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Billy Strings – More Than Just a Famous Setlist and Sounds

Billy Strings came to Minneapolis on a cloudy, humid day to Surly Festival Field. At a capacity of 4,000 people, this was a sold-out show. People filled every space of the grassy field and spilled onto the paths and further. Those who aren’t up to date on the latest bluegrass talent may wonder who Billy Strings is and why he would be able to sell out this large venue.

Grammy winner for the album Home in 2021 for the Best Bluegrass Album, Billy Strings exceeds expectations immediately. Accurately recommended by many, this concert is a must-see.

Billy Strings plays guitar in a way that seems effortless. He talks to the crowd warmly as if we are all in his living room and playing by a warm fireplace. 

His touring band plays incredibly. Each taking turns in the spotlight, it is nearly impossible to take my eyes away. His touring bands consist of Royal Masat on bass and vocals, Billy Failing on banjo and piano, as well as Jarrod Walker on mandolin, vocals, and guitar. Guests on this tour include John Mailander on violin, Spencer Cullum Jr on pedal steel, and Grant Millikem on synth. 

The atmosphere in the audience feels like a low-key party. People dance; most are happy to sway or bop to the music. It’s not obnoxious to the point of irritation.

There is always one guy who yells out something from the crowd. Everyone just looks the other way or laughs to themselves. This guy was right in front of me and, while loud, really came off as friendly and excited. 

After the 3rd time, Billy Strings laughs and says, “I know what song you are saying, but it sounds like you are saying ‘Cannonball Red.’ And no, I’m not playing Panama Red.” He laughs, looking at his bandmates amusedly but not annoyed. 

After a short break in the middle of his three hr set, he comes out with just a banjo and plays an intimate song for us. The violinist comes and joins him. The audience stays wowed throughout the entire song. 

It’s very easy to lose oneself in his songs. The live performance is so good that I’m able to clear my mind and focus on where the music is taking me. I couldn’t pull away, and neither could those around me, as people didn’t come and go as I often see in a crowd. 

Billy Strings seems very witty and friendly, which matches his clever storytelling lyrics. He easily talks to the crowd – reading signs and asking individuals questions between songs. The extra warmth is surprising from someone so young, well-known, and talented.

It’s something that makes a live show worth coming out for. The parking, the money, and the plans are all worth seeing his talent and great personality on stage. Also, the production is lively and entertaining. With 2 large screens on either side of the stage, behind the band, showing abstract artistic renderings of what’s happening on stage. Often the focus was mostly on Billy Strings, the instrumentation, and the soloists. 

I was fascinated by the variety of people in the crowd. I saw a large range of all ages and fashion choices. The amount of tie-dye and hippie-esque people stand out to me most. 

I noticed this from Blue Ox and other bluegrass shows. There’s generally a peace and love vibe emanating from these concerts. It’s as if the Jimmy Hendrix and Phish fans calmed down a bit and gravitated towards bluegrass and country shows now. 

And it makes further sense with the blissfully intricate guitar picking and multi-instrument talent across the band members combined with hours of jam songs. I’m here for it, and I officially encourage it.

Without a doubt, there’s no question why this is a sold-out show. Billy String’s onstage presence is so fun to watch. He is a very engaging singer, guitarist, and overall performer.

Written by Renee Jones

Writer, Photographer, and Editor at Music in Minnesota


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