It’s April 22nd, 2022, also deemed Earth Day, or the day Billy Strings plays the new Moody Amphitheater in Austin, TX. The almighty sun meets the horizon where the Texas State Capitol building boldly makes its presence known, serving as the backdrop at this brand-new 5,000-person venue in the Live Music Capital of the World. Billy eventually made reference to this change of scenery, noting that he thought he was going to be at ACL Live at The Moody Theater like last time but was pleasantly surprised at the crisp outdoor amphitheater. It’s understandable, the three Moody Moody’s are definitely confusing.
Throngs of jubilant folx make their way through security, happily greeting friends, grabbing a crisp beverage from the bar, or opting to spend their pre-show time in the line for some of the best merchandise in the business. As the evening light settled among the buzzing crowd, a friendly reminder in Billy’s voice counted down the moments left until showtime (“fuzzy rainbow time in t-minus 15 minutes…10 minutes…” echoed over the PA system).
The usual quartet had the pleasure of a fifth player for two electrifying and Texas-themed sets, the likes of fiddle extraordinaire Alex Hargreaves. A classically trained and award-winning violinist based in Brooklyn, Hargreaves had also joined the band the previous night in Houston. While the band as a foursome is a congealed force not to be reckoned with, there is no denying the insatiable energy and next-level layer that the fiddle brings to the experience. Word on the premises is that fans would not be upset to see more of Hargreaves in the future.
The stage, which boasts a cross-beam, geometric art piece that adds a “crown” to the entire experience, was ignited with the premium pickin’ tune “The Likes of Me” by Jerry Reed. This traditional bluegrass number set the tone for the evening, allowing the crowd to quickly hear how the fiddle would astoundingly affect the sound and supply another vivacious point for spectators and band members alike. From this 1969 classic, the fellows decidedly played straight into “Pyramid Country”, producing a full set of undeniable body chills on at least a thousand in attendance. Hargreaves, Billy Failing (banjo), Royal Masat (bass), and Jarrod Walker (mandolin) immediately formed an outline for the man born William Apostol to pick his way into the untapped portions of wide-screened sensory pools hidden away in the vast human collective of sonic energy.
The palpable vibratory musical matching between Apostol and Hargreaves entrenched its ways into the psychedelic arteries the night would excavate into, producing sounds that emulated a fully-plugged Led Zeppelin vibe that should probably not be legal. Cascading into a gradually-paced melodic descent, the band invited listeners on a stoned magic carpet ride. All the while, Royal kept everything rooted into the earth by way of his unconquerable playing on stand-up bass.
With huge LED strips strategically placed in various depths in a mobile-esque structure above the stage floor, it is no myth that the Billy Strings’ experience would be an entirely different one without the metaphysical finesse of the group’s Lighting Designer Roger Gant and crew as neon rainbows crescendoed into the end of “Pyramid Country”, it was as if the quintet was welcoming everyone home.
Next up was “Little Maggie”, a beloved joint from the album Fiddle Tune X with Don Julin. The notable ten-second holding of the “a” in “stand” wailed by Billy at the opening of this hot-chicken, finger-lickin’ number had the crowd roaring.
“Hi, good to see you tonight, Austin!” Apostol declared, before moving into the heartstring-yanker of his song “Show Me The Door.” After that hard-to-deny, emotional tugger, the crew delighted old heads with Strings’ version of “Rosa Lee McFall”, a Charlie Monroe written song, performed by Jerry Garcia and the Grateful Dead many throughout the decades.
Fan favorite “Slow Train” from the Billy Strings EP urged everyone to take that long ride before busting out into a wildly surprising Pearl Jam cover of “Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town”, only the sixth play for the band. The show moved right along into a ten-minute-plus psychedelic trip of another EP staple “Turmoil & Tinfoil”, as the visuals propelled maximum steam ahead—the smoke and rainbows melding together to create quite the backdrop for Hargreaves to sail the song away into the ethers.
Billy Strings – “Turmoil & Tinfoil” – 4/22/22 – Partial
[Video: Sydney Paschall]
As the first set came to a close, Apostol told the story legend of Béla Fleck asking him to join him for a number on his 2021 album release, My Bluegrass Heart. Recorded at Fleck’s studio, the song is called “Tentacle Dragon (Revenge of the)”.
“I hope you can get down with that s–t. Can you guys get down with tentacle dragon?” Billy inquired before the crowd’s rip-roars and “woo’s” answer a resounding “Hell yeah!”. “Damn y’all loud as f–k,” he exclaimed before everyone in the vicinity imagined themselves riding a dragon with tentacles across the astral waves of the Milky Way.
After a brief intermission, the stalwarts of musical grass reappeared and opened with a song now played five times by the band, Doc Watson‘s essential “Texas Gales”. In mirroring order of how they’re listed on Renewal, “Fire Line” and instrumental jam “Running the Route” were fervently performed next before the mood transitioned into another heartfelt love song for the ages, “In the Morning Light”.
After wiping away the crowd’s theoretical (and possibly real) tears, Strings and band gifted Widespread Panic fans a memorable cover of “All Time Low”. Another gift, but for the inflated pride of every Texan in attendance, was an absolutely astonishing version (in the best way) of “Deep in the Heart of Texas”, written by Gene Autry and debuted by the band that night. This led straight into “Everything’s the Same”, a fun-loving ode to livin’ on the road, which featured a tease of “Deep in the Heart” and opened with geographically-apt “I’m going to Texas.”
Billy Strings – “All Time Low” (Widespread Panic) – 4/22/22 – Partial
[Video: Sydney Paschall]
Following that glorious string of serenades, William introduced his fine-looking and fine-sounding stage colleagues before heading right back into it with another HOME hit “Enough to Leave”. He foreshadowed what was next, calling it a “fiddle, banjo number,” the traditional bluegrass lick “Sally Goodin”. Feverishly wandering into the two-hour-plus mark, the lights (Roger Grant), the sound (Andy Lytle), and the picking (apparent) surely fused together into one forcefield of sonic delight for “Must Be Seven” directly into an “Away From the Mire” that you simply had to be there for. Sticking to the heart-full Hill Country, Texas tributes, the group capped off the soon-to-be bittersweet night in musical history with “Y’all Come,” written by Arlie Duff and played by Bill Monroe.
Catch Billy Strings on the remaining Spring Tour 2022 dates, with a three-night return to the St. Augustin Amphitheatre in Florida up next. Visit his website for tickets and a full list of tour dates. Scroll down to check out a gallery of images courtesy of tour photographer Jesse Faatz.
Setlist [via BillyBase]: Billy Strings | Moody Theatre | Austin, TX | 4/22/22
Set One: Likes Of Me (Jerry Reed) > Pyramid Country > Little Maggie (Traditional), Show Me The Door, Rosa Lee McFall (Charlie Monroe), Slow Train (Leroy Drumm, Cal Freeman), Elderly Woman Behind The Counter In A Small Town (Pearl Jam), Turmoil & Tinfoil, Tentacle Dragon (Revenge Of The) (Béla Fleck) 
Set Two: Texas Gales (Traditional), Fire Line > Running The Route, In The Morning Light, All Time Low (Widespread Panic) > Deep In The Heart Of Texas (June Hershey)  > Everything’s The Same, Enough To Leave, Sally Goodin (Traditional) > Must Be Seven > Away From The Mire, Y’all Come (Arlie Duff)
 Hey Flux come downtown chant – See
With Alex Hargreaves on fiddle for the entire show