Billy Strings left Knoxville a smoking crater on Saturday night following an incendiary show at the Knoxville Civic Auditorium. The bluegrass phenom debuted a George Jones cover during his second of two nights at the eastern Tennesse concert hall.
Thunderous opening applause exploded through the auditorium with the crack of “Dust In A Baggie”. That raucous energy rolled straight into the hollerin’ of “Doin’ Things Right”, which Billy tacked a Jimi Hendrix “Third Stone From The Sun” tease onto the end of. Bassist Royal Masat had the honor of the first solo that evening, showcasing the night’s limitless possibilities.
Knoxville then got an appropriate taste of Bill Monroe‘s “Southern Flavor”. The red hot instrumental kept the momentum going before Billy offered a brief respite with “Nothing’s Working”. In between songs, a couple got hitched with Billy relaying “looks like he put a ring on it.” In a fit of cosmic irony, “Freeborn Man” came next and opened up into the most extensive improvisation of the performance. Billy took the lead with a wah-infused solo indicative of his more psychedelic leanings. Everyone got in on this one, as banjo picker Billy Failing and mandolinist Jarrod Walker each took a spotlight solo.
The depth of the jam out of “Freeborn Man” began to disassemble the constructs of the song and explore uncharted territory. The avant nature of the improvisation wandered further and further to the edge of sonic conquest before Billy, perhaps sensing danger over the horizon, pulled the chord on the jam, segueing into “Secrets”. As an audience member, one couldn’t help feeling guilty that Billy wasn’t shown the proper encouragement to further develop the jam.
There’s no use in mourning what could have been, as the show moved on with “Ready For The Times To Get Better”. It was then time to come on down the mountain “Katy Daley” for a sip of good ole mountain dew, before Jimmie Skinner‘s “Doin’ My Time” closed out the first frame.
Returning for the second set, Billy lined up a twisted game of “Hide & Seek”. The reliable vehicle kept it light with some fiery type one jamming as Billy dominated the improv. He then opened up the floor for the ongoing musical conversation between him and his bandmates. In Billy’s blend of bluegrass, the conversation allows for one speaker at a time. Royal doesn’t often have much to say, making his occasional offering all the more profound.
The debut of George Jones’ “Life To Go”—released by Stonewall Jackson in 1958—came next before “Everything’s The Same” followed with Billy inserting Knoxville into the song’s location-specific opening line. Billy Failing assumed his seat at the head of the table in the ensuing run through Tony Rice‘s “Manzanita” prior to the pairing of “Fire On My Tongue” and “Must Be Seven”.
The performance took on a more traditional tone with Bill Anderson‘s “In Case You Ever Change Your Mind” and Ralph Stanley‘s “A Robin Built A Nest On Daddy’s Grave”. Billy showcased his wide musical taste by following those bluegrass classics with “Hyacinth House” from The Doors. This arrived as just the second cover of the L.A. Woman track following its debut on 9/8/21 in Los Angeles, per Billybase.
With The Doors of perception propped open, it was time for one last jam. This came in the form of the Robert Hunter-penned “Thunder” which arrived with a shattering crack. There was thunder in the audience as the band left for an encore break, returning to huddle around a single mic for “Freedom”.
With his southeast run behind him, Billy is off until February 26th when he’ll perform at the inaugural Innings Festival in Tempe, AZ. For tickets and a full list of tour dates click here. Scroll down to check out a collection of fan-shot videos from Music City Maven.
Billy Strings – “Doin’ Things Right” – 2/19/22
Billy Strings – “Freeborn Man” (Mark Lindsay, Keith Allison) > “Secrets” – 2/19/22
Billy Strings – “Life To Go” (George Jones) – 2/19/22
Billy Strings – “Manzanita” (Tony Rice) – 2/19/22
Billy Strings – “Hyacinth House” (The Doors) – 2/19/22
Billy Strings – “Freedom” – 2/19/22
Setlist: Billy Strings | Knoxville Civic Auditorium | Knoxville, TN | 2/19/22
Set One: Dust In A Baggie > Doin’ Things Right , Southern Flavor (Bill Monroe), Nothing’s Working, Freeborn Man (Mark Lindsay, Keith Allison) > Secrets, Ready For The Times To Get Better (Allen Reynolds), Katy Daley (Ralph Stanley), Doin’ My Time (Jimmie Skinner) (9:30)
Set Two (9:51): Hide & Seek, Life To Go (George Jones) , Everything’s The Same, Manzanita (Tony Rice), Fire On My Tongue > Must Be Seven, In Case You Ever Change Your Mind (Bill Anderson), A Robin Built A Nest Daddy’s On Grave (Ralph Stanley), Hyacinth House (The Doors), Thunder (Robert Hunter)
Encore: Freedom  (10:59)
 “Third Stone From The Sun” tease
 Single mic