Billy Strings at the Moody Center
Tour shirts and tie-dyes were chic as I made my way towards the ticket box at the brand-new Moody Center in Austin, Texas.
Billy Strings and his five piece band took the stage at the modern arena without an opening act, ready to perform traditional bluegrass for over ten thousand fans. The stage has a modern and simple design with large video screens for the close up shots. The minimal design really kept the focus on the performers and let the audience connect with the art. The Texas Longhorns basketball team just finished their first season at the Moody Center and the acoustics for an arena this size were excellent.
Fans outside the Moody Center. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
Strings performs a high energy show with almost forty songs and little time between. They opened with “I’ll Be Gone a Long Time” and quickly moved on with “Dust in a Baggie” and several other original songs before a list of traditional covers. I caught up with two brothers that were attending their third Strings concert run.
“Billy Strings is Young William,” said Mike Cole, excited that this was my first experience with the band.
“I saw him at Luck Reunion in the church with about twenty other people,” Danny Cole said. “He was a clean cut young kid. I wondered who the hell he was. He was playing the Grateful Dead. I was lucky to visit then and held on since.”
The energy of the performance is what keeps them coming back, traveling to St. Augustine, Florida for a three night stint, the Austin City Limits festival and Luck Reunion in Spicewood.
“I think he’s carrying our music very well and respectfully,” Danny Cole said. “He’s surrounded himself with good people.”
The Cole brothers also praised Strings for being “California Sober,” a pact he made with Willie Nelson who famously gave up his rowdy days with the bottle for marijuana that has been shared with a song.
“Well, I used to like to ramble with my good time friends and neighbors, now I find I’d rather lie awake in bed. And I don’t get to acting mean when I keep my buzzes clean, and keep the hard stuff and the whiskey from my head,” Strings sings with Willie Nelson. “Well, I guess that’s just the trouble when you’re always seeing double, and the lines are getting twice as hard to see.
I’ve had years I don’t recall but I’m told I had a ball, at least somebody did who looked a lot like me… I can’t stay out and party like I did back in the day so I’m California sober as they say.”
It’s a term widely adopted by millennials as they rejoice with relaxed marijuana laws and the young crowd had plenty of time for celebration as the night moved on. Here in Texas we call it Willie Nelson sober.
Strings lit up the crowd with solo performances of “Pancho and Lefty” by Willie Nelson and “Cold Cold World” and “Should Have Been Home” by local favorite Blaze Foley.
“We’ve been looking forward to this gig for so long and now it’s here” Strings said as the audience roared. Strings really connects with his fans and changs sets every night to keep them on their toes. “It doesn’t mean I’m unprepared, just means I’m prepared to go off the cuff.”
Billy Strings performs at the Moody Center. Photo by Andrew Blanton.
This concert was amazing in so many ways. It brought me back to my younger days of attending Yonder Mountain String Band concerts to a crowd of hippies. There’s a magic in the jam band scene that can’t be explained and they have fully taken in Strings as one of their own. It feels like one big family and the amount of young fans was truly a joy to see. As many times as you’ll hear an old timer say the music is gone, you find Stings, Tyler Childers, Charley Crockett, Sierra Ferrell and so many others bringing new life to roots music. To see a massive arena filled to hear five acoustic instruments and a style not found on the Billboard charts warmed my heart.
Catch Billy Strings on tour here: https://www.billystrings.com/
Enjoy our previous coverage here: REVIEW: Me/And/Dad by Billy Strings Is An Instant Bluegrass Classic