Show Review: Billy Strings’ Nine-Night Streaming Tour 2020, Last 3 Shows!

Show Reviews

photos by Jesse Faatz

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Billy Strings wrapped up the 9-date “Streaming Strings” tour this past Sunday and it put a feather in the cap of what was a highly memorable run of shows through the heart of Nashville. These last three shows began with two nights at the Exit/Inn, before culminating with a final show at 3rd and Lindsley.

Over the course of the run, which was presented by Rounder Records, the band performed over 150 songs, teased dozens more, and without question brought a huge helping of joy to live music starved fans. I also think they schooled the music community on how effective and rewarding these streaming shows can be for everyone involved. As I mentioned in part one, I’ve never really bought into the streaming phenomenon. But after this nine show run, I just might be up for more. Were there things I still dislike about the process? Sure. I missed talking with other fans. I missed the excitement of the house lights going down., and perhaps most of all, I missed the energy of the crowd, and how a band feeds from it while pushing the limits. Admittedly, I loved the convenience of home, a private bathroom and affordable concessions. But, I’d trade all of that just to set foot into a favorite venue packed with like-minded individuals. I bet you would too. So let’s take a brief look at these final three shows.

The technical gremlins were all up in the Tour Gigs stream causing many, myself included, the agony of hoping we could get connected. Thankfully, most of us did, as this one was particularly fun for its second set, as the band played their album Turmoil & Tinfoil in its entirety. It was also the first show that saw long time collaborator, John Mailander sit in on violin for the whole show (also on the 25th). But even with the temptation to dive right into the second half, don’t underestimate the value of the first set, because it was pretty impressive all on its own. Things started getting squirrely leading out of “Sally Goodin’” with lots of spacey noodling and trippy excursions of the whale call variety. Roughly 20 minutes of unbelievable intensity and cosmic guidance. They’ve only played one song, yet here we are melting faces like the Ark of the Covenant. This my friends, foretells good things. They’re on. “20/20 Vision” follows before the band really starts to hunker down with Jeff Austin love on “Fiddling Around,” before a massive “Wharf Rat.” The Hunter/Garcia tune gave Mailander ample opportunity to show why he was my pick for MVP special guest. The solo he unleashes just before the ‘I’ll get up and fly away’ verse was nothing short of magical. The set closing triad of the traditional “Reuben’s Train”>”Enter the Dragon”(Lalo Schifrin)>”No More to Leave You Behind” from the Infamous Stringdusters was yet another shining example of closing a set like a boss. Today, looking back at this set and my notes, maybe the band was determined to break any semblance of predictability before falling into the structure of playing an album set in set two. But then again, maybe not, as there was plenty of fiery unpredictability still lingering in the atmosphere of set two.

Obviously, “On the Line” began the set, and the following “Meet Me at the Creek,” is always a good conduit for exploring, and tonight’s was definitely a remarkable version. Every one of them owned a take here, with Billy Failing shining particularly bright. His run on the back half of the song had Spanish flavors I never would have expected to associate with a banjo. The band’s lighting, which has gotten more psychedelic night after night was really on point here. Speaking of psych, just go right ahead and dive into the intergalactic-ness of “Pyramid Country.”  Apostol, Failing and Mailander led the way with the stage right crew of Royal Masat and Jarrod Walker keep things equally freaky on their end. The fun part of catching the album Turmoil & Tinfoil played is the exposure of rarely played or never played songs. “Salty Sheep” (which did leave me wishing Bryan Sutton had made an appearance) segued into “Spinning” and it’s momentum carried us on through transitional space into a personal favorite, “Dealing Despair.” The “Pyramid Country” was my show highlight before the set ending “Doin’ Things Right” and the first-time played “These Memories of You.” Definitely a show cracking the top five if not top three of the run.

7/24/20 Exit/In
Set 1
Sally Goodin’>
Sweet Blue-Eyed Darling
20/20 Vision
Fiddling Around
Wharf Rat
Rubens Train>
Enter the Dragon>
No More to Leave You Behind

Set 2
On the Line
Meet Me at the Creek
All of Tomorrow
While I’m Waiting Here>
Living Like an Animal
Turmoil & Tinfoil
Salty Sheep>
Dealin’ Despair
Pyramid Country
Doin’ Things Right
These Memories of You (FTP)

The first set launched with a first-time performed take of Frank Wakefield’s “End of the Rainbow,” complete with a few “Bathtub Gin” (Phish) teases tossed in, melding skillfully into a feisty “Thirst Mutilator” that just wailed. “Dust in a Baggie” might best be known as a showcase of Apostol’s fretboard skills, but here, Mailander and Failing dominated the runs. Particularly Failing. His leads here, were simply technical ecstasy. “Baggie” transitioned into “So Many Miles,” and was followed by Yonder Mountain String Band’s “Sorrow is a Highway” and the always welcome performance of Little Feat’s “Willin’.” Jarrod Walker introduced Grisman’s “Sugarhill Rambler” and proceeded to own it and the subsequent Dawg cover of “Unwanted Love.”

