Billy Strings brought his barn-burning bluegrass show through the SGHR on Tuesday night. Billy (William Apostol) with bandmates Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (Mandolin) and Royal Masat (bass) have perfected a special kind of bluegrass that is at times more traditional than the typical modern “jamgrass” bands on the scene while still reaching peak moments of psychedelic improvisation that make even veteran bluegrass bands blush. This type of music was reflected in the faces of those in SGHR crowd, from 50 or 60-year-olds who looked ready for a Grand Ol’ Opry show to younger folks adorning dreadlocks and tie dye and everyone in between. In fact, “Uncle John” was selling tie dye shirts out of the back of his van before the show, which Billy alluded to by changing a verse of the Old and in the Way (Jerry Garcia, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, et al) tune “The Hobo Song” to say “bought 30 tie dyes from Uncle John.”
The night kicked off with “On the Line” from Billy Strings album Tinfoil and Turmoil. After quick romps through the original and The Hobo Song cover, the group embarked on a run of four tunes bookended by two stellar originals, “While I’m Waiting Here” and “Tinfoil and Turmoil.” The stretch of songs had multiple impressive moments of jamming and improv that had the crowd in a frenzy. These are the moments that has crowds across the country flocking to see the 25-year-old’s band. The energy from the band was outstanding. At one-point Billy was so amped up that he went back and screamed and laughed into the monitor microphone (the one that only his bandmates can hear) and I knew the band and crowd were headed to a special place.
The rest of the 90-minute set finished with stand-out song after stand-out song, including another Jerry Garcia/David Grisman tribute in a beautiful rendition of “Dreadful Wind and Rain” as well as original crowd favorites “Dust in a Baggie” and “Slow Train” as well as his latest single “Dealing Despair”- the latter of which includes some rare social commentary on our country’s current sad state of political discourse.
Billy Strings has reached can’t-miss territory for me (and many others), so you can find me at the Billy Strings set during the free Whimmydiddle Festival in Hamilton in late June. Until then, as the stickers being passed around in the crowd say, “Peace, Love, and Billy Strings.”
If you missed my interview with Billy Strings at the Columbus BrewGrass Festival, read it here.