Billy Strings Disrupts Country Charts with Career Effort “Renewal”
This is one of those moments when it all gets real. All the touring, all the stellar performances, all the live streams, all the great songs and the sowing of grassroots with blood and sweat from a prodigy musician to now a 29-year-old modern musical marvel, it’s all resulted in the shattering of whatever ceiling usually resides over an independent artist, and even critics now must pay attention and tip a hat.
With his third solo album Renewal released on September 24th, Billy Strings has put the country music world on alert that he’s a force to be reckoned with, disrupting the Billboard Country Charts with a strong debut at #1 in physical sales in country, at #9 on the Billboard Country Albums chart that factors in streaming, while also going #1 on the Billboard Bluegrass chart, and #1 on the Emerging Artists chart.
Billy Strings sold 8,135 albums in physical copies and downloads of Renewal, which was good enough for #1 in hard units in country, just edging out Star-Crossed by Kacey Musgraves. Along with songs from Renewal being streamed over 2.5 million times, it was good enough for a grand total of 10,246 total units, which is a strong number for the Rounder Records title in the streaming era.
And let’s not lose focus of what’s happening here. Billy Strings isn’t exactly like a Tyler Childers/Sturgill Simpson/Cody Jinks type. Billy Strings is a bluegrass musician, and specifically, Renewal was somewhat surprisingly traditional, authentic, and straightforward, but was very well-received from an artist who can venture into the more ethereal and jamgrass side of the discipline.
And despite being well-regarded, heretofore the Billy Strings phenomenon was mostly centered around his live performances. Renewal feels like one of those records that will resonate much beyond the conventional borders of bluegrass, or our specific era in music, and help the entirety of bluegrass by proxy.
The last record from Billy Strings—2019’s Home—was only able to manage a #41 debut on the country charts when it was released. It went on to win the Grammy for Best Bluegrass Album, and Strings recently won Entertainer of the Year at the International Bluegrass Music Awards off the strength of that record.
But Renewal just feels like it’s on another level—a career effort to go along with his unprecedented live performances, and something that folks who may not even count themselves as bluegrass and country fans will find enjoyment in.
From his early days performing at fiddle and bluegrass camps, to his apprenticeship with Don Julin, to now the Top 10 of mainstream country, Billy Strings has climbed the mountain. But what has us all even more giddy with anticipation is where this once-in-a-lifetime performer could go from here.
Keepin’ it Country
October 6, 2021 @ 8:26 am
He’s not really my favorite artist. Ok not really a fan of bluegrass, however I am so glad that he is doing well. Way way better than the mainstream even though he’s not really for me. I hope he keeps up the good work and continues to take country back!
October 6, 2021 @ 9:17 am
I am with you on everything you said. Not my favorite artist or genre either but hope he blows up and kicks the crap to the side.
October 6, 2021 @ 8:54 am
He’s a talented musician, but he is NOT bluegrass
October 6, 2021 @ 9:28 am
I respectfully disagree. I think the new album “Renewal” reinforces just how bluegrass he is. Is he pure bluegrass? Of course not. He also incorporates jam band elements in some songs. But he’s way more bluegrass than anything else.
October 7, 2021 @ 11:02 am
Why do you call this a ‘solo’ album? This is NOT a solo release! This is an entire band! A phenomenal entire band, at that!
October 7, 2021 @ 12:17 pm
Billy Strings is a solo artist. The Grammy Awards and IBMA consider him a solo artist, not a band. I agree Billy’s band is phenomenal, and said as much in the review of this album.
“…the essential players behind Billy Strings—banjoist Billy Failing, bassist Royal Masat, and Jarrod Walker on mandolin who deserve incredible credit for following Billy Strings on his musical exploration, and helping to keep it all accessible to the rest of us.
October 11, 2021 @ 11:31 pm
The IBMA award for guitar player of the year was to Billy Strings the musician. The Entertainer of the Year award was to the BAND that performs under the name Billy Strings.
