Artist Spotlight : Justin Happ

Alex Schaaf

Of the hundreds of new freshmen that arrived on campus a few weeks ago, one got a chance to make a good first impression — and he took advantage of that opportunity. At LU Live, Monday, Sept. 24, Justin Happ wowed the crowd with his unique guitar skills, taking home the number one spot of the competition at the end of the night.
Hailing from just south of San Francisco, Happ is coming to campus as a double-degree student in physics and bass performance. While many students that were at LU Live may think that last sentence to be a typo, and that surely he is majoring in guitar, remember his words that night — “I am not a guitarist.”
“I wanted to learn as many instruments as I could,” Happ said of his pre-Lawrence musical developments. He “dabbled in guitar” during his much younger years, and then picked it up again in middle school.
“What followed logically for me, after guitar, was the bass guitar,” he said. “I ended up getting a lot more work as a bassist than a guitarist, so I became a lot better at the bass. I’m majoring in bass because that’s what I play best.”
Other instruments in Happ’s arsenal include the piano, drums, saxophone, and trumpet. “I can make it sound like I can play those,” he claimed modestly.
Happ’s guitar performance at LU Live, which earned him the grand prize of a paid performance at the Coffeehouse, was comprised of a 10-minute instrumental jam on his acoustic, with a unique method of playing which pushed some in the crowd to give him the nickname of “Wristy.”
Intensely hunched over the guitar, Happ utilized all parts of the instrument, using the body as a percussive instrument as well, to accompany his mad strumming style.
Happ says that he owes a good friend of his for his unique style of playing the guitar. “I’ve never really had a lot of formal lessons,” he said. “Most of what I know is self-taught, or taught by my peers, just playing and learning from them.”
After playing in several groups back home, including a jazz/funk band, a couple of jazz combos, and his own 10-piece big band, Happ hopes to start a group here at Lawrence. As far as the distant future, the picture is hazy. “I used to know what I wanted to do, and then I came to college,” he said. “There’s a lot of stuff out there.