Sweet Jus­tice lead singer re­turns to stage af­ter fire

Richmond Times-Dispatch Weekend - - CULTURE - BY HAYS DAVIS Spe­cial correspondent

A year had passed since the Rich­mond band Sweet Jus­tice opened for their friends in the Led Zep­pelin trib­ute band Zoso at The Na­tional. And con­sid­er­ing the night­mare that fol­lowed their 2018 per­for­mance, their show at The Na­tional on Jan. 4 was some­thing of a cel­e­bra­tion.

“We were sched­uled to do the NorVa with them [the fol­low­ing night], and we had a great show in Rich­mond,” re­called Beth Jus­tice, lead singer for Sweet Jus­tice, about their 2018 show. “Went to bed about 4:30 in the morn­ing, and we woke up at 7:15. Luck­ily, my hus­band, [Sweet Jus­tice bass player, Rod McMordie], went to the bath­room, and then I heard the alarms go­ing off down­stairs.”

An elec­tri­cal fire quickly en­gulfed the Ur­banna home that had been in Jus­tice’s fam­ily for 200 years. While McMordie suf­fered from smoke in­hala­tion, Jus­tice suf­fered from in­ter­nal burns when she in­haled flames that

blasted at her af­ter open­ing a door to ex­pose the source of the blaze. That in­jury was com­pounded when she slipped on icy steps out­side and broke her an­kle.

“I woke up a week later and my daugh­ter was be­side me. I was like, ‘Oh, no! The NorVa!” I didn’t know what day it was,” Jus­tice re­called, ini­tially think­ing about how they were miss­ing their planned next show with Zoso.

Jus­tice and McMordie lost ev­ery­thing in the fire, in­clud­ing their ve­hi­cles and six an­i­mals, some of which died later due to the dis­as­ter’s im­pact on their health. When she woke up five days later from an in­duced coma, Jus­tice was stunned not only to find that their com­mu­nity had ral­lied around them, but also at the ex­tent of the re­sponse. Along with GoFundMe ac­counts and an Ur­banna of­fice filled with do­nated cloth­ing, the out­reach ex­tended even fur­ther.

“We had bands in Rich­mond, like Dou­ble Down and Out On A Limb, prob­a­bly like 30 bands in Rich­mond, that did fundrais­ers for us. It was amaz­ing to us how much money was do­nated to help us,” Jus­tice said. “It’s just kind of sur­real to wake up and not have any­thing any­more. But we were just thrilled that I was alive. And the peo­ple that sup­ported us … it was un­be­liev­able what the com­mu­nity did.”

While Jus­tice was in a unit for burn vic­tims, an MRI un­cov­ered a lung tu­mor that was tak­ing over her air­way. “I knew it was get­ting harder for me to sing, but I just thought I was get­ting old!” said Jus­tice, laugh­ing. “In July, they were able to re­move the tu­mor just out of my air­way. I still have it in my right lung, but I’m able to live with that be­cause it’s be­nign.”

Af­ter singing pro­fes­sion­ally for 37 years and with Sweet Jus­tice hav­ing been to­gether in var­i­ous in­car­na­tions since 2000, Jus­tice knew she didn’t want to stop per­form­ing. “Since they’ve got the air­way [tu­mor] out, I’m much bet­ter. I can sing higher than I could be­fore. Now I have a new voice that I’m re­learn­ing how to use. It’s kind of in­ter­est­ing. It’s like I got a gift,” she added, laugh­ing.

Although Sweet Jus­tice is a cover band, the ex­pe­ri­ences of the past year would cer­tainly pro­vide plenty of writ­ing in­spi­ra­tion for orig­i­nal ma­te­rial should that be a fu­ture di­rec­tion.

“I would love to,” Jus­tice said, “if I could find the right peo­ple to do it with. I would love to start writ­ing about how I feel and what went on, and the mir­a­cle that we’re alive and of us be­ing here to­day.”

Jus­tice and her hus­band lived with Beth’s daugh­ter for the first three months af­ter the fire. They’re rent­ing a house in Ur­banna as they re­build on the site of their for­mer house.

In the mean­time, Sweet Jus­tice has en­joyed con­nect­ing with their au­di­ences through the songs they cover. One that comes to mind for Jus­tice seems par­tic­u­larly rel­e­vant these days: Tesla’s “Love Song.”

“The words are ‘Love will find a way,’ Jus­tice noted, “and I think that best de­scribes what life is like for us.”

ANITA LIEBS PHO­TOG­RA­PHY

It’s been a year since Beth Jus­tice was in­jured in an elec­tri­cal fire that de­stroyed her Ur­banna home.

SWEET JUS­TICE BAND

Sweet Jus­tice has been to­gether in var­i­ous in­car­na­tions since 2000. Af­ter the house fire, the Ur­banna com­mu­nity and area bands ral­lied to help the group.

ANITA LIEBS

Beth Jus­tice and Rod McMordie are re­build­ing on the site of the house that had been in her fam­ily for 200 years.

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