Justin Hines shows his cool and class


[This article and video were first published on Vacay.ca as part of its Rock n’ Roll Road Trips video series, where musicians discuss their travels. This interview was particularly delightful because Justin Hines is such a genuine person and an amazing talent.]

Justin Hines is one of the coolest people I’ve ever met. Not because he’s managed to achieve so much musically while tackling Larsen syndrome and life in a wheelchair. And not because he is an inspirational person for showing the world that humans are limited only by what we convince ourselves is impossible. Hines is a cool cat for the same reason you might think highly of anyone else. He’s got style, he’s got class, he’s confident, and dignified.

I spoke with Hines in May as he was about to embark on his Vehicle of Change tour, an uplifting jaunt around North America that is raising money to assist people with disabilities. He is articulate, humble, and clearly devoted to maximizing his musical talent. Hines has used his celebrity to make societies look anew at the power and positivity of the disabled, but his advocacy isn’t a political or an overwhelming part of his message. Instead, he’s considerate about how the world operates and is aware that accessibility isn’t always at the top of mind.

“It’s not that people don’t want to make things accessible, it’s just that they’ve never really been exposed to it, so they don’t have a lot of experience,” he says. “Over the years, I’ve developed an empathy for that, and an understanding that it is what it is.”

Like most musicians, Hines is focused on his career more than anything else. His latest album, “How We Fly,” was released this spring and showcases that extraordinary voice of his, a deeply human and expressive vocal gift that catches your ear before you notice the body from which it comes. There’s no denying that Hines’ disability makes people curious about him, but it’s also clear he’s long over being recognized for the challenge he’s overcome and we should move forward too, focusing on his talent and how that’s evolved. The latest single, “Lay My Burdens Down,” is a bluesy treat that breaks away from some of Hines’ more mellifluous songs, like “Please Stay” and “Say What You Will.” It displays maturation in his style and also some angst that makes the song dramatic. When Hines lets his voice loose it is riveting and songs like “Lay My Burdens Down” allow him to show off his chops.

Canadians will have many chances to see Hines this summer and fall. He has just wrapped up the first leg of the Vehicle of Change tour and will hit the road again starting August 3, with a show at the Newmarket Jazz Festival. That performance kicks off a 22-date stint that will take him west to British Columbia and then back to the United States before wrapping up in Ontario in October. Wherever he goes, Hines also seems to open people’s eyes. He has appeared on US national TV while rappelling down the side of a 33-storey San Diego hotel in his wheelchair, for example.

Travel has been a significant part of his life since he rose to prominence as a performer on YTV children’s shows. He was a member of the 2010 Winter Olympics and Paralympics torch relay, visited China during the 2008 Summer Olympics and Paralympics, and has toured the world. His song “There’s No Place Like This” was recorded for Ontario Tourism to promote travel to the province. His journeys, he points out, have taught him about humanity.

“Everywhere we visit, I always find that we end up taking a piece of that part of the world back with us and I always end up learning something,” says Hines, who is from Whitby, north of Toronto. “I find there is a thread of humanity that is within everyone wherever we go. Culturally, logistically we may be very different, but there is this thing that somehow unites us.”

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