Billy Strings Goes Full Blown Traditional for Final Nashville Show
It’s a feat for any artist of any genre to sell out Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena on two consecutive nights, let alone add a third show in town. There are only two or three mainstream country artists who could do something similar to what the reigning Saving Country Music Artist of the Year did on February 24th and 25th. It can only be taken as a shot across the bow to the suits on Music Row across Interstate 40, and also be taken as an unequivocal pronouncement that Billy Strings has arrived.
As great as the arena shows were according to those in attendance, it’s what happened on Sunday, February 26th at the Mother Church of Country Music across Broadway that has many people buzzing. Dressing up in traditional bluegrass suits complete with ribbon ties, Billy Strings and his band took the stage at the Ryman Auditorium and put on a full blown traditional bluegrass show for the folks in attendance.
Billy Strings commonly includes traditional bluegrass songs in his live shows, but there is ample improvisation showcased too, which despite the bluegrass instrumentation, can take Billy beyond the bluegrass genre. That’s not what Sunday night was about though. “This is hallowed ground, ground zero for bluegrass music,” Strings said.
Folks can’t be entirely surprised that Billy would pull out the traditional bluegrass material for the show. His latest album Me / and / Dad with his father does this same thing, just in studio form. Strings could never play a venue the size of the Ryman under normal circumstances these days. He’s long since graduated to the arena level. But the Ryman show is part of a series of smaller shows he’s also booked on tour to not lose the intimate connection with the crowd. Fans needed a ticket to one of the arena shows to get into the Ryman.
We keep waiting for the moment that Billy Strings stretches the bluegrass tethers until the break, and he goes floating out into the either of improvisational acid rock. But those tethers continue to show surprising elasticity, always snapping him back toward his bluegrass compass, and keeping him grounded in the genre.
With Billy Strings clad in Kentucky Colonel white, and his band members Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), Royal Masat (bass), and newest permanent member Alex Hargreaves on fiddle in powder blue, they really made a sharp ensemble, and showed respect to all the old greats on the Ryman stage. Then what did Billy Strings do afterwards? He walked across the famous alley and took the stage at Robert’s Western World for a stint (see below).
These Old Blues
Old Home Place
A Face in the Crowd
The White Dove
Eight More Miles to Lousiville
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Long Journey Home
Down The Road
New Camptown Races
Ole Slew Foot
Road To Colombus
The Letter Edged in Black
Stone Walls and Steel Bars
Sitting On Top Of The World
John Deere Tractor
Think of What You’ve Done
I’ve Just Seen The Rock of Ages
Hello City Limits
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz
Blues Stay Away From Me
Nobody’s Love Is Like Mine
My Sweet Blue Eyed Darling
Roll On Buddy, Roll On
February 28, 2023 @ 8:56 am
Good Lord! I wish I would have been at the Ryman Sunday – look at the setlist!! Hopefully, Honky sees this article in light of his resent comments.
How about Saturday night when Billy Strings was playing Bridgestone Arena and Derek Trucks left the Ryman during a setbreak and walked over to the arena and joined Billy on stage for two songs (Widespread Panic cover Pickin’ Up the Pieces and Love & Regret)? And meanwhile back at the Ryman later that night Lukas Nelson joined Tedeschi Trucks Band on stage. That has to be the most legit thing happen in Nashville in over two decades.
It’s been 22 years since I’ve set foot in Trashville. The city means nothing to me and in my opinion irrelevant in the music landscape for our kind of music. But if I could have a redo, I’d of spent the weekend in Nashville and seen at least two Billy Strings concerts (one arena and the Ryman).
I agree, Billy Strings has arrived.
Robert's Country Blog
February 28, 2023 @ 10:47 am
There’s a LOT of good music in Nashville (and Austin, for that matter). You just have to find the artists you like and find the venues that they like and that support them and that will lead you to many more artists who in the same lane.
I avoided Nashville for many years because I had similar thoughts that I didn’t care for most of the “product” I heard coming from there. At the ground level, though, there are good musicians all over the place.
February 28, 2023 @ 11:42 am
I went to Hopkinsville High School (about an hour north, west of Nashville) 1990-1994. I spent a lot of time in Nashville during that time (my orthodontist was in Nashville and that’s where I was the day Conway Twitty passed). I regularly went back until 2001 (George Strait Country Music Festival – Adelphia Coliseum).
