Show Review: Billy Strings Multi-Night Streaming Tour 2020, nights 1 – 4 of 9

Show Reviews

Billy Strings Streaming Tour 2020 — photos by Jesse Faatz Photography; screen edits by David Nowels Photography

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

I’ve never been a huge fan of the “couch tour” concept, and in fact, even watching a one-off livestream has been somewhat alien to me. When I’m home, I tend to have what seems like a million things to do, and focusing on a live show on a computer monitor or even the TV screen is something I find hard to do. I prefer to be right there in the thick of things and taking it all in live and in person. For me, even as somewhat of an introvert, I really miss the live concert experience. The sights, the smells, the energy. I even miss the drunks, show talkers and outrageous beverage prices. Okay, the last sentence might be a stretch, but the rest does rings true. I really miss it.

So what’s a live music lover jonesing for a fix supposed to do except step up, get with the technology, and dive head first into an online tour. Enter Billy Strings, who announced a nine date streaming tour last month. I’ve been a fan of the music for about a year now, having been fortunate to review the band’s album, “Home” last year. (See that review here: ) I’ve always been a fan of bluegrass, though I’ve fallen off the bus here and there, having never really gotten excessively into the String Cheese Incident and other modern bluegrass bands. That all changed as I dug deeper into Billy Strings, their music and community. I’m an old Deadhead, and there’s more than a few similarities with the Grateful Dead and Billy Strings that I find immensely intriguing. The community, the musicianship, the mind numbing “X-factor” connection between the band members on stage, and especially the uniqueness of setlists each night. A lot of Deadheads were fanatical about setlists. First-time played, last time played, song segues, teases etc. I fall into that category, and decided that this tour was a good way to see what the hype was all about, all while chronicling the tour in print. So, what will be follow will be a brief glance at the first four dates of the tour beginning in Nashville, with two nights at the Brooklyn Bowl and then two nights at the legendary and iconic Station Inn.

Leading into the opening night of the tour, Apostol revealed there would be special guests throughout the run. Additionally, there would be a featured special, limited poster via Half Hazard Press commemorating each night. Sure, there’s been a handful of glitches and ghosts in the machine here and there. But, the Billy Strings camp, the poster crew and each venue have done an outstanding job putting all of this together. The first two nights were aired via the FANS streaming site and the next two nights through The Station Inn. The streams ran a very affordable $9.99, and I assure you, you’ll get your monies worth. The day prior to the tour opener, the band dropped a free surprise viewing of their soundcheck live from the Brooklyn Bowl. It was certainly a welcome taste of things to come and showed a band not missing a step due to the forced time off.

7/15/20 Brooklyn Bowl Soundcheck
This Heart of Mine
Train That Carried My Girl From Town >
Black Mountain Rag
Slow Train
Train 45

Night one at the Brooklyn Bowl was really solid overall but there did seem to be a bit of timidness as they worked to get their “stage-legs” and chemistry back to form. There were definite highs, but really no lows to speak of. The band kicked off the tour with a very timely “Watch it Fall” opener to the first set. The FANS live stream included the ability to share live video throughout of fans enjoying the show from their home set-ups. The monitors over the Brooklyn Bowl’s bowling lanes displayed these, giving the band some semblance of normality in regards to an audience. Still, it was really, really odd to see an empty venue while a band played. On the social medias, the fan clips were met with mixed opinion, but I found them mostly tolerable, and actually enjoyed some of the band banter they initiated. Early on, several fans danced with their pets, prompting Billy to state,“We love good boys and good little girls…” quickly adding the intended “dogs and cats.” for clarification as mandolin picker extraordinaire Jarrod Walker stated: “You kinda need to clarify that statement”. You just can’t be too careful these days. During the pandemic, Billy’s really gotten into fishing, which is a sport that’s been socially distancing successfully for eons. So, there’s been a fishing theme throughout that started mid-way in the first set Thursday night with the debut of Doc Watson’s “I’m Going Fishing”. Speaking of the Grateful Dead, the melancholy “China Doll” followed, seguing into a smoking “So Many Miles”, one of two lead vocals so far for Billy Failing during the first four nights. Failing made the most of it, leading the band through the first real exploratory jams of the night. As the song rolled through another segue into “Dealing Despair”, it became obvious that this was the conduit the band was looking for, the moment were everything fell into place. The timidness fell away, and from here on out the band seemed to really, “click”. My favorite tracks from “Home” closed out the first set with a one-two punch of “Enough to Leave” and a blistering “Away From the Mire.”