October 11, 2021 @ 5:11 pm
This summer he did two outdoor shows back to back on a Friday / Saturday in Ohio. Friday night was a ROCK show reminiscent of a Greatful Dead show of days past. Saturday was a bluegrass show. I thing sometimes he’s bluegrass, but sometimes he’s rock. Either way, I like. And yes his whole band is incredible.
October 6, 2021 @ 9:29 am
October 6, 2021 @ 10:27 am
Im not shocked to hear your take. I once listened to a sneering woman at a music store describe how horrified she was when Alison Krauss took the stage at a grass festival. QUOTE ” i dont know what she was playing, but it wasnt bluegrass so i left in a hurry,”. Within the traditional grass community, you find folks with zero tolerance for ANYTHING outside the Monroe/Flatt and Scruggs music model.
I will say this about Strings, he is the hottest picker on the scene right now and he is a guy who could play all day with Ricky Skaggs or jam with Bob Weir. He transcends genre. Im personally a fan of traditional grass but ive also listened to a large share of so- called jamgrass bands, including Infamous Stringdusters and Yonder Mountain String Band. I like the virtuosity they bring to the sound. But, at days end, its ultimately about great songs, great melodies and great hooks that move me more than a static virtuoso. I do believe its possible to be both things however. Strings, to me, walks on the edges, but still retains a foothold in tradition.
Curious, what is your take on JD Crowe and The New South, NewGrass Revival, Jerry Douglas, Sam Bush and Del McCoury, who all live in mainstream grass but arguably expanded the variety of sounds within it.
October 6, 2021 @ 10:40 am
Respectfully, my take is they are not bluegrass. Those you mentioned can and do play bluegrass at times (with the exception of Newgrass Revival), but alot of their stuff is not bluegrass. Talented? Absolutely. Bluegrass? Not really. And this is coming from someone who considers Jerry Douglas a hero and an inspiration (I’m a dobro player, because of him).
KY bluegrass fan
October 6, 2021 @ 8:08 pm
Billy is not strictly traditional bluegrass, but he can sure pick & sing that traditional stuff with the best of ‘em. I mean, have you heard ‘Red Daisy’ off the new album? To me, he has more of a traditional bluegrass sound (when he does trad) than almost anyone else out there. And I’ve been involved with bluegrass for 50 years.
October 6, 2021 @ 11:48 am
Hmmm are you saying he’s up there with Ricky Skaggs or JD Crowe and the New South? If so I’ll have to disagree big time with you. To me he sounds like a knock off of what bands like Blue Highway were doing 20 years ago. Not saying he’s bad, I enjoyed the new album a bit, but to me he’s nothing special.
October 6, 2021 @ 1:17 pm
No, not saying Billy is equal in terms of what Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder do. Apples and oranges. Billy IS a superb picker with mind blowing guitar chops. To me thats hardly arguable. But, his singing is workmanlike at best. Hes also young and doesnt yet have the pedigree of those other guys, at least not yet. In time, it may come.
Skaggs has the complete package for traditional grass. The name, the chops, superb musicians, a legendary catalog, superior vocals, the whole thing. And as an entertainer Skaggs is tremendous.
I simply meant that Billy could sit in with Kentucky Thunder and pick and sound pretty good. AND he could also pick with a jamband and fit in. Its a compliment on Billys versatility as a player. I asked Jps opinion on those other legends because to me, they found respect in the grass community, but pushed boundaries and may be considered genre bending.
KY bluegrass fan
October 6, 2021 @ 8:14 pm
He’s not anything like Blue Highway. ‘Home’ was a good album and ‘Renewal’ is even better. I expect he’ll get that 2nd Grammy.
October 7, 2021 @ 2:23 am
I know he’s nowhere close to ad good as Blue Highway. Have you listened to Blue Highway from the early 2000s? This sounds like a cheap version of that. I really don’t get why folks think this is so great
October 7, 2021 @ 6:04 pm
But he is incredibly special to those who are currently discovering him, just like when we discovered “new to us” artists.
