As 2019 comes to a close, the team at Live For Live Music has been looking back on all of the memorable musical moments fans were lucky enough to experience this year. For the next installment in our 2019 year-end Staff Picks series, we’re taking a look at our favorite live collaborations of 2019—those surprise sit-ins and billed collaborations that produced one-of-a-kind live experiences.

Once you’re done, you can also check out our other 2019 Staff Picks including The Breakout Artists of 2019, the Strangest Sagas of 2019, and our Favorite Festivals of 2019.

Trey Anastasio Band w/Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi | LOCKN’ | Oak Ridge, VA | 8/23/19

A warm Friday night at Oak Ridge, Virginia’s LOCKN’ Festival was the setting for one of our favorite live collaborations of 2019. On August 23rd, Trey Anastasio Band welcomed slide guitar connoisseur Derek Trucks to the stage for the highly anticipated first act of their top-billed double-inverse sit-in—TAB with Derek, followed by Tedeschi Trucks Band with Trey the following night.

After a notably brief first set by Trey’s 8-piece solo outfit, the band returned to the stage for their second set with Trucks in tow. Wasting no time, the Derek Trucks-augmented band dove into Phish/TAB crossover “Set Your Soul Free”. On this first tune and the rest of the Phish-heavy set that followed, Derek Trucks proved to invigorate the band and its leader with his searing slide guitar work. From “Everything’s Right” to “Camel Walk” to “Ghost”, “Blaze On”, and “Dark and Down”, Trucks’ outstanding contributions made each song—and its ensuing jam—more powerful than the last.

Related: Trey Anastasio At LOCKN’ 2019: 3 Bands, 4 Sets, Endless Fireworks [Gallery]

Tony Markellis and Russ Lawton eventually pushed the group into TAB/Phish classic, “Sand”. This provided the dueling guitarists an opportunity to create the most memorable climax of the night. Trucks was without his slide for this rendition, and per usual, produced his piercing licks without a guitar pick.

From there, Derek’s wife and Tedeschi Trucks Band co-bandleader, Susan Tedeschi, joined the outfit onstage to add her soulful vocals to “A Life Beyond The Dream“. While this song had started to make its way into both Phish and TAB setlists since it debuted during the inaugural Ghosts of the Forest run earlier this year, this version featuring Susan’s wistful vocals and Derek’s tasteful accompaniment made it easily the most memorable one yet. Susan would stick around for another newer Trey song, “Rise/Come Together”, before ceding the stage to Trey, Derek, and company for a “Push On ‘Til The Day” set closer.

With time for a few more, Trey and Derek returned to the stage with acoustic guitars in hand to kick off their encore with another Ghosts of the Forest tune, “Brief Time”, and newer-vintage Phish staple, “More”. Finally, Trey and Derek traded their acoustics in for their go-to axes and welcomed the rest of the band back to their places for a thrilling one-two punch of “46 Days” and “First Tube” to cap the monumental performance.

Of course, this live collab had stiff competition from the following night, then Anastasio and Doyle Bramhall II teamed up with Tedeschi Trucks Band for a full recreation of Derek and the Dominos classic, Layla and Other Assorted Love Songs. That was a historic set, to be sure, but it definitely felt more like a special festival “spectacle” than a straight sit-in. TAB with Derek Trucks was a prime example of an added ingredient (or two) making an already-great band even better than the sum of its parts. You may have heard this band play these songs before, but you’ve never heard them like this.

Watch a pro-shot video of the full performance at LOCKN’ below.

Trey Anastasio Band w/Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschi – LOCKN’ – 8/23/19 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: Trey Anastasio]

Dead & Company w/ Maggie Rogers | “Friend of the Devil” and “The Weight” | Madison Square Garden | New York, NY | 11/1/19

Dead & Company kicked off their Fall Fun Run this past November with two shows at New York City’s Madison Square Garden. The first of two nights, which took place on Halloween, was highlighted by a Robert Hunter tribute, Bill Kreutzmann and Mickey Hart presenting Oteil Burbridge with his official Rhythm Devil Horns, and top-notch playing all-around. It was night two, however, that contained one of our favorite sit-ins of the year.

Towards the end of a first set that contained Grateful Dead staples like “Ramble On Rose” and “Mississippi Half-Step Uptown Toodeloo”, members Bob Weir, Bill Kreutzmann, Mickey Hart, John Mayer, Oteil Burbridge, and Jeff Chimenti invited Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Maggie Rogers to the stage.