Cities that I think are currently better country music meccas than Nashville are Austin, Memphis, Charleston, WV, Pigeon Ford and Bristol, VA/TN.
But, to each their own. If you enjoy Nashville and have worked to find the things that make it great for you, enjoy!
Robert's Country Blog
February 28, 2023 @ 11:55 am
I’m not familiar with Charleston, but I know most of the others. I’m about 30 miles from Austin. I’ve been to Ameripolitan in Memphis a couple of times, but I’m unfamiliar with their country scene beyond that. My grandfather was from the Bristol area. I have cousins in Tennessee, so I would visit the area whether I was looking for music or not. It’s great to see fans sharing music. I see a lot more of the “tip jar circuit” than the bigger names, but there’s a lot of good out there. It’s fun to compare notes with another music fan!
March 1, 2023 @ 1:04 pm
You should add the Front Range in Colorado to that list.
February 28, 2023 @ 12:37 pm
Same sentiment here. I commuted from Tupelo to Louisville weekly for about a year. Nashville is really nice if someone does a little research.
February 28, 2023 @ 11:00 am
Do you really think he is capable of updating his priors?
King Honky Of Crackershire
February 28, 2023 @ 5:30 pm
….”Hopefully, Honky sees this article in light of his resent comments.”….
I kid you not; I clicked on this article for the sole purpose of of seeing who, if anyone, would be dumb enough to call me out.
I should’ve known it would be the self-appointment hall monitor of the Saving Country Music Community™️.
Tell me, how do you think the topic of this article refutes anything I said on the Channing article?
I anxiously await your response.
February 28, 2023 @ 5:54 pm
I’m sure you’ll disagree, but I definitely think this refutes some of what you were trying to say in the Channing Wilson review.
I agree with you that some artists have used the whole “Outlaw” thing to appear “edgy” or what have you, and this comes at the expense of more authentic country expressions similar to the ones we saw from Charley Pride, like you said.
But where I think you’re off is saying that “Outlaw” is a popular thing. I think it’s seen as old, and stuff like what Billy Strings, Charley Crockett, and Sierra Ferrell are doing is what’s hot, which is throwback string-based classic music. Charley Crockett performs some Charley Pride in his sets. Is one of the reasons Billy Strings popular is because he’s an unconventional bluegrass artist who grows his hair out and has tattoos? Sure. But there are tons of those. The reason he’s gotten so big that he’s selling out the Bridgestone on consecutive nights is because he’s unconventional, AND he’s also doing things like his last album of bluegrass standard, and this Ryman show honoring the roots of bluegrass. By drawing fans from traditional bluegrass, contemporary bluegrass, and contemporary jam band fan bases, he’s built a HUGE following. Don’t discount how important Billy Strings respecting the roots of bluegrass is to that success.
King Honky Of Crackershire
February 28, 2023 @ 6:45 pm
Can you please change ‘self-appointment’ to ‘self-appointed’?
Try not to get hung up on whether or not “Outlaw” is still popular; that was not my primary point. It has been the most universally popular mode of C(c) ountry Music for over a decade, even if that popularity has declined, as you assert.
I was lumping “Outlaw” in as one of a variety of ways a performer can be perceived as “edgy”, which enables them to appeal to a wider audience.
Again, Crockett is a hipster act. That’s “edgy”. If Crockett were legitimately an “aw shucks” country boy, who sang Charley Pride because he didn’t know anything else, nobody would give a crap about him. The Malpass Brothers are a perfect example of the ignored authenticity I’m referring to.
Billy Strings dressed up in traditional attire for a traditional show. It was noteworthy, because it’s not the norm for him. You wrote an article about it, because it’s not the norm for him.
The Bluegrass world is full of people as talented as Strings, who wear traditional attire for every show, because they’re traditional; it’s who they are, and nobody outside the Bluegrass world gives a rip.
March 1, 2023 @ 5:54 am
“It (outlaw) has been the most universally popular mode of C(c) ountry Music for over a decade”
Based on what metric, pray tell? Album sales? Streams? Ticket sales? Awards? You keep making this claim, but do you have any empirical evidence to back it up?
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 1, 2023 @ 7:26 pm
If me pretending I’m wrong about the popularity of Outlaw Country will get you to discuss my actual point, I will make that concession. Deal?