The second set was just plain fire. Opening with “Dust in a Baggie” and followed by an absolutely epic “Pyramid Country”> “Ride Me High” the band delivered a trifecta of jams that snaked here and there and back and forth. One of my favorite moments so far. The first guest of the run was none other than Marcus King, who joined in following “Must Be Seven” for a bluesy“Summertime” and added vocals to a robust first time played “Big Boss Man”. After King left the stage, the boys wrapped things up with a smoking “Ernest T. Grass”> “Little Maggie”. I found it somewhat surprising that the band forgoes the encore here, instead unceremoniously concluding the show. Undoubtedly, leaving the stage, only to walk back on to an empty room seems, well, a bit ridiculous. But, it also didn’t seem like a return to normal without an encore. Often the band will encore with a specially chosen song, a cover or what have you, a capella. Many times, we’ve seen the band have to do their best to shush the audience in order to pull this off. So here, with the empty room it seemed like a squandered opportunity. But, even without the encore, the first night proved to be quite enjoyable, and even memorable. Other than Youtube videos, to this point I haven’t had a chance to catch Billy Strings live. I had hoped to catch a handful of shows sometime this year, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be. This would have to do, and I was already looking forward to the next night.

Billy Strings
Brooklyn Bowl
Nashville, TN

Set 1:
Watch It Fall
Slow Train
While I’m Waiting Here
Doin’ My Time
I’m Going Fishing (ftp)
China Doll>
So Many Miles>
Dealing Despair
Enough to Leave
Away from the Mire

Set 2:
Dust in a Baggie
Pyramid Country>
Ride Me High
Must Be Seven
Big Boss Man #^(FTP)
Ernest T Grass >
Little Maggie

(FTP) First-time played debut
# w/ Marcus King
^ Marcus Vocals

The second night at Nashville’s Brooklyn Bowl was in my opinion even better. Despite some log-in and buffering issues causing me to miss the openers “Taking Water”> “Thirst Mutilator,” word on the fan socials was that they were hot. Well, dang. I joined in as “Thirst Mutilator” ended, but caught enough of the closing jams to realize that night one’s exploratory nature was present again. Highlights of the first set for me started with “Home of the Red Fox” and its jazzy themed jam into “How Mountain Girls Can Love.” While I thought things tamed a bit during “New Camptown Races,” the set ending “Turmoil & Tinfoil” more than made up for it building on the energy and abstractedness of the song.

Set two launched with an outstanding rendition of John Hartford’s “All Fall Down”, followed by “Long Forgotten Dream” and a memorable take on “A Robin Made a Nest on Daddy’s Grave” which is best known from performances by the Stanley Brothers. Sierra Hull, the night’s special guest joined in for vocals and “mandolin sandwich” on “Walk On Boy”, “She Makes My Love Come Rolling Down” and “Train, Train.” The jams fired up again with an incredible debut cover of Post Malone’s “Circles.” Didn’t see that coming, but hot damn, it was fun! Hull finished up her guest spot with “Daybreak In Dixie” before Billy and the boys melted minds with “Meet Me at the Creek. Again, there wasn’t an encore, but somehow after the frenzy of “Creek,” one wasn’t really needed this time.

Billy Strings
Brooklyn Bowl – Nashville, TN

Set 1:
Taking Water >
Thirst Mutilator
This Heart of Mine —
Hollow Heart
Home of the Red Fox >
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Pretty Daughter
I Only Exist
New Camptown Races
Turmoil & Tinfoil
Set 2:

All Fall Down (1)
Long Forgotten Dream
A Robin Built A Nest On Daddy’s Grave
Walk On Boy (2)
She Makes My Love Come Rolling Down (3)
Train Train (3)
Circles (3)(4)
Daybreak In Dixie (3)
Meet Me at the Creek
(1) Jerusalem Ridge Tease
(2) Sierra Hull vocals and mandolin
(3) Sierra Hull
(4) FTP Post Malone