October 9, 2021 @ 9:25 pm
Go on Nugs and listen to one of his live shows..where they inved 3 songs inside of a main song. The released albums only scratch the surface
October 17, 2021 @ 4:59 pm
He cut his teeth on Doc Watson and such. There is a you tube video paying tribute to Doc.. incredible. Also a show of he and his Dad playing all of the traditional stuff. There is know doubt in my mind that he could jump right in with anyone and hold his own and then some. The boy was raised on Bluegrass.. He plays a mean Banjo as well. That’s my two cents
October 6, 2021 @ 11:55 am
There are no stricter adherents to dogma than traditionalist bluegrass musicians/fans. It’s ironic of course, because what Bill Monroe and other pioneers did when they basically invented a genre was revolutionary. Now it’s just supposed to remain static? Tony Rice changed the game by simply playing lead on guitar. I don’t think everything with a 5 piece string band needs to be called bluegrass, but what Billy does certainly has bluegrass architecture and there is no denying a song like “dust in the baggie” can be simply described as bluegrass. The Punch Brothers ran away from this label intentionally, but Billy and his band seem to want to take it and put it at the end of a Kaleidoscope to see what they can make of it.
October 6, 2021 @ 12:30 pm
Yeah, and I’m more Bluegrass than Billy because I went to a Bluegrass jam last Tuesday and played the exact same open-g position, eighth note, solo every turn because i couldn’t get my sixteenth notes up the the groups tempo… It wasn’t good, but it was TRADITIONAL.
John R Baker
October 6, 2021 @ 3:43 pm
This is true to the extent that Doc Watson wasn’t bluegrass. But that cuts out at least half of what’s thought of as bluegrass leaving only things that did it exactly like Bill Monroe did.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
October 6, 2021 @ 3:48 pm
I’m with you. I’d probably go even further in that I don’t bide people like Trigger saying it IS Bluegrass. Meaning that I immediately dismiss that view as coming from someone who doesn’t have the cred to say it. In other words, if you think this is Bluegrass, you have no business commenting on what is or isn’t Bluegrass.
October 6, 2021 @ 4:06 pm
Honky, I said I RESPECTFULLY disagree, and then went on to say that Billy Strings has certainly veered into the jamgrass realm. I most certainly did not try to dismiss anyone, or say he didn’t have a right to an opinion. I understand why some may feel Billy Strings is not bluegrass. But when it comes to this particular album, which is the subject of the article, I would say you would be hard pressed to make an argument it is not bluegrass, 3-4 songs notwithstanding. But even if you want to make that argument, I respect it.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
October 6, 2021 @ 4:30 pm
I didn’t say you were disrespectful, or that you dismissed anyone. Maybe you misunderstood me.
October 6, 2021 @ 8:33 pm
I apologize if I misunderstood your comment. But saying that I have no business saying what is an isn’t bluegrass is pretty insulting. I think if you’ve devoted the last 13 years of your life covering country and bluegrass, you’re probably somewhat qualified to hold that opinion.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
October 7, 2021 @ 5:39 am
If you thought I was calling you disrespectful, you misunderstood.
As for me thinking you’re not qualified to say what is or isn’t Bluegrass, don’t take it personal; it’s not meant to be an attack or insult, it’s just how I see the world. You believe music has to evolve. I don’t.
Certain things pop in my mind when I encounter certain viewpoints. That doesn’t change, whether I state it publicly or not.
Yes, Strings has some Bluegrass in his repertoire, but that doesn’t make him Bluegrass.
October 7, 2021 @ 8:59 am
Again, I’d like to point out that Bluegrassis is an evolution of folk music and and specifically, appalacian string band music. It’s absurd to think that the genre can’t evolve or grow.
John R Baker
October 7, 2021 @ 9:12 am
In formal logic they call this the “no true Scotsman” fallacy. It’s just a lame way to exclude any opinions that you feel threatens your own.
What we call “bluegrass” Bill Monroe himself ,along with Doc Watson and so many other, called old timey music. Bill had a particularly distinct way of playing it that made him the biggest long term definer of the music. Doc was number 2 on that though he came at it from a different but compatible direction.
Bluegrass festivals are really focused on old timey music rather than specifically Bill Monroe’s style. Billy’s style is primarily grounded in Doc Watson and his band usually plays in the Monroe style. He adds in a lot of other flavoring but he’s still mostly playing old timey music the old timey way. He just tosses a lot of Grateful Dead into his repertoire as well.
