Billy Strings and his band returned to the Moody Theater at ACL Live on Friday night for a jamgrass climax of iconic proportions. The last time the group found itself in Austin, it staged a taping and performance at the Lone Star capital city’s legendary ACL Live, but what else would you expect from the “Best Bluegrass Album” Grammy-winning musicians?
From the likes of the almost-century-reigning king Earl Scruggs to the influences of heavy metal icons Black Sabbath, the seasoned quartet honed together in the “Live Music Capital of the World” in the name of the unshakeable “magic of music.”
William Apostol (guitar/vocals/banjo), Billy Failing (banjo/vocals/piano), Jarrod Walker (mandolin/vocals/guitar), and Royal Masat (bass/vocals) graced the stage to create another mind-bending night of boundary-pushing string-pluckin’. Masat led the production from the get-go, holding the steady backline to lay out the evening’s heartbeat. The band catapulted the night into the stratosphere with a traditional “Beaumont Rag”, popularized by Doc Watson. Showcasing his tried and true Bluegrass roots, Strings nonchalantly bid a “hello” to the roaring crowd as the band cascaded into “The Fire on My Tongue”, a straight-to-the-punch number off of 2021’s Renewal.
Billy Strings – “The Fire On My Tongue” (Partial) – 12/3/21
[Video: Sydney Paschall]
With a suspended rainstorm of LED light-sticks backing the foursome throughout the show, the group quickly set an unprecedented but readily-welcomed bar for where the evening was headed. The thirst-savoring crowd absorbed every last drop of the Strings sponge as a wild turn presented The Stanley Brother’s “How Mountain Girls Can Love”. Billy Failing reminded the scene why some eagerly consider him comparable to the likes of Béla Fleck and Earl Scruggs. The unadulterated chemistry between the four musicians shined in the newly released “Nothing’s Working”—a willing plea exalting the absolute beauty in the dismal of the uncertain rollercoaster that is walking a seemingly-authentic life in the earthly realms.
Straight from the Grammy-winning Home, “Highway Hypnosis” magnified the audible realms next, fusing a deeply-embedded love for classic flat-picking into a truly incendiary and psychedelic trip down the unapologetic road of pursuing the undeniable energy that is live music. An intoxicating breakdown of force in motion, impossible-to-ignore chaos that sucks listeners into the eye of the moment, a place where only the remarkable happens. You either get chewed up and spit out or tossed into the unpredictable wave of sinful delight.
The thing about these four instrumentalists is that they can go from making the crowd feel happily dissipated in space to feeling solidified in their bodies with a song dedicated by Apostol to his mama—Larry Spark’s “John Deere Tractor”. From staple “Likes Of Me” to a Dave Bruzza-written “A Letter to Seymour” to country-folk-rock “There is a Time” by The Dillards to Chris Henry’s “West Dakota Rose”, the band did a number on the graciously receiving crowd.
Jarrod Walker continued to wow all in attendance with passionate and progressive mandolin licks, drawing inspiration from the greats that came before him, Bill Monroe and David Grisman. The group delivered an absolutely record-smashing version of “Turmoil & Tinfoil”, a ground-breaking track off of 2017’s album of the same name. There is no wonder the song’s acronym is “T.N.T.”, as this wonderfully disordered, edge-rectifying song displayed Strings’ prowess on the six-string.
After a thirty-minute breather, the band headed back to finish what they began, opening set two with Tony Rice’s “Tipper” before Turmoil & Tinfoil’s “Dealing Despair”. Billy quickly announced he was “gonna sing a love song” before launching into Florida country star Hank Locklin’s “A Good Woman’s Love”. A simple tale about a dream and some good love.
Billy Strings – “Tipper” (Tony Rice) – 12/3/21
[Video: Sydney Paschall]
Quenching yet again the musical cravings of the crowd, “Thirst Mutilator” sailed straight into the Failing original “So Many Miles”. The entire sea of human conduits erupted into high praise for the finely-curated tune, before Apostol declared that he would do “anything to have the Doc Watson version of the next song.” Anticipation bellowed as the band broke into the country classic “If You Ever Change Your Mind”. Out of a supposedly tucked-away corner of a rural-bougie class, the quartet projected the spirit into “Dust in a Baggie”.
After the theater cooled off from the rippin’ and roarin’, Strings and ensemble curtseyed into “Pretty Daughter” before dedicating “She Makes My Love Come Rolling Down” to the gorgeous large-mouth bass Strings has procured fishing earlier that day. As if the room needed one more ounce of jamgrass jubilation, the group propelled into what String’s fanatics may possibly dub as one of the best renditions of “Meet Me at the Creek” in the group’s recent live archives.
Billy Strings – “Prett Daughter” (Danny Barnes) – 12/3/21
[Video: Blind Ivan]
Billy Strings and his band soared straight from Houston on December 2nd and previously, two nights in New Orleans, to encoring in Austin, Texas, with an unplugged version of Home’s “Freedom” on December 3rd. Catch the celebrated pickers at Dallas’ The Factory Deep Ellum tonight, December 4th, followed by a heavy influx of tour dates predominately in the Midwest and East coast.
Head to the band’s website for ticket and tour information and scroll down for a detailed setlist of last night’s performance. Additionally, check out a full, fan-shot video of the first set below.
Billy Strings – Moody Theater at ACL Live – Set One [Fan-Shot] – 12/3/21
[Video: Blind Ivan]
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Setlist: Billy Strings | Moody Theatre at ACL Live | Austin, TX | 12/3/21
Set One: Beaumont Rag (Traditional), The Fire On My Tongue > How Mountain Girls Can Love, Nothing’s Working, Highway Hypnosis, John Deere Tractor (Larry Sparks), The Likes of Me (Jerry Reed) > A Letter To Seymour (Greensky Bluegrass), There Is A Time (The Dillards), West Dakota Rose (Chris Henry), Turmoil & Tinfoil 
Set Two: Tipper (Tony Rice) > Dealing Despair, A Good Woman’s Love (Hank Locklin), Thirst Mutilator > So Many Miles, In Case You Ever Change Your Mind (Bill Anderson), Dust In A Baggie, Pretty Daughter (Danny Barnes), She Makes My Love (Doc & Merle Watson), Meet Me At The Creek 
 Cluck Old Hen tease
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