Set two, and whoa boy, shit got real. There was some intensity in the air during the second set. There was rawness, self-reflection and feels. Definitely feels. I was casually listening to the first set while taking care of some things around the house. It was great, really solid. But there was an atmospheric change after the set break. I don’t know if something happened, or went down during the break but there was a whole different emotion dominating the second half. “Taking Water” and “Must Be 7” were naturally on point as was “Running.” But it was the “Away From the Mire” here that hit me like a ton of bricks. As they commence the song, Billy speaks of kindness, screwing up and giving people a break once in a while. What follows was nothing short of being my favorite song of the nine shows. In truth, it was a fairly standard version of “Away From the Mire” until Apostol seems to emotionally explode during a solo that just transcends the bindings of the song. It’s dark, it’s nerve wracking and cathartic all at once. So much so, following the solo and back at the microphone, it’s seems as if Billy has shed some burdens. I’ve only seen this rawness and passion a few times in my life, and it was one of those moments that I’ll be talking about until I’m dead and gone. Interestingly enough, that wasn’t the end of the roller coaster, with the subsequent “Home” and “Watch it Fall” maintaining the high energy, a raucous “Long Forgotten Dream”gave way to another mind-bender that was “Highway Hypnosis.” “Enough to Leave” always delivers a sobering quality, while “Enough to Leave,” “Hollow Heart,” “Love Like Me.” And “Everything’s the Same” just solidified the show as a barn burner. The band took a break giving Apostol sole ownership of the stage for a beautiful solo “Guitar Peace.” Winding things up, the always fun “Freedom” and the bouncy “Big Sandy River.” Mailander’s contributions on these two shows shouldn’t be underestimated. Being such a part of the Turmoil & Tinfoil, “Home” sessions, John has a way of seamlessly being a part of the band. Both shows should be sought out.

Billy Strings
Exit/In – Nashville, TN
End of the Rainbow (1) >
Thirst Mutilator (2) >
Dust in a Baggie >
So Many Miles
Sorrow is a Highway
Sugarhill Rambler>
Unwanted Love

Set 2
Taking Water
Must Be Seven
Away From The Mire
Watch It Fall
Long Forgotten Dream
Highway Hypnosis
Enough To Leave
Hollow Heart
Love Like Me
Everything’s The Same
Guitar Peace
Big Sandy River
(1) FTP Frank Wakefield
(2) Bathtub Gin teases

This was a fun one, and the show that had me scratching my head trying to follow the setlist. Well, the reason being, there were a lot of deeper cuts played this night. Starting with the first-time played John Prine song, “Sweet Revenge,” the band threw down a fitting, loving tribute to a man that all of Nashville, as well as around the world adored. Yet again though, some had issues with connecting to the Nugs stream. As well as this run went, it would be nice to see some of the connection issues get ironed out. I’m sure they will. Anyway, back to the show. “Slow Train” is always a good one, this one included. I love “Shady Grove,” and really like the band’s take on it. “Ernest T. Grass” made a return and segued into another great version of How Mountain Girls Can Love.” “Red Rocking Chair” inspired a meaty jam that carried over into a spicy “Southern Flavor.” Blistering takes on Pearl Jam’s “In Hiding,” and Seldom Scene’s “Old Train” shredded on with a another crazy run on “Turmoil & Tinfoil.”

New Grass Revival’s “Whisper My Name” just us moving into the second set, and next, Marty Stuart’s “Old Mexico” left me grinning ear to ear, before completely stunning me as it clawed and scratched its way in to a wicked “All Fall Down.” NRPS’ Lonesome L.A. Cowboy leveled out the peak momentarily, before Anders Beck dropped by and helped to elevate “Pyramid Country”>”Little Maggie” into legend status. But they weren’t done. With Beck sitting in onward, a ripping “Ballad of Curtis Loew”(Lynryd Skynyrd” and yet another mind blowing “Meet Me at the Creek” propelled us into new realms of bluegrass inspiration. Almost in surreal fashion and with Bill Monroe’s “Y’all Come,” it was over.