March 2, 2023 @ 10:10 am
Your point seems to be that only artists who are “edgy” (as you define the word) are the only ones who have any crossover appeal to fans outside the traditional country or bluegrass sphere. Yeah, that’s pretty much how it works.
Devoted fans of the genre – purists – will discover and like artists who they believe represent the genre in its purest form. Those who are not deeply embedded in the subculture or fandom of a genre will discover, prefer, and patron artists with an aesthetic that appeals beyond an insular subculture/genre. That’s not earthshattering; that’s a given for every form of music.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 2, 2023 @ 5:31 pm
Yay SteveG! You’re starting to get it!
Except, a lot of people are unwilling to accept that that’s how it works, and instead, hold up the popularity of “edgy” artists as evidence that C(c)ountry Music as a whole is really popular, or making a comeback, when in reality, it’s evidence that the opposite is true.
And I haven’t said anything about it being earthshattering; I’m simply trying to get folks to understand what’s happening, while also lamenting that it’s happening.
March 3, 2023 @ 7:39 am
Your argument is circular, and likely exists for the sole purpose of argument, like most of your contributions.
The “edgy” artists (as you define them) ARE real country artists, as you’ve admitted in other threads. So if the artists you consider “edgy” are popular, then real country artists are in fact “popular” and “making a comeback.” They are doing so even if it isn’t YOUR preferred aesthetic that perfectly recalls the era YOU deem to be the immutable standard of authentic country music.
Billy Strings is a bluegrass artist, he’s a phenomenally talented one, and he’s popular. I don’t believe his “edginess” (however you define that) compromises the integrity of his music whatsoever. He would be LESS authentic, not more, if he dressed and acted like Bill Monroe, because Billy Strings was born in the 1990s, not 1911.
You can “lament” all you want, or you can enjoy the music that is currently being made, and celebrate the fact that many quality artists are breaking through, even if they don’t dress or sound *exactly like* the throwback novelty act you want them to be.
King Honky Of Crackershire
March 3, 2023 @ 9:19 am
I was mistaken, SteveG, you are not starting to get it, and I’m tired of trying to help you understand. Maybe we can talk again someday, when you figure out what a circular argument is, and when you finally get all your strawmen knocked down.
March 3, 2023 @ 10:28 am
How does one show negate Honky’s general point?
Also, what Pride songs does Crockett cover? I am interested. He covered zero songs from any singer when I saw him open for Turnpike.
March 3, 2023 @ 10:46 am
Not saying one show negates the general point. It’s definitely a point against it though, and I was arguing against the general point before the show.
If an artist is playing an opening set, they’re probably not going to have the time for covers. But Charley Crockett literally releases a covers album every single year, and has for the last four or five years through his Lil’ G.L. series. In fact, I’ve seen criticisms of him playing/recording too many covers. When I saw him at the Ryman earlier this winter, he performed “Blackjack County Chain” and dedicated it to Charley Pride. He’s literally named after Charley Pride, and says every show when he introduces himself “…spelled ‘ey’ like Charley Pride.” Charley Pride is a huge influence on Charley Crockett.
February 28, 2023 @ 6:20 pm
Honky… Billy Strings dressed up nice (he didn’t cut his hair) and played traditional bluegrass like you requested. That’s all. I’m not picking a fight. I’m just pointing out he did it. I thought you’d be happy.
I was going to post this clip from Jimmy Kimmel last year to show you he’s done it in the past in the Channing Wilson article, but I thought you’d be too defensive.
King Honky Of Crackershire
February 28, 2023 @ 6:47 pm
You’re either completely missing my point, or you’re dodging it intentionally.
February 28, 2023 @ 9:53 am
Man, I hope this got captured for a release in some form.
February 28, 2023 @ 10:05 am
I’m sure it will be on Nugs by the end of the week or weekend. They have video of his Ryman shows from 5/6 to 5/8 from last year. I’ll be keeping an eye out for when it’s posted.
March 3, 2023 @ 8:08 pm
It was filmed by PBS and will be a special, which means it may not be on Nugs but it will come out
February 28, 2023 @ 10:20 am
Trig – do you have Mighty Poplar on your radar for their release at the end of March? After seeing Alex Hargreaves with Billy in Broomfield a few weeks ago, I’ve been looking into his past projects and other projects. It looks like this will be his debut album which includes members of the Punch Brothers. I don’t recall seeing them in your lists for anticipated albums, but also only heard of them a couple weeks ago so could have easily overlooked it.
