Billy Strings – Show at the Greensboro Coliseum 02/11/2022
By Shana Thompson
A little girl, around 4 years old, walks up nearby the stage in bellbottoms. She’s about the same age Billy was when he got his first real guitar. Fans pile in early to get the best standing spot on the floor as close to the stage as they can get. A man with long hair, matching beard and a paisley button-down shirt stands swaying in front of his seat about an hour before the concert starts. He’s already hearing the tunes in his head and raising his arms in praise. You scan the room and you can pick out the baby boomers, Gen X,Y and Z. The crowd spanning generations and proving that Billy Strings’ music speaks to the multitudes.
Billy Strings, 29, an American Grammy-Award winning guitarist is lifting bluegrass to arenagrass, and we are all on board for the ride. Our hands smell like fresh grass and we aren’t washing them anytime soon. Billy is wearing bright red shoes and he is on fire. Kicking off the show with a fan favorite, “Dust in a Baggie” from his 2013 Rock of Ages LP with Don Julin.
The crowd noodles away as the band picks through “Hellbender” and “Heartbeat of America” and then slows it down with a softer tune, and one of my favorites, “In the Morning Light”.
So in the morning when I see her in the light
She comes through to me in any kind of weather
And I know I’ll never see a brighter day when she smiles with her eyes
And even with a clouded heart chocked full of doubt
She can sing away the worry of rejection
She’s a wonder to behold I’ll lover her
‘Til I’m growing old and that’s the plan
Next up was “Fire Line”, “Running the Route”, “Samson and Delilah” and “Slow Train”. And then we let go of the pain, and hold onto the rhythm, into the short intermission with “Away From the Mire”.
The energy is palpable and reminiscent of a Grateful Dead show. The light show, and marathon jams, make it feel like a campfire dance floor and all hearts are beating to the same rhythm. One song after the next it feels like we are witnessing a phenom. My Dad turns to me and says, “He’s going to be bigger than the Beatles.”
If you are close enough to witness his magic you’ll catch a contact high from the smoke exuding from his fingertips. Billy takes the music to this transcendental state while the crowd sways in a euphoric trance to the multidimensional flow. He’s the definition of being in his own world and the people love taking the trip to see him. Bluegrass, rock and metal worlds collide when he is on stage. His music is inspired by the likes of Doc Watson and Jimi Hendrix, and merges the vibes of the Grateful Dead and Phish with the lights and jams. It’s both traditional and psychedelic, between the pickin’ and the vibes, and everyone is mesmerized.
After recess they reel the energy right back in with “Fire on my Tongue” and roll into The Stanley Brothers “Clinch Mountain Backstep”. Then came “Must Be Seven” from Billy’s fourth studio album Home. Followed by “Pyramid Country” from his third studio album in 2017, Turmoil and Tinfoil. Next up is “Show Me the Door” and “Hide and Seek” from his latest album release in 2021, Renewal.
A younger man turns to my Dad and asks if it’s okay if he smokes his spliff. He didn’t have to ask but he did, another sign of that generational communion. He proceeds to drag on throughout the show. At one point the young man blows smoke into the phone of someone on Facetime. The man on the other line is witnessing the show remotely and also smoking one for the cause. A moment of connection and reflection between friends, in a time we’ve been desperate to connect in. Everyone is enlivened to witness live music together, especially here in this place, with Billy and his friends.
Millennial’s get their flashback with Strings version of Pearl Jams “Elderly Woman Behind a Counter in a Small Town.” Followed up with a big treat for the old timers with Skaggs “If I Lose”.
And then comes a string of tunes by Billy’s favorite, Doc Watson. Earlier in the day Billy was on his Instagram live admitting his latest pastime is collecting all the Doc Watson vinyls he can get his hands on. Closing out the show Billy honors his icon Doc Watson with a little more fire on his fingertips as he picks out “Black Mountain Rag”.
Billy once said he’d go to bed with banjoes ringing in his head. We’ve witnessed a legend and you can rest assured we’ll all be sleeping to the tune of Billy tonight.
The show wrapped up with an encore of “Meet Me at the Creek” from his 2017 album Turmoil and Tinfoil.
I’m letting go of all my troubles
I think I’ll be right here to stay
We’re right there with you Billy.
Strings, Billy Failing, Jarrod Walker and Royal Masat stood together and soaked it all up at the end of the show. They paused with deep appreciation into the ovation that was so richly deserved.
It was an insanely good time and an evening I’ll never forget as I got to spend it with my father, a huge Billy Strings fan. It was a timeless experience between generations and one I’ll never forget.
As we left the show my Dad said to me, “In that very coliseum I have seen and heard iconic bands playing legendary songs: Led Zeppelin: Stairway to Heaven; Lynyrd Skynyrd, with the late great Ronnie Van Zant, hammer out Free Bird; and my favorite all time, The Outlaws’ Green Grass and High Tides but the performance I witnessed tonight was the greatest I have ever seen.“