Your argument that it’s not so far is just “because I said so and anyone who disagrees is unqualified.” That’s negligible and can be ignored because it makes no substantive analysis.
King Honky Of Crackershire (No!)
October 8, 2021 @ 6:31 pm
Did you just try to slap a “No True Scotsman” charge onto my subjective opinion? Because if you did, wouldn’t that imply that opinions about music can be more than opinions?
I have my opinions. They’re mine, and I use them to make decisions about music. As far as I can tell, this isn’t a process where formal logic can be applied.
All opinions can be ignored, substantive analysis or not, because they are opinions, unless they’re not opinions, in which case the discussion is probably not about music.
So I’ll dig in: my opinion is that if you believe Billy Strings is Bluegrass, then you aren’t qualified to say what is or isn’t Bluegrass.
Nice try though, John. Your comment sounded kinda smart.
October 8, 2021 @ 8:02 pm
Almost comical to see YOU called out as the one threatened by other opinions in this thread. But then again I guess I myself am lame, because I make the logic fallacy of disqualifying the authority of those who classify Breland’s “My Truck” as country music. Oh well, somehow my threatened ass will still get by.
John R Baker
October 9, 2021 @ 9:32 am
Smart of not my opinion is actually about bluegrass. Your expressed opinion not. You just attempt to disqualify people who disagree with you on the basis that they disagree with you. It’s not relevant to anything at all and has no substance.
Not Sturgill Simpson
October 12, 2021 @ 12:13 pm
When Billy Strings plays bluegrass, it is a LOT more traditional sounding than most jamgrass and newgrass artists. He can sing, and his band can sing proper bluegrass harmony. Most of the “top” jamgrass and newgrass acts cannot.
October 11, 2021 @ 4:05 pm
Listen to dust in the baggie.
Thom's Country Bunker
October 7, 2021 @ 7:54 am
Strange take. I spoke with Tony Trischka about Billy Strings last week. He seemed to think he was bluegrass. He’s just appeared on Bela Fleck’s ‘My Bluegrass Heart’, to high praise. He was chosen to headline a Doc Watson tribute festival. I saw him in Kentucky where half his set was taken from the bluegrass songbook.
Even Earl Scruggs said, ‘you can’t just play Cripple Creek for the rest of your life’. I get there are purists but they never seem to be the actual bluegrass artists themselves…
October 7, 2021 @ 11:40 am
Thom, good points you make. Its been a point of contention among traditional fans, the day Earl Scruggs formed The Earl Scruggs Revue and put a drummer onstage behind him. Made them mad, like their hero had abandoned them. Similar thing when Dylan picked up a Strat at Newport Folk Festival. They nearly ran him out of town. But, of course most musicians couldnt have cared less. If you play, you naturally admire talent. I suspect many trad players like what Strings is doing. Do we need to categorize his music differently? I have no objection if you call it jamgrass or NewGrass or progressive bluegrass, in the interest of being specific. I believe traditional bluegrass still lives and is relevant as-is, but not so narrow-minded as to reject these young guns like Billy or Chris Thile or Molly Tuttle. You gotta admire the trail blazers with the picking. Tony Rice anyone? Jerry Douglass? Let em live i say.
October 14, 2021 @ 10:33 pm
Trolling much? They should call him doc Watson Jr.
October 15, 2021 @ 5:21 am
Glad to see at least one mention of Bela Fleck, another artist whose talent is just too big to be pinned down. I have yet to see Billy Strings live, but looking forward to having my mind blown. I’ve seen Earl Scruggs rock out and Bela play acid head music. I love that stuff as much as traditional Bluegrass.
September 24, 2022 @ 11:01 pm
He very much IS Bluegrass. He also has influences from artists like Jimi Hendrix & Santana in his guitar playing, right alongside Bill Monroe and Scruggs. That’s how things evolve! Is he a little “Psychedelic Bluegrass” at times? Sure! But he’s also got EXTREMELY traditional songs. Have you heard “Red Daisy,” “Dust in a Baggie”? Both super traditional.
