It began with the forging of the Great Strings. Six were given to Billy Strings, wisest and fairest of all beings, who began his Away From The Shire Halloween run in Asheville, NC on Saturday. The first of three concerts at the Arena saw a bevy of debuts and a pair of special guests for the Lord of the Rings-themed show.

The unexpected journey began around the block from the downtown arena with a monolithic line stretching to Cherry Street across the I-240 overpass, the likes of which this local reporter has never seen before. Among the costume-clad concertgoers, the sold-out crowd packed the Harrah’s Cherokee Center entertainment complex, engrossing the stage adorned with an advanced visual setup with one circular monitor center stage flanked by two large rectangular boards placed vertically on either side.


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Strings set the mood before even taking the stage as the lights dimmed and a pre-recorded message of the bluegrass picker reading the opening monologue to The Fellowship of the Ring played over the PA. The band then emerged with Strings dressed as Frodo Baggins, Jarrod Walker as Samwise Gamgee, Billy Failing as Aragon, Royal Masat as Gandalf, and Alex Hargreaves as Legolas. Also joining the band was flutist Ahn Pung, dressed as an elf, who would add winds throughout the show.

Opening with “The Shire”, composed by Howard Shore, the sextet set the tone for the evening by centering the jam around the main Lord of the Rings theme which would come up throughout the evening. Weaving through a total 28-song setlist, the band retold J.R.R. Tolkien‘s classic traveling tale of friendship and the corruptible nature of power.

In contrast to last year’s Wizard of Oz-themed run where Strings and company took three nights to parallel one film, the task of mirroring the three-hour movie in roughly the same amount of time (set break included) kept Saturday’s show at a brisk pace. Billy Baggins and his band struck an idyllic balance of relevant song choices that fit not just within the parameters of the story but that of a classic Billy Strings show. The Dillards‘ “Old Home Place”, Billy’s own “Home”, the titular “Away From The Mire”, and more in the first set all served their purpose of moving the plot along in a way that didn’t feel forced.

There is a tendency with themed runs for adherence to the concept to bog down musical creativity, but those fears were put to rest with the massive “Hide & Seek” that closed the first set. With the cold wind blowing at their door, the ensemble left the shire propelled by expansive improvisation that wound through a pair of songs from the film before a reprisal took fans into set break.

As the list dimmed for act two, Strings, Failing, Masat, Walker, and Hargreaves did not take the stage; instead, it was Gollum (Rushad Eggleston) who slithered out with a cello. The Mad Max-style noise rock composition dubbed “Gollum’s Nasty, Nasty” also saw the creature once known as Sméagol utilize a kazoo affixed to his stringed instrument.

The quintet eventually came out to shoo Gollum away, though he would be back. With the Black Riders hot on their tail in search of the ring, Strings and his bandmates dished out a couple classic rock favorites in The Allman Brothers Band‘s “Midnight Rider” and the Rolling Stones‘ “Wild Horses” to get things underway.

The improvisational spirit of the second set awakened within “Heartbeat of America”, as Billy forged a clear path to a roaring debut of Bob Dylan‘s “All Along The Watchtower”. With the aid of Alex’s fiddle, this rendition was more aligned with the original John Wesley Harding version rather than Jimi Hendrix‘s iconic cover—though Billy was sure to nod to the late guitar hero with his blistering solo.

The covers in the second set were chosen with care, as the characters’ journey into the mines of Moria was emphasized with Merle Travis‘ “Dark As A Dungeon”. A defiant jam followed, with Royal bellowing “You shall not pass!” at the instrumental crescendo before leading the band through its first-ever take on the Johnny Cash favorite written by June Carter “Ring of Fire” as Gandalf plunged down into the depths of the flames.

The second set at times belonged to the special guests, as Ahn Phung lent her flute to a beautiful take on “Love & Regret” midway through. The grand finale, however, came in a “Meet Me At The Creek” of epic proportions as the elf flutist and cello-playing Gollum joined in on the improvisational highlight of the evening which was coincidentally some of the most communal playing of the show.

Returning once more for the encore, Strings nodded to both country music history and the continuing saga of the ring with “Will The Circle Be Unbroken” to close the book on chapter one of Away From The Shire.

Strings and company return to the Arena tonight, October 30th, for a sold-out showing of The Two Towers.

Billy Strings – “Gollum’s Intro”, “The Shire” [Pro-Shot] – 10/29/22

Billy Strings – “Away From The Mire” – 10/29/22 – Partial


Billy Strings – “Midnight Rider” (Allman Brothers Band) – 10/29/22

[Video: Doug Heck]

Billy Strings – “Wild Horses” (Rolling Stones) – 10/29/22

[Video: Doug Heck]

Billy Strings – “All Along The Watchtower” (Bob Dylan) – 10/29/22

[Video: Doug Heck]

Billy Strings – “Ring Of Fire” (June Carter) – 10/29/22

[Video: Doug Heck]

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Setlist: Billy Strings | Arena | Asheville, NC | 10/29/22

Set One: Gollum’s Intro, The Shire [1] [2], Old Home Place [1] > Home, Happy Birthday To You [1], Flaming Red Hair [1] [2], Secrets, The Roads Go Ever On [2], Away From The Mire [3], Travelin’ This Lonesome Road [4], Hide & Seek > The Council Of Elrond [2] > The Ring Goes South [2] > Hide & Seek

Set Two: Gollum’s Nasty, Nasty [5], Midnight Rider, Wild Horses, Heartbeat Of America > All Along The Watchtower [6], Poor Ellen Smith [7], Whispers Of The North [8], Love & Regret [1], High On A Mountian [9] [10], Ice Bridges, Dark As A Dungeon [11], Ring Of Fire [12] [13] [14], In The Pines [15] [16], Meet Me At The Creek [1] [16] > The Breaking Of The Fellowship [1] [16] > Meet Me At The Creek [1] [16]

Encore: Will The Circle Be Unbroken [1] [16]

[1] With Ahn Phung on flute
[2] FTP- Howard Shore
[3] “Away From The Shire”
[4] FTP- Bill Monroe
[5] FTP- Rushad Eggleston (Gollum) solo on cello/kazoo
[6] FTP- Bob Dylan
[7] “Poor Frodo Baggins” version
[8] FTP- Gordon Lightfoot
[9] FTP- Ola Belle Reed
[10] Billy Failing on lead vocals
[11] FTP- Merle Travis
[12] FTP- June Carter
[13] Royal Masat on lead vocals
[14] “You Shall Not Pass” jam intro with Rushad Eggleston on cello
[15] FTP- Traditional
[16] With Rushad Eggleston (Gollum) on cello