Night three saw the boys moving over to the historic Station Inn. After two nights of “couch tour” my wife was becoming a bit curious, and I’m always trying to turn her onto the music and bands I love. So, I talked her into watching night three with me. She’s a late bloomer of a Dead/jam band fan, and while her tendencies lean more to just enjoying the music, dancing and the vibe, she knows enough to understand the intricacies involved and why I love the exploratory nature of the jams. But, as a whole she’s not really a big fan of traditional bluegrass. In hindsight, this really wasn’t the night to try to introduce her to Billy Strings, as traditional bluegrass was the theme of this night. She liked it okay, but didn’t really get where all my excitement for the band came from.

The first set began with “Train 45” and then another debut, this time Jimmy Martin’s “Tennessee”. If you aren’t familiar with Martin, but you really dig colorful characters, Martin is that and more. He was also one hell of a picker and deserves to be heard. Really, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that a night at the Station Inn would be packed full of traditional songs and covers from Doc Watson (Black Mountain Rag” , Bill Monroe (“The First Whipoorwill”, Letter From My Darlin’” “Salt Creek”> “Bill Cheatham”), the Stanley Brothers and more. As Billy stated, “If you don’t like bluegrass gospel music then you got something cockeyed somewhere.” That’s true. Perhaps a result of less familiarity with the songs, there was a more laid back approach to both sets. While really well played, there really wasn’t a lot of heat maintained consistently. There were definite highlights, and I thought this was bassist Royal Massat’s best night in the mix so far. The set two opener, “Freedom” was another odd symptom of the pandemic. Often done as an encore with a single shared microphone, this one seemed a bit out of place opening the set, and even more-so with four mics. It was an abnormality that the band even felt compelled to mention at the song’s conclusion. Night three’s special guest was the lovely and gifted picker Molly Tuttle, who very nearly stole the show with a standout version of “Cold Rain and Snow.” It’s a song with special meaning for me, as it was the first song played at my very first Grateful Dead show way back in 1988. Without question, this was one of the best versions of the song I’ve ever heard and easily my favorite moment of the night. Tuttle also contributed on “Black Mountain Rag,” “Rank Stranger,” “Goodbye Old Pal” and “Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down”. The band rolled on through a standout “Shenandoah Valley Breakdown,” another pair of Monroe covers, “With Body And Soul” and “Kentucky Mandolin” before shutting it down with the appropriate, “Long Gone.” The night was a fun and respectful nod to traditions and left a lot of curiosities for what the second show at the Station Inn would hold.

Billy Strings
Station Inn – Nashville, TN
Set 1:

Train 45
Tennessee (1)
Likes of Me
Dusty Miller
First Whippoorwill
Good Woman’s Love
Down the Road
Love Like Me
Salt Creek >
Bill Cheatham
Letter from my Darlin’ (2)
Lonesome Moonlight Waltz
The Springtime of Life (3)
Nobody’s Love is Like Mine
Sunnyside of the Mountain

Set 2:
Freedom (4)
Southern Flavor
I’ll Remember You Love In My Prayers
Black Mountain Rag (5)
Cold Rain and Snow (5)
Rank Stranger (5)
Goodbye Old Pal (5)
Don’t Let Your Deal Go Down (5)
Shenandoah Valley Breakdown
With Body and Soul
Kentucky Mandolin
Long Gone
(1) FTP Jimmy Martin
(2) FTP Bill Monroe
(3) FTP Ola Belle Reed
(4) 4 mic style
(5) With Molly Tuttle

This was the show I should have watched with my wife, as I think this was the best night of the run so far. The band was particularly dialed in. In fact, it seemed like everything really fell into place. The lights, the camera work and in particular, the music was done with absolute precision. Tonight, instead of any timidness there was assured confidence and as a result, the whole dang show is spectacular. “Dark Hollow” got things going and really set the bar high. Flatt and Scruggs songs “Farewell Blues” and “My Cora is Gone” led to David Grisman’s “Fanny Hill.” My favorite song of the first set though was an insane “Ol’ Slewfoot,” an old Johnny Horton song that’s always a highlight when delivered. Flatt and Scruggs returned with “Salty Dog,” then “Big Sandy River” led to Jim and Jesse’s “Bringing in the Georgia Mail.” Next, the Stanley Brothers’ “White Dove,” Monroe’s “True Life Blues,” Dr. Ralph Stanley’s “Clinch Mountain Backstep,” and then back to the Stanley Brothers with “Sharecropper’s Son” and another first time played debut of “Let Me Love You One More Time.” “Paul & Silas” continued a streak of Stanley Brothers’ tunes before wrapping up the first set with Jayne/Webb written classic, “Old Home Place.”