“Away from the Mire” is an excellent example of a more-modern-but-still-very-Bluegrass song. Honestly, I could list so many more. Maybe go to his concerts and listen to his albums?
John R Baker
October 6, 2021 @ 9:23 am
So knowing nothing about radio and what breaks in where will this make any difference in any market?
October 6, 2021 @ 8:21 pm
3 things guaranteed in life:
Death, taxes, and Honky disagreeing with Trig
October 6, 2021 @ 9:33 am
Being a big ‘grass fan , I can think of so many artists from that genre I’d prefer to listen to . Saying that , however , a ”win” for one ‘grasser is a win for all ‘grassers when it comes to any mainstream-type chart recognition and , of course , a win for real COUNTRY . This kid works hard and he’s been at it a long time so kudos to Billy and his fans for shining a light on bluegrass and , hopefully , encouraging the uninitiated to explore this talent-rich genre . You can pick and sing bluegrass …or you can’t . A label ”makeover” won’t change that fact
October 6, 2021 @ 10:09 am
Its an amazing album. I’ve been listening to it on very high rotation since it came out.
Definately a bluegrass record, and a great proof that bluegrass can be interesting and fresh without straying from the authentic sounds.
Hopefully this has a major impact, more bluegrass everywhere all the time.
October 6, 2021 @ 11:17 am
I am very happy for him.and maybe he can get new people into bluegrass music. Pure and non pure. I think artists like him help a music genre grow, and can be good for the genre itself.
October 6, 2021 @ 11:32 am
Of course its bluegrass. FFS. Whiny a55 mf’rs.
October 6, 2021 @ 11:33 am
Billy and the band are hitting on all cylinders right now. Labels are for salesmen. This band transcends all of that crap. It’s just good music that makes people travel thousands of miles to see multiple shows. I never thought I would take a flight yo Florida to see a bluegrass band. But yet there I was in St. Augustine last March.
October 9, 2021 @ 9:48 pm
I was there St. Augustine as well. It was the first show I had been to since my last live show, Billy opening for Umphrees in Asheville Feb 14/15 2020. My comment is only this focusing on the genre and followers. I am not qualified to make genre calls on the music purity :). I am almost 60. I have been into many genres in my life. I never was much of a country fan in general but I was always more of a rock and roll fan. Then I got into Blackberry Smoke..what a great blend of genre rock and country. Then I listened to some Billy Strings songs and liked it ok, but the live shows are so different than the released records. He takes many genres and smashes them hard. After several live shows and seeing how they blend and mix songs and genres together is really different for me. 17 min versions of Pyramid Country with 3 other songs imbedded inside it, is really something to see live.. The crowd reflects it..old young hippies bluegrass country ..rarely see such a wide range of fans. Now I go and listen to the nugs recordings of the shows and I am hooked to see what genre bending they are gonna try next.
October 14, 2021 @ 10:41 pm
I happened to catch one of his nugz live streams one night in bed. Had my headphones on and it was insane how his sound went from a traditional flat picking run to a psychodelic jam that that was panning from one side to the other like a hypnotic wall of sound. Would love to catch a live show.
Country Music Disciple
October 6, 2021 @ 12:06 pm
I saw him 2 years ago with my wife in San Francisco at a 500 capacity venue and his show was mind blowing without any light show except for psychedelic images on a small screen behind him and the band. Just saw him again last month in Oakland at a sold out Fox Theater which is 2,800 capacity and the audience was definitely way into it especially now that he has a kick ass light show to go along with his performance. Took our 16 year and 10 year old boys too this time who will be Billy Strings fans for life…but oh man, did they get an eye full watching the fans in attendance and everything they were doing. But all in all, nothing but positive vibes all around at his shows.
October 6, 2021 @ 3:32 pm
Loved those shows! That’s awesome I took yr sons! I travelled from Asheville NC and hit the entire September west coast run! It was magnificent
October 6, 2021 @ 12:12 pm
I’m a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, Phish, Tony Rice, David Grisman, Peter Rowan, etc. So as you may have guessed, Billy and his band hit all the right notes for me. I’ve seen him live a few times (and will be again in about 2 weeks here in Denver), and I’m so glad to see him getting the recognition he deserves from so many different corners of the music world. Grammy awards, IBMA, Saving Country Music, the jamband world, even the f***ing New York Times. Keep it up Billy.
October 6, 2021 @ 12:21 pm
The sheer fact that Strings was able to dethrone a major label pop album with full industry support (including a VMA bump) for the #1 Billboard spot in physical sales in the category is f**king crazy…. Literal David & Goliath shit.
October 6, 2021 @ 1:58 pm
October 6, 2021 @ 2:22 pm
I don’t care what you call him. He’s damned awesome. He also respects the he’ll out of his bluegrass elders. Doc Watson was one of his idols.
October 6, 2021 @ 2:47 pm
Just because of my comment about LSD (never ever done it) not necessarily making someone more creative in a GOOD way on your recent Kacey Musgraves review, I figured I would say that Billy here seems to be employing the stuff pretty well. Album is great!
October 6, 2021 @ 3:06 pm
No down side to this.
October 6, 2021 @ 3:13 pm
Most important is what a bluegrass artist did on the Country charts! I learned up Billy from this website and enjoyed”Home”. The new album sounds great and kudos to him for expanding on bluegrass music. I’m think Bill Monroe would enjoy what Billy is doing for bluegrass music, taking it into the 2020’s with a unque sound and exposing it to more listeners. Bravo!
John R Baker
October 6, 2021 @ 3:45 pm
Honestly I think Bill Monroe would have been horrified.
Not Doc though.
KY bluegrass fan
October 6, 2021 @ 8:22 pm
As someone from the Monroe family in Rosine KY, I disagree.
KY bluegrass fan
October 6, 2021 @ 8:28 pm
As someone from the Monroe family, I disagree. Listen to ‘Red Daisy’ on the new album. That’s about as bluegrass as it gets.
John R Baker
October 7, 2021 @ 8:53 am
Sure, the album is mostly straightforward. But what he does live with psychedelic effects and the second pickup setup for high gain is not old timey music at all. He stretches it out and does bounce back to bluegrass like he’s bungie jumping. But do you think Bill Monroe would have been able to understand the psychedelia and hard rock styles that Billy melds into bluegrass?
KY bluegrass fan
October 7, 2021 @ 11:15 am
No, its not old timey but he can certainly do old timey. He may bounce around but I’m glad he still does traditional bluegrass along with the jam band/Grateful Dead stuff. I appreciate his versatility. Im not personally a fan of the psychedelic music but there’s a huge audience of people who love that stuff so he’s smart to incorporate it and reach a broader audience. That part of Billy’s show probably wouldn’t have appealed to Bill but when he sings traditional bluegrass, he sings it like it should be sung and doesn’t deviate from the original version much. I think Bill would have approved. Watch his ‘String the Halls’ videos sometime.
October 6, 2021 @ 4:12 pm
Hell yeah. Need a review of the new jeremy pinnell album. Rips extremely hard
October 6, 2021 @ 4:24 pm
This is todays Bluegrass. This is the band that will help carry the torch of traditional, but also make it more fun for a younger crowd. It’s JamGrass at its finest, and I applaud this band on such a great album.
October 6, 2021 @ 6:34 pm
In “Heartbeat of America” the lyrics don’t start until 3 minutes in on a 6 minute song. Any artist of any genre who can bring back the extended intro is a righteous dude/dudette.
October 6, 2021 @ 6:50 pm
He’s the best thing going right now and it’s not even close.
Call the music whatever you want to call it
October 6, 2021 @ 7:24 pm
These comments make me recall when Doc, Clarence White, and Tony Rice began their carreers. Who cares whether it’s counrty or bluegrass, he’s not making a claim to be either, just relax, enjoy the music, and respect the hard yards he puts into it making it sound like what it is.
Don’t discount the talent of the others in his band either…..great stuff!
Wilson Pick It
October 6, 2021 @ 7:34 pm
These bluegrass purists make me laugh.
I think you could say that bluegrass is only one of the elements of what’s going on here. That would make sense. But to evict him from bluegrass entirely is ludicrous.