Rogers sat in on the Robert Hunter-penned “Friend of the Devil”, from the 1970 release American Beauty, creating one of our favorite live collaborations of 2019. Rogers and Mayer joined in on the first chorus after Weir took a crack at verse one. Mayer then took over verse two before a phenomenal harmonization from Weir and Rogers. Rogers let loose on the third verse, showing off her range and falsetto, and harmonized on backing vocals over a jam section that saw Weir, Mayer, and Chimenti take solos. The building erupted with applause as she took a part of the last verse for herself.

When the band made their way back to the stage for the evening’s encore, they were joined once again by Maggie. Rogers took a verse on a team cover of The Band‘s “The Weight”. If there was any doubt in the building about Rogers’ vocal abilities, this performance was sure to remedy that. She was met with thunderous applause when taking leads and showing off her range and control.

Maggie Rogers first caught our eyes a few years back with a viral video of Pharell Williams critiquing her track during a taped master class when she was still a music student. Tasked with providing input as a seasoned vet, Pharrell came up empty after hearing “Alaska”. “I have zero, zero, zero notes for that,” said the stunned guest teacher. It’s been exciting watching her rise since then, and it was even more exciting seeing her step into the realm of the Dead at MSG.

Watch Maggie Rogers join Dead & Company for “Friend of the Devil” and “The Weight” below:

Dead & Company w/ Maggie Rogers – “Friend of the Devil” – 11/1/19

[Video: Sean Roche]

Dead & Company w/ Maggie Rogers – “The Weight” – 11/1/19

[Video: Sean Roche]

Billy Strings w/Brandon “Taz” Niederauer | “All Time Low” | Brooklyn Bowl | Brooklyn, New York | 11/15/19

Six-string phenom Billy Strings has had a meteoric rise in popularity this year. Billy, born William Apostol, and his band—featuring Billy FailingRoyal Masat, and Jarrod Walker—have made waves across the country by blending their metal, rock n’ roll, blues, and Americana influences with traditional bluegrass music. Strings has been selling out nearly every show this year. In addition, he recently released a new critically-acclaimed albumHome.

The 27-year-old Billy Seemed to share the stage with virtually everyone this year, from seasoned veterans to young upstarts and everyone in between. It was tough to pick a favorite, but the one we landed on feels like a good mix of both those categories.

Following an excellent rendition Tinfoil & Turmoil track “Dealing Despair”, Billy introduced a very special guest to the stage,

“Well, ladies and gentlemen, we got a good friend here with us tonight and he’s one of my favorite guitar players on the planet,” said Billy. “You probably know him. This is his home away from home.” And with that, another budding six-string extraordinaire, Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, came out to sit in on the remainder of the second set.

During the band’s second set on Friday, November 15th after finishing Tinfoil & Turmoil track “Dealing Despair”, Billy introduced a very special guest to the sold-out crowd: “Well, ladies and gentlemen, we got a good friend here with us tonight and he’s one of my favorite guitar players on the planet. You probably know him, this is his home away from home. Why don’t we get our friend Taz out here to come play with us?”

With that, 16-year-old Brandon “Taz” Niederauer strode out onstage with his signature blue D’Angelico and wasted no time making his presence known. First, the band ran through Widespread Panic‘s “All Time Low”, which saw Taz rip a guitar solo of which Mikey Houser (and Jimmy Herring) would be proud. He added colorful licks as Billy led the band into the John Hartford-penned “All Fall Down”. Failing introduced some vocal harmonies and banjo leads before Billy brought the band into an extensive improv section with his acoustic picking. An envelope filter effect over his acoustic guitar took the room on a psychedelic journey while Taz rocked comfortably with the rhythm section. Billy gave Taz a nod to signal him into a section of dueling guitars. They traded licks and phrases before building up to a room-rocking climax.

A “Pyramid Country” > “Train, Train” (Blackfoot) ended set two. Walker flexed his chops on the mandolin during “Pyramid Country” before giving way to soulful leads by Taz and Billy. A sonic journey commenced yet again, complete with the highest of peaks and lowest of valleys.

With all we’ve seen them do, Billy and Taz have become more than just two of our favorite young, rising guitarists—they’re two of our favorite guitarists. Period. Full stop. Here’s to long, bright futures for them both. The future is in good hands.

Watch a pro-shot video of the entire second-set Billy Strings/Taz combo below:

Billy Strings w/ Brandon “Taz” Niederauer – Brooklyn Bowl – 11/15/19 – Full Set Video

[Video: Relix]

Khruangbin w/ Trey Anastasio | LOCKN’ | Oak Ridge, VA | 8/22/19

LOCKN’ is the site of yet another one of our favorite live collaborations of 2019, and once again, it features Trey Anastasio. This set, however, was far different from the music that would come from the TAB/TTB crossover throughout the following two nights.