Second set picked up right where its predecessor left off with a Dr. Ralph Stanley tune, “Riding That Midnight Train,” Tony Rice’s “Tipper” and “Nellie Kane,” a song I know best from the Dillards. Queue in the evening’s guest at this point, which is the incomparable Bryan Sutton on guitar. There seemed to be a friendly rivalry present, as the two extraordinary guitarists strove to push each other. Beginning with Bill Monroe’s “I’m Coming Back, But I Don’t Know When” and “Goldrush,” the two pickers plain tore it up. Larry Sparks’ “John Deere Tractor” and Flatt & Scruggs’ “I’ll Go Stepping Too” continued the momentum with a Norman Blake & Tony Rice cut, “Texas Gales.” Sutton played on to the set’s conclusion, lending contributions to the Stanley Brothers’ “Think of What You’ve Done” and an absolutely brilliant and fiery rendition of The Osborne Brothers’ “Ruby.” Things finished up with another Monroe song, “I’m Blue, I’m Lonesome” and finally traditional flat-picking gem, “June Apple.”

Billy Strings
Station Inn – Nashville, TN

Set 1:
Dark Hollow
Farewell Blues
Cora is Gone
Fanny Hill
Ol’ Slewfoot
Salty Dog
Big Sandy River
Bringing in the GA Mail (1)
White Dove
True Life Blues
Clinch Mountain Backstep
Sharecropper’s Son
Let Me Love You One More Time (2)
Paul & Silas
Old Home Place

Set 2:
Riding On That Midnight Train
Nellie Kane
I’m Coming Back, But I Don’t Know When (3)
Gold Rush (3)
John Deere Tractor (3)
I’ll Go Steppin’ Too (3)
Texas Gales (3)
Think of What You’ve Done (3)
Ruby (3)
I’m Blue I’m Lonesome (3)
June Apple (3)
(10 Jerusalem Ridge Tease
(2) FTP
(3) With Bryan Sutton

So, here we are four shows into a nine show tour, with a total of 92 songs played, no repeats. Yeah, you read that right. No repeats. Night one was 18 songs, night two had 19, night three had the most with 28, and night four brought serious intensity with 27. There was essentially a night of music to suit just about everyone. Dig the traditional tunes? Either night at The Station Inn should do the trick. Like a good mix with a little more music exploration prominent? Go with the second night at the Brooklyn Bowl or the second set from the first night. With all that in mind, I would rank the first four shows of the tour as such:

1. 7/19/20 Station Inn
2. 7/17/20 Brooklyn Bowl
3. 7/16/20 Brooklyn Bowl
4. 7/18/20 Station Inn

Monday saw the streaming tour take a break before moving on to Nashville’s City Winery for two nights on July 22nd & 23rd, the Exit/Inn the 24th and 25th and finally, wrapping up the tour at 3rd & Lindley on Sunday the 26th. But, that doesn’t mean the music stopped as Billy was joining Marcus King’s band’s live stream and was also to have a previous performance highlighted on the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon on Monday night as well. I’ll be sharing my thoughts on the remainder of the streaming tour in a pair of follow-up pieces including a full tour recap. But I recommend you drop into Billy Strings’ webpage for all the details on grabbing tickets for the remainder of the tour. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. Visit here:

I’d like to call out the Billy Strings Setlist page on Facebook. For someone still learning all the songs in the repertoire as well as the history behind them, it’s been a valuable resource and a friendly spot to drop in and research.. Thanks for doing what you do. Additionally, the Billy Strings Fanpage (Official) on Facebook is equally vital, and a fun growing community.

Photos used in this article include official photos by Jesse Faatz Photography and stream captures edited by David Nowels Photography.

Leave a Reply!