or just fun in any style of music. Whatever your passion is, immerse yourself in it.

Me:  What do you do for fun and to relax?

Justin:  Hiking with Alli and Peanut (our little Rat Terrier). Bar-B-Q’s, shooting, camping, anything outside.

Me:  What is your message to struggling musicians out here in cyberspace?

Justin:  You have to go where the hot spot is, whether that be Nashville, New York, L.A., Austin, Atlanta, etc. In order to “make it” you’re gonna have to leave home. The reason is, at home you’re a big fish in a small pond. You have to get out into the open waters. This does two things for you: makes or breaks you.

Me:  What would you say are the key factors of your success in such a competitive career choice?

Justin:  A stable supportive family.  A hard work ethic.  Show up early and overly prepared.  Have a positive attitude.  Listen; watch. Be thankful.  Be humble.

There you have it folks, right from the horse’s mouth.  From where I sit, Justin is the real star of the Paisley tour – I know, I’m biased.

LeadDog Alaska

A Northern Star, May 10, 2015

Justin Williamson©2015


 Justin, me, and Liz Ritch

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