Billy Strings brought his 2021 fall tour to the winding streets of Boston, MA on Wednesday night for a performance at the Boch Center – Wang Theatre. The chilly, midweek tour stop saw Strings and his band debut two new covers and bust out another during the 150-minute performance.
As fans shuffled away from the crisp autumn air and into the warm embrace of The Wang’s exquisite Baroque-style architecture, a buzz filled the historic theater. The sea of flannels readied itself by waiting in line at the bar, checking out the Folk Americana Roots Hall of Fame on the lower level, and admiring the stunning infrastructure. Right around 8:45 p.m., Strings took the stage with his usual cast of characters, Billy Failing (banjo), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), and Royal Masat (bass), gazing at the grand, multi-level, 3,500-person cinematheque; a far cry from the 525-capacity venue the band played the last time it came through Beantown on November 14th, 2019.
Wasting no time, Strings began with “Red Daisy”, an original tune from his most recent album, Renewal. Short and to the book, “Red Daisy” set up a cover of William “Billy” Hayes‘ “I’ll Remember You, Love, In My Prayers”. His ethereal vocal work on the Billy Hayes number set up the first instrumental of the evening, “Bronzeback”. The bluegrass phenom showed off his flatpicking prowess on this one, which also gave Failing and Walker some time to shine before a segue to “Must Be Seven”.
Despite singing of the bittersweet loss of love on “Must Be Seven”, the buoyant instrumentation kept the crowd’s dancing feet moving throughout, even at the uppermost part of the expansive balcony. Masat stood out during the jam section of this Home cut, with his upright bass deeply pulsating through the venue’s PA system.
A lengthy “Fire Line” fell at the mid-point of the first frame, which would have been the jam of the set if not for “Meet Me At The Creek” (more on that later). The former original was first debuted at The Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY on February 23rd, 2021 for night five of the Deja Vu Experiment. Starting from a deep ravine, Failing led the early part of this jam before giving way to Strings, who kicked on the distortion and flipped the switch to high-gear. With each plateau came roaring applause, only to find a higher mesa and a louder cheer.
Up next came “Running The Route”, a Jarrod Walker and Christian Ward-penned instrumental, which Strings debuted at The Cap on 2/24/21. “Peggy-O”, the traditional number that became a Grateful Dead staple throughout the years, came next, right after Billy held up a Zdeno Chara #33 Boston Bruins jersey. Each line sung by Strings on this one invoked responsive applause from the Boston crowd, which only built more and more steam as the song progressed.
Before set one would come to a close, Billy and his band had a few more tricks up their sleeves. First, Strings held up another jersey, this time of the Boston Celtics legend, Larry Bird. Someone also threw a bag of cannabis on stage at this point, to which Strings said, “I’ll have to send it off to the lab,” which sparked laughter from the audience.
Next came the debut of “Boston Boy”, a traditional instrumental that saw Walker, Strings, and Failing rotate leads. The band followed this up with “Watch It Fall”, another track from 2019’s Home, before dropping into a take on Jerry Reed‘s “The Likes of Me”. A segue to the closer “Meet Me At The Creek” then produced the defining jam of the set, which saw Walker lead for a good portion before Billy took over, triggered the distortion, and rode the whole room into its first break.
If people thought the temperature in the room couldn’t get any higher, Strings proved them wrong by opening with another Renewal number, “The Fire On My Tongue”. This Bostonian ascent had only begun as a massive “Taking Water” > “End of the Rainbow” (Frank Wakefield) > “Thirst Mutilator” > “Dust In A Baggie” segment ensued.
As “End of the Rainbow” drew to an end it felt like the highest peak of the night. Little did the audience know at the time, this was only base camp. An extensive telling of “Thirst Mutilator” carried the room even higher with heavy lead lines from Strings, before the true apex of the section, “Dust In A Baggie”. The opening five seconds activated the most raucous applause thus far as fans at The Wang summited the second set.
If “Dust In A Baggie” was the peak of this mountain, “Love Like Me” symbolized Strings’ admiration of the landscape. “You could climb the highest mountain/ You could swim the deepest sea/ You could walk that lonesome valley/ And never find a love like me,” he sang, putting what we all felt at that moment into song form as fans locked arms and looked to the stage in wonder.
The dark jams weren’t done yet, however, as a far-reaching “Highway Hypnosis” came next. “Highway Hypnosis” felt like a mad dash to the next peak as 16th notes fell from Strings’ guitar like heavy raindrops in a thunderstorm. Always knowing the perfect time for distortion, Strings put the pedal to the metal for the rest of this improv section before hitting the breaks and dedicating a cover of Larry Sparks‘ “John Deere Tractor” to Joe and Marla—former owners of Billy’s dad Terry Barber‘s Martin D-9—who were in attendance at The Wang.
Moving toward the end of the show, the band busted out a cover of Pearl Jam‘s “In Hiding”, which dates back to 2017 but hadn’t been played since September 19th, 2020 (per Phantasy Tour). Strings, Failing, Masat, and Walker ended with a final take from Renewal, “Hide & Seek”. Applause sustained through the encore break, which brought the band back out for one more song. Billy Strings then ended the night at The Wang Theatre with another cover debut, The Kingston Trio‘s “Big Ball In Boston”, and sent the crowd off into the still-bustling streets of Boston.
Billy Strings’ next stop is tomorrow, November 19th, at Mohegan Sun Arena at Casey Plaza in Wilkes-Barre Township, PA. For tickets and a full list of tour dates visit his website. Scroll down to check out a setlist of the performance and a collection of fan-shot videos courtesy of Matt Frazier.
Billy Strings – “Running The Route” – 11/17/21
Billy Strings – “Peggy-O” (Traditional) – 11/17/21
Billy Strings – “John Deere Tractor” (Larry Sparks) – 11/17/21
Billy Strings – “Hide & Seek” – 11/17/21
Billy Strings – “Big Ball In Boston” (The Kingston Trio) – 11/17/21
Setlist: Billy Strings | Boch Center – Wang Theatre | Boston, MA | 11/17/21
Set One: Red Daisy, I’ll Remember You, Love, In My Prayers (William “Billy Hayes), Bronzeback > Must Be Seven, Fire Line , Running The Route, Peggy-O (Traditional), Boston Boy  (Traditional), Watch It Fall, The Likes Of Me (Jerry Reed) > Meet Me At The Creek
Set Two: The Fire On My Tongue, Taking Water > End Of The Rainbow (Frank Wakefield) > Thirst Mutilator > Dust In A Baggie, Love Like Me, Highway Hypnosis, John Deere Tractor  (Larry Sparks), In Hiding (Pearl Jam), Hide & Seek
Encore: Big Ball In Boston (Traditional) 
 Jerusalem Ridge tease
 Dedicated to Joe and Marla, former owners of Terry’s Martin D-93
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