I got the chance to meet Billy Strings (William Apostol) and talk to him about his psychedelic-tinged bluegrass band’s upcoming April 24 show at the SGHR while backstage at the Columbus BrewGrass Festival in early March. As I go back and listen to the recording, the sounds fades in with Billy doing what he does best–picking the hell out of a guitar–this particular one being a classic 1948 Martin D-28 on loan from Bryan Sutton. Billy Strings had just finished a tour opening for bluegrass heavy hitters Greensky Bluegrass, and I was curious whether the band had a different mindset when opening vs. the headlining tour that is coming through the SGHR:
Whether we’re opening up, or at a festival, or there’s other bands there, or there’s not; the game is always supposed to be on. Let’s do it, you know? Let’s get to it. Let’s hit the stage with our A-game wherever we’re at. We’re going to come there together with the crowd and try to reach something higher–whatever it is. Magic.
And that’s exactly what the band of Billy Strings (guitar/vocals), Billy Failing (banjo/vocals), Royal Masat (bass) and Jarrod Walker (mandolin) do on a nightly basis. And sure, these guys are world-class musicians. But it’s the passion for the music, which he has played for nearly all of his 25 years on this planet, that sets Billy Strings apart:
My dad, when he plays music, he’s more passionate than anyone I’ve ever known. He can make himself cry. He’s the best the musician I’ve known–not because he’s the most technical but because he feels the song in his heart and serves the higher purpose of the song. That’s my role in the music. We have to go out there and just outdo ourselves every night. We have to, I need to, for the chance to reach a little further, or get a little higher. With improvisational music, we’re all out here chasing that magical night where the stars align.
Billy Strings leaves everything out on the stage every night, and that energy from the band has left audiences speechless across the country over the last year or so. That’s why they’re selling out venues on this tour from the Woodlands Tavern in Columbus to the Mishawaka Amphitheatre in Colorado weeks (sometimes months) in advance. Billy went on to discuss how that passion for his music fuels him during a heavy touring schedule:
Oh man, I feel very vulnerable. And when things go wrong I feel like I don’t ever want to let a crowd down. We recently played a set at the WinterWondergrass Festival in Steamboat [Springs, CO] and we’re on stage and our earpieces wouldn’t sync up with the iPad, we couldn’t hear each other or really anything at all except the guy in my earpiece saying “Ok, you’re on in 3 minutes.” Nothing was going right but we started the set with my song “On the Line” and I get to the chorus and sing “You see it your way, I’ll see it mine and I’ll be fine.” And when I sung those words “I’ll be fine” and I looked out and saw a bunch of smiling faces I knew it would be fine. This music is why we’re here.
That’s what serving the higher purpose of the song is all about.