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Billy Strings - BlueJamming at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville

by Rich and Laura Lynch

Billy Strings beguiled the faithful at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee on February 24, 2023. There was a lot of positive vibes in the venue as fans packed the place. There was a GA section for folks who were there to dance, while those in the seats stood most of the night swaying to the good grooves of Billy's impressive bluejamming.

Billy Strings in Nashville.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Carpenter / IG - @artisanimagerynashville)

In addition to a lot of positive energy, we noticed a diverse group of listeners ranging from seven to seventy in the building. Billy's innovative approach to bluegrass music is really striking a chord with people. Another interesting thing about Friday's show, at least from our vantage point, was there were not a ton of cell phones out. Instead, they were really into the music even during some of the slower songs. How cool was that?!?

William Lee Apostol aka Billy Strings is from the state of Michigan. He lost his birth father at a young age, so his mother remarried Terry Barber, an accomplished amateur bluegrass musician. Terry exposed his stepson to the genre and the greats such as Bill Monroe, David Grisman, Earl Scruggs and more. Strings was also a rock and metal fan, influenced by Jimi Hendrix, Widespread Panic, Phish, the Grateful Dead, Def Leppard along with Black Sabbath. Billy played in hard and indie rock bands in his teens.

However, the tide turned when he moved to Nashville in 2015. He perfected his craft while branching out beyond bluegrass which attracted fans from every corner of the live music scene, evident through collaborations with everyone from Luke Combs to RMR, Del McCoury to Fences. As stated, we saw an assorted range of people at Friday's show.

Also of note, a few months ago we noted that Billy was scheduled to play the Ryman Auditorium here in Nashville on February 26, 2023. This is an ideal place for him as the venue has a long history with bluegrass. Yet, the next time we checked to see what Strings was up to he was booked at the Bridgestone - a MUCH bigger room for not one but two sold out nights (February 24 & 25). This is quite an impressive feat proving his wide appeal. We also observed many Dead Heads in the house, wearing the Steal Your Face and related colorful tie dyed tees - so it looks like Strings is picking up a good portion of that historical fanbase as his own brand continues to grow.

Billy Strings in Nashville.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Carpenter / IG - @artisanimagerynashville)

It was just a bit curious to us how Billy has blown up so big in just a short period of time. So, we asked one fan who had flown in from Mt. Shasta, California to explain the phenomenon to us and she said one word - "Covid". Apparently Strings built a fervent community of followers during regular online performances when music lovers all over the world were locked down. This captive audience became a formidable fandom for the likable musician who have turned out in droves to soak in the scene as the post-pandemic all clear was issued.

Around 8:15pm, Strings armed with an acoustic guitar took the stage solo, tipping his hat to The Doc Watson Family with "Nashville Blues" showcasing some fine finger picking. Billy's talented band joined him for "Dust in a Baggie". Strings was backed by a traditional bluegrass set-up with the standup bass serving as the back beat. As is the custom, each player stepped up during the show, so we were treated to banjo, fiddle and mandolin solos through the night. Strings interestingly has an expressive, down-home vocal style that works so well in this context.

"Ninety Nine Years is Almost For Life" (The Traditional Fools cover) was another nod to the history of bluegrass yet from our perceptive Strings is not a purist. At times, Billy effectively used effects pedals so that his guitar sounded like an electric adding more edge to some of the group's intricate instrumentals. They also paid tribute to jam band heroes Widespread Panic with "All Time Low".

"So very fun, so happy, so nervous, to be here," shared Strings as each band member recalled someone they had seen at the Bridgestone Arena and now they were on its stage "thanks to you beautiful people" - added Billy. Back to more beguiling blends of bluegrass with danceable jams to finish up the first set. After a break they returned with "Running the Route >Taking Water" and later more classics such as "Tennessee Stud" (Jimmy Driftwood) and "Uncle Pen" (Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys) putting their own creative spins on each. The energy remained intact as they delighted fans with "Dig a Little Deeper in the Well" (The Oak Ridge Boys cover) to close the concert on a high note.

Billy Strings in Nashville.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Carpenter / IG - @artisanimagerynashville)

Friday was one of a three night Nashville stand for Billy and his band. It was an upbeat show and it was encouraging to see an artist bring bluegrass to a younger generation while merging it with other genres. Strings clearly has crossover appeal so if you have a chance - check him out when he comes to your region as they are on tour for much of 2023.

In addition to paying tribute to the past at his concerts, Strings has also honored his own personal history by making a proper studio album with Terry aptly named Me and Dad (Rounder Records). It is a collection of 14 classics that Billy and his Dad know like the back of their hands, from Doc Watson and Bill Monroe songs to hymns and traditional songs. It is the music that shaped Strings into the Grammy-winning artist that he is today.

SETLIST: Nashville Blues (The Doc Watson Family cover) (Solo) | Dust in a Baggie | Ninety Nine Years is Almost For Life (The Traditional Fools cover) | Heartbeat of America | In the Morning Light | All Time Low(Widespread Panic cover) (>) Running | I've Lived a Lot in My Time ([traditional] cover) | Turmoil & Tinfoil | Hellbender | Doin' My Time (Jimmie Skinner cover) | Red Daisy | Running the Route (>) Taking Water | Everything's the Same | Tennessee Stud (Jimmy Driftwood cover) | This Old World | Know It All | Key Signator (Darol Anger cover) | I'll Remember You, Love, in My Prayers (William "Billy" Hayes cover) | Sally Goodin ([traditional] cover) (>) Little Maggie ([traditional] cover) | My Love Comes Rolling Down (The Doc Watson Family cover) | Hide and Seek | Uncle Pen (Bill Monroe and the Bluegrass Boys cover) | Encore | And Am I Born to Die? (The Doc Watson Family cover) | The Old Mountaineer ([traditional] cover) | Dig a Little Deeper in the Well (The Oak Ridge Boys cover) |

Billy Strings Band: Billy Failing (Vocals, Banjo), Jarrod Walker (Vocals, Mandolin) Royal Masat (Vocals, Bass) and Alex Hargreaves (Fiddle)

Billy Strings in Nashville.
(Photo courtesy of Heather Carpenter / IG - @artisanimagerynashville)

Related Links: For more information on BILLY STRINGS and the other organizations mentioned please visit the following links - Billy Strings | Bridgestone Arena


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