February 28, 2023 @ 10:24 am
I didn’t mean to imply this is Alex’s solo band or anything, which looks like that could be interpreted by the way I wrote ‘his debut album’ above. The entire band is made up of well known musicians.
February 28, 2023 @ 11:53 am
Yes, Mighty Popular March 31st is on the release radar.
February 28, 2023 @ 10:22 am
Roughly half of Billy’s set was comprised of songs recorded and popularized by The Stanley Bros. (and Ralph post-1966), Larry Sparks and Jimmy Martin. For readers not familiar with these artists’ work, definitely check out Billy’s sources.
February 28, 2023 @ 12:12 pm
So nice to see Billy and the Boys keep this music going. I am glad I got to see him in a small venue when i did. After seeing him live it was obvious he was on to bigger things.
February 28, 2023 @ 2:11 pm
Who’s the guy singing “Hey Good Lookin”?
February 28, 2023 @ 2:21 pm
About 87.6% sure that’s Timbo, but not 100%. Saw him at Ameripolitan (if it’s him). Good singer.
February 28, 2023 @ 2:37 pm
Thank you and yes I thought he did a great job on that song.
March 1, 2023 @ 7:40 am
Yup that’s Timbo
March 1, 2023 @ 7:20 am
Yes, it’s Timbo aka Timbo Lo. I too watched his performance at Ameripolitan. He’s a native Nashville guy, and he’s extremely authentic. ( kinda character that comes by it honestly) Great voice, kinda unique but very Country. Check out his song Gentle Breeze of Tennessee from his EP. Gorgeous melody, steel guitar work is impeccable. Honestly, he was a definite highlight for me and I see him going places. He’s a honky tonker, with a killer band. I know for a fact he’s greatly influenced by Jones and Paycheck and his songwriting has promise. Keep your eye out if he comes to your town, well worth seeing. I’m sure Trig awaits an album release from him.
March 1, 2023 @ 9:04 am
Thank you for the information, Kevin. Now that you say it I can definitely hear some of those Jones / Paycheck inflections in his delivery. Will definitely check this guy out.
February 28, 2023 @ 2:16 pm
And the best part of it? No amps, no stompboxes. Just like Mr. Monroe would have it.
February 28, 2023 @ 3:28 pm
He is a phenom, and seemingly, very authentic- I am fortunate enough to have lived when legends were made and icons made the cut for icon… he will be both.
February 28, 2023 @ 10:30 pm
I’m just wondering where it goes from here. This kid is a rocket. BMFS indeed. The ultimate professional too. Doing everything better than right. I wouldn’t be surprised to see some kind of iconic stadium gig.
March 2, 2023 @ 3:43 am
I was at all 3 shows this past weekend. The first time I ever saw Billy was in 2016 at a bluegrass joint called the Down Home. It was pay at the door, and maybe 25 people in attendance. He played as if the room was filled and was drenched by the end of the show.
I thought seeing him in Bridgestone arena would feel vastly different, but it did not. He came out solo and played Nashville Blues to a packed Arena to start the weekend making it seem as if he was sitting on your couch. He closed the 2nd arena show with his band acoustic around one mic. I will never understand why people dislike him other than they want him to be what they want him to be. The Phish fans want him to be a jam artist and the traditional bluegrass folks want him to unplug and calm down. Everyone is missing the fact that at the Ryman auditorium Sunday night I saw folks from every walk of life and every political leaning all in one room joyously enjoying some of the finest musicians you’ll ever hear play bluegrass music. Billy’s wide variety of hobbies and musical styles has connected people who otherwise likely would not interact with one another.
(Also Derek Trucks on “love and regret” was amazing)
Luke the Drifter
March 3, 2023 @ 5:47 pm
I’m currently in Winston-Salem, NC waiting for Billy’s show to start and the pre-show music is a continuous barrage of true-blue country: Charlie Louvin, Dick Curless, James Hand, Gene Watson, Kinky Friedman, Marty Robbins. Everyone is expecting his first departure to be an acid rock album but it me wonder if he might develop an urge to play some Telecaster at some point in the future.