Not to be rude, but get over yourselves. Music isn’t going to stay in nice neat little boxes for you.
October 7, 2021 @ 8:39 am
Saying Billy Strings isn’t Bluegrass is like saying Bill Monroe isn’t Country.
October 7, 2021 @ 9:40 am
The categorizing and trying to fit this guy into a mold isn’t going to work. His influences are obviously much wider than bluegrass, but he’s spent the last ten years playing bluegrass, picking it up again after a childhood immersed in the stuff. His ventures into rock and heavy metal in his teens is serving him well, as is his more recent appreciation of the Dead and Jerry Garcia. But he’s still developing, like Garcia, and venturing out away from bluegrass. So I wouldn’t be surprised to see him move even further away in the near future, and I hope he does. Bluegrass is constricting. Its melodies are more patterns than singable, hummable tunes. It entertains through speed of delivery, rather than melodic or harmonic attachment. And Billy’s melodies in his songs don’t attract me, yet. Sometimes they jar and feel ugly. But he’s such a well-rounded musician, it won’t be long before he starts putting out more appealing tunes. And I think he’s no. 1 now for one reason: marketing. He’s everywhere on YouTube. His manager, his girlfriend I think, makes sure you see him everyday on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube. Like the Dead, he wants fans to think his music is theirs to share and collect. I just hope he’s strong and smart enough to keep the rapacious music companies off his back, out of his head, and declare independence. Keep it real, Billy!
October 7, 2021 @ 12:38 pm
I’m not sure I’d call it an “apprenticeship” with Don Julin. Billy Strings was a fully-formed bluegrass guitarist and I believe Julin reached out to HIM to play with him.
October 8, 2021 @ 5:34 am
Actually I would not call it an apprenticeship. He never took any lessons from me or anything like that. I just helped him turn his gift into an income. He sounded amazing playing on the sidewalk for tips when I met him. After playing about 700 gigs and recording 2 CDS, I dropped him with great management in Nashville. In case you were wondering, he can play pure bluegrass with the best of ’em.
October 8, 2021 @ 6:43 am
I’ve been hearing this “not bluegrass” thing since Steam Powered Aereoplane came out almost 50 years ago. Doesn’t matter one bit. John Hartford was fantastic and so is Billy Strings. And yes, Sturgill Simpson too LOL
October 8, 2021 @ 8:13 am
Rolling Stone published great article after Billy Strings won the IBMA awards last week. Find it. Headline read “in a genre perpetually reluctant to change”. All the newcomers have great reverence for the traditionalists (like Billy for Doc Watson). But this is not reciprocated in kind by “the old school”. Bill Monroe turned down an invitation to play with the “hippies” on the Circle Album. I also have to call out the great Sonny Osbourne here. Whether it is Billy String’s success or his ability to sit in with Widespread Panic, some of the traditionalists and fat cats I’m the music industry can’t stand it. Overall, Strings success is good for music, and hopefully the “old school” can take great pride in this evolution, and their important contributions to reach this great day for bluegrass and all music.
October 8, 2021 @ 9:16 am
The headlines and articles you read in Rolling Stone, The New York Times, and others who shouted into the echo chamber about how Billy Strings is “subverting” bluegrass music are making the cultural divide in the genre worse, not better. The media loves to obsess about eroding tradition in country and bluegrass. But that’s not what Billy Strings is doing at all. Yet if the media repeats it over and over, soon it becomes reality.
So many folks are missing the big picture here, on both sides of the argument. Yes, if you see Billy Strings live, it very much is a fusion of bluegrass and a jam band approach. But with this album specifically, “Renewal,” that is not what is going on at all. Of the 16 track of the album, 12 to 13 of them are straightforward bluegrass. Period. It’s not a hybrid record. It’s not a fusion. It’s bluegrass, full stop, with a very small handful of experimental tracks thrown in there. THAT is why it is resonating so widely, and universally. If it had been more jamgrass like, similar to his last record “Home,” it probably wouldn’t have received the reception it has. It works because it IS attracting the old school bluegrass crowd, and because to DOES honor those traditions.
The media loves to harp over and over about the traditional values of country being eroded. John Hartford was doing this shit 50 years ago, and successfully. Johnny Cash won the CMA for Song of the Year for “Sunday Morning Coming Down” 51 years ago. Artists in country and bluegrass that can honor the traditions of the genre but still push it forward like Billy Strings, these are the artists who will ultimately define the era. And that is exactly what Billy Strings is doing.
October 9, 2021 @ 10:46 am
I have no love for Rolling Stone Country, but the article that commenter Steve is referring to is actually pretty good. Not written by one of the usual suspects. For starters, there are good quotes in there from co-songwriter Jon Weisberger and Infamous Stringdusters member Jeremy Garrett that I’d think you’d be on board with. Including the comment below from Garrett, which might disappoint commenter Steve.
I can understand that sometimes people want to hold onto tradition, but it’s safe with us and Billy. We all have a deep love for bluegrass.
I held off on buying Renewal until I heard it. If it went further into outer space than Home, it might not be for me. And Home had a lot on it that appealed to me as a bluegrass/newgrass fan. But I think what he has done on this album is move even more towards the bluegrass side. And there’s a three song run the middle that I think is not just contemporary bluegrass, but traditional (Hellbender, Red Daisy, The Fire on My Tongue). Even the instrumental stuff sounds like it something you’d here on a Sam Bush solo album (i.e., earthbound newgrass).
John R Baker
October 9, 2021 @ 11:49 am
I think Trigger makes a solid point here though Steve is right about the close mindedness of some traditionalists. But Rolling Stone always view everything through their own lens and they are still grinding the same ax they have been since they started in the ’60’s. Billy is post boomer and really ignoring that cultural divide to forge his own path. But I think what Trigger is missing here is that the figure of Jerry Garcia looms large both in Billy’s music including on this record and in this background noise. He was bluegrass music’s red headed stepchild and the establishment have never been willing to acknowledge that he was a central figure in defining what it became over the last 50 years because Jerry fans filled up the festivals.. It was always a funny thing because Bill Monroe didn’t like the hippies but Jerry Garcia idolized him and was his most important influence. What I got out of watching pretty much every Billy Strings livestream over the last year is that he’s brought that full circle both musically and culturally. It’s not just the spacey stuff and that doing Dead covers and jam grass brings in old Deadheads. It’s in how he sings and approaches original material when he’s not doing straight twang. It’s particularly strong his ballads like “Love and Regret.” Listen to how Billy does “Warf Rat” or “Stella Blue” then take a listen to “Show Me the Door” or “Love and Regret.” It’s country but it’s country via Jerry Garcia.
October 8, 2021 @ 12:53 pm
Hell yeah brilliant album, I’m taking today off work and listening to it on repeat on shrooms. Happy Saturday!
October 10, 2021 @ 5:23 pm
His roots is in bluegrass. He puts out solid singles. He cranks out solid records. Hes a phenomenal guitarist. A talented songwriter. He jams with everyone. His bandmates are awesome. The sky is the limit for these guys. So excited to see where this goes. Plus hes an avid bass fishermen so thats a plus lol.
October 12, 2021 @ 6:35 am
The real subject here is the process of obtaining COMMERCIAL success. A Duke Ellington quote is appropriate here..
“There are two kinds of music, the good kind and the other kind.” The good news is you get to choose what you support with your time and $$$. Remember to be nice to each other.
October 14, 2021 @ 12:54 pm
As a backyard musician and someone who likes Bluegrass, Country, Rock & Roll, Jazz, Hip Hop and other Genres of music the great thing about Billy Strings is that he is all the above, he is authentic and real and it shows in his music, the rawness of what he’s doing is what separates him from other’s.. I’ve been a fan of his for year’s and it’s so cool seeing him be recognized for his music and what he’s doing..
October 14, 2021 @ 1:55 pm
Billy’s live show Romp 2018 is one of the best I’ve ever heard live, the band is just as good as Billy is and it doesn’t get any tighter as a band. Psychedelic bluegrass, I don’t even like bluegrass but this band is fucking amazing. Keep breaking the mold Billy!!