Billy Strings
3rd & Lindsley- Nashville, TN
Sweet Revenge (1)
Slow Train
Shady Grove
Ernest T. Grass >
How Mountain Girls Can Love
Red Rocking Chair >
Southern Flavor
In Hiding
Old Train —
Turmoil & Tinfoil
Whisper My Name
Old Mexico >
All Fall Down
Lonesome L.A. Cowboy
Pyramid Country (2) >
Little Maggie (2)
Ballad of Curtis Loew (2)
Meet Me at the Creek (2)
Y’all Come (2)(3)
(1) FTP John Prine
(2) with Anders Beck
(3) FTP

What a really fun experience this nine show tour was. I was impressed and definitely provided a much needed escape from the troubled times. The band is a crazy cohesive unit that just seems to get better and better. So many times they come together in a jam and pull off something so out of the realm of possibilities that’s simply unrehearsable. Not only that, but they do it again, and again. This is a band destined for big things, (perhaps faster than they might want) and bigger venues. As musicians, the band is really maturing, and still evolving as they push boundaries. It’s hard to not give the MVP of the tour to Apostol, but in all fairness, I want to call out Jarrod Walker for the most valuable picker of the run. Over and over, I watched him take the reins and more often than not, drive things past unseen plateaus. Billy Failing’s right there as well, boldly claiming his section of the stage, all while Royal Masat grins like a Cheshire cat and expertly owning the low end. Guest wise, John Mailander followed by Molly Tuttle were my highlights, particularly Tuttle’s “Cold Rain and Snow.” I was left wishing Marcus King could have played a couple more than the two he did, but it is what it is. A few more random thoughts:

Favorite song? 7/25’s “Away From the Mire” at the Exit/Inn, if just for that solo and the war of emotions it seemed to address.
Favorite jam? The beautiful chaos leading out of “Sally Goodin’”>”Sweet Blue-eyed Darlin’” 7/24’s Exit Inn show. Also the 7/22 “Black Clouds” City Winery version cooks.
Favorite cover? Prine’s “Sweet Revenge” closing night at 3rd & Lindsley on 7/26. I also loved Jarrod’s Grisman covers throughout.
Favorite show of the tour? 7/19 at the Station Inn, very closely followed by 7/22 at the City Winery and the Exit/Inn 7/25.
Favorite set? Probably the first set of 7/23 at City Winery. Just exactly perfect, and made me realize just what I’d been missing by not regularly checking into these live shows. Thankfully, all of these shows are available in soundboard quality over at Nugs. Check them out here:

Billy Strings is the real deal. Apostol, Walker, Masat and Failing know the music. Not only that, they know the history, and they show a colossal amount of respect for those that have come before. But what might be most impressive, is that they are able to do just that, all while doing things their way. The tour itself being a prime example. Maybe other bands/artists have done similar streaming shows, but I sure missed it if anyone else did nine gigs across 5 venues all while playing 150+ songs at an unbelievable jaw-dropping level. Despite the physical detachment, I still felt a lot of similarities to the the times I’ve been able to break away from the real world to head out on Grateful Dead tour. The shamanistic joy of the music, the welcoming camaraderie of the community, and the warm feel of satisfied exhaustion, followed by the exhilarating knowledge that there’s another chance to experience it tomorrow. That made the final night tough, but thankfully during the set break they announced a few drive-in shows this September. Always nice to end tour with something to look forward too. It just wasn’t the band that made this special. This was truly a team effort. The logistics team, the lighting crew, film, band and sound crews, as well as the venues and streaming providers really came together to give us something memorable. Lastly, all the guest artists were out of sight. They all came loaded for bear, inflecting their own specialties and twists via songs and exceptional playing. A final shout-out to the Billy Strings Set List Page on Facebook for the song tracking assistance. I’ve found a new home over on the Billy Strings Fanpage (Official) also on Facebook thanks to their sense of community as well as the entertainment value. Also, the Billy Strings Merch team exceeded expectations by getting the Streaming Tour merch I ordered to me in no time. Lastly, a call out to Jesse Faatz who provided some incredible live and behind the scene photography. I’ve wanted to photograph Billy Strings for more than a little bit, and these gigs left me more than a little envious. Well done sir. We all want to get back to the live venues as soon as possible. But while we really can’t just yet, Billy Strings threw us a lifeline with these nine shows. Hopefully others follow his lead, and help get their art out to an audience starving for any kind of music experience. Billy Strings has set a pretty high bar.
Visit the official Billy Strings page for all the current information and merch:

Leave a Reply!