The first day of LOCKN’ was a bit of a struggle for many. A massive rainstorm moved through the area, destroyed campsites, and even delayed the start of the music. One of the first performances following that weather delay was by Khruangbin.

Related: The Story of Khruangbin: Global Sounds, Sonic Journeys, & “All That Rad Sh*t” [Interview]

After working through “Maria También”, “Dern Kala”, and “August 10”, guitarist Mark Speer made an announcement that elicited a roar from the damp—though not dampened—LOCKN’ crowd: “Seeing as how it’s a LOCKN’ reunion tonight, we got a special guest that’s going to come onstage with us now. This is very rare and we never do this, but our very good friend Trey Anastasio wants to come up and play some guitar with Khruangbin. Needless to say, we are very honored and surprised, so let’s see how this goes.” Trey wound up remaining onstage with Khruangbin for the rest of the set.

One might expect magic right from the beginning, but that wasn’t the case. In fact, that’s part of what made this collaboration so special. The first few minutes of “Lady and Man” were shaky, to say the least. Trey put his recovery skills on display, however, as he came into his own midway through the improv section. He and Speer traded licks and phrases while building to a thrilling climax. The newly-minted quartet pushed forward with “The Infamous Bill”, building upon the learned chemistry from the previous song. Trey layered licks over Speer’s melodies that sat on top of the rhythm section—comprised of bassist Laura Lee and drummer Donald “DJ” Johnson—before a Speer percussion solo closed out the song.

They moved on to “Evan Finds the Third Room” and “People Everywhere (Still Alive)”, which saw Trey finally come into his own with Khruangbin’s unusual style, providing both rhythm and lead guitar throughout. The four-piece finally ended with “Bin Bin”, an uptempo tune that highlighted the comfortability between those on stage. Anastasio added well-placed leads while Lee, DJ, and Speer harmonized vocals.

While this marked the first time that Trey Anastasio and Khruangbin collaborated onstage, Trey had been signaling his fandom of the fast-rising trio for some time. As he told Relix in March 2019, “My daughter turned me on to Khruangbin after she saw them at a festival a couple years ago, and I love them. They have their finger on the pulse. I love how melody-centric they are, particularly the bass, which was the first thing to catch my ear. They sound like they are mining for the universal melody. I believe in that. Music beyond stylistic boundaries—it feels borderless.”

In 2018, Phish had begun playing some Khruangbin records during their set breaks, and word of this made it back to the band. As bassist Laura Lee told Live For Live Music in a 2019 interview, “So that happened, and then I told our agents, I was like, ‘When are we going to play with Phish?’ And they were like, [in a serious tone] ‘Laura, Phish [doesn’t] ever have support! Don’t you know this about Phish!?’ I’m like, ‘Sorry, I’m sorry, I didn’t know!’ [laughs].”

Earlier in 2019, Khruangbin had the distinction of being one of just two acts to open for Trey’s unusual Ghosts of the Forest project. As Laura conceded to Live For Live Music, “This opportunity came along, and that’s about as close [to playing with Phish] as it gets.”

If only she knew then what would happen at LOCKN’ 2019…

Watch a full-show pro-shot video of one of our favorite live collaborations of 2019 below.

Khruangbin w/Trey Anastasio – LOCKN’ [Pro-Shot] – 8/22/19

[Video: big meech]

What The Night Brings Jeff Austin Tribute | 1stBank Center | Broomfield, CO | 11/4/19

On Monday, November 4th, family, friends, and fans gathered at Broomfield, CO’s 1stBank Center for What The Night Brings, an evening of music, remembrance, and community in honor of the late Jeff Austin. The lengthy, two-set performance included an all-star cast of musicians performing their favorite Jeff Austin songs from his time in Yonder Mountain String Band and more, as well as original tunes from their respective bands and fan-favorite covers.

The gathering was emotional, to say the least, as fans and a veritable who’s who of artists from the world of bluegrass and beyond came together to mourn the shocking loss of this uniquely powerful player. The demand was so great, in fact, that the event was moved from a much-smaller club to an arena to accommodate all who wanted to come out and remember Jeff.

Bands like Yonder, Leftover Salmon, The Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Hot Rize, and The Travelin’ McCourys were on hand to play some tunes with a slew of collaborators including Sam Bush, Billy StringsMimi Naja, Jean Luc Davis, Kyle Tuttle, Julian DavisBridget Law, Carey Harmon, Lindsey Lou, Keller Williams, Keith Moseley, Todd SniderBrendan BaylissCody DickinsonBill Nershi, and more. You can read a full rundown of the show and watch a whole selection of videos here.

For now, we’ll just leave you with this: For the final tune of the night, the all-star cast of musicians gathered on stage together and capped off the heavy yet beautiful rendition of The Rolling Stones‘ “No Expectations”. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Rest in Peace, Jeff. You are loved.

What The Night Brings – “No Expectations” [Rolling Stones]

[Video: Brian Band]

Circles Around The Sun w/ Eric Krasno, Joe Russo | There’s A Reward Neal Casal Tribute | The Capitol Theatre | Port Chester, NY | 9/26/19

“Have an epic party for me and play my favorite records, and remember all of the good times we had, the music, images, and waves we caught. That’s all. Play Exile On Main Street from beginning to end, and especially, play Moonlight Mile. It’s my song, always has been, it’s me. I used to lay with my headphones on and listen to that song over and over again and it would make me cry and inspire me to live and create. It’s beautiful and elegant and tough and sad and hopeful all at once. Everything I ever wanted to be.”

Those words left behind by Neal Casal when he took his own life in August 2019 served as the blueprint for a beautiful and tragic celebration of his life at The Capitol Theater on September 25th, 2019 for There’s A Reward: A Celebration of the Life & Music of Neal Casal.

They did play Exile in full as a Justin Kreutzmann-curated slideshow of Neal’s photos played on the stage screen. They did play “Moonlight Mile”. They did remember all of the good times, the music, the images, the waves, recounted stories about their interactions with Neal through the years. They told tales of days past, played music Neal wrote, music he loved, giving fans, family, and friends alike insight into the kind heart and gentle soul of this one-of-a-kind human being.

All the while, a chair sat next to Neal’s guitar at stage right adorned with Casal’s jacket and a single red rose. Surfboards hung overhead and rested solemnly on either side of the stage. While no longer with us in body, Neal’s spirit loomed large over the Cap throughout this emotional evening. You can read our full review of the night here.

Among the most poignant and highly-anticipated acts of this star-studded tribute was Casal’s band, Circles Around The Sun, in their first appearance since his death. As the band had previously stated, Neal gave specific wishes that CATS should continue in the note he left behind. Keyboardist Adam MacDougall, bassist Dan Horne, and drummer Mark Levy eventually tapped Eric Krasno the interim CATS guitarist.

As Krasno told Live For Live Music about taking up Neal’s duties in CATS, “This is a tough one. Nobody on earth can replace Neal Casal, he was truly one of a kind. That being said, I do know he really wanted to the band to continue… I was conflicted when the idea was initially discussed but when we all got in a room to play it really felt good. Circles is such a great band with a totally unique sound and approach… I hope I can do justice in paying tribute to my friend Neal while adding my own flavor to it.”

Krasno showed that he was undoubtedly the right man for the job in his debut performance with the group. After a thrilling, extended jam on their first song, Joe Russo als0 joined in on a second drum set, a nod to the band’s Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo EP, which features Casasl but was released after his passing. While Neal’s unique presence was sorely missed, this brief but remarkable performance affirmed that Circles Around The Sun is still one of the best bands on the road today.

Related: Remembering Neal Casal’s Final Circles Around The Sun Show At LOCKN’ [Photos/Video]

Next up was one of the most highly anticipated performances of the night, as Neal’s Circles Around The Sun—featuring Adam MacDougall, drummer Mark Levy, and bassist Dan Horne—took the stage for the first time since his passing. As the band had previously stated, Neal gave specific wishes that the band should continue in the note he left behind. Decorated guitarist Eric Krasno was tapped as the interim CATS guitarist, and showed that he was undoubtedly the right man for the job in his debut performance with the group. After a thrilling, extended jam on their first song, Joe Russo joined in on a second drum set, a nod to the band’s forthcoming Circles Around The Sun Meets Joe Russo EP. While Neal’s unique presence was sorely missed, this brief but remarkable performance affirmed that Circles Around The Sun is still one of the best bands on the road today.

Circles Around The Sun w/ Eric Krasno, Joe Russo – 9/25/19 – Full Pro-Shot Video

[Video: Relix]

Honorable Mentions:

Pigeons Playing Ping Pong w/Billy Strings | Peach Festival | Scranton, PA | 7/25/19

The Inaugural Peach Guitar Pull | The Peach Music Festival | Scranton, PA | 7/28/19

Wu-Tang Clan w/Khruangbin | Desert Daze | Lake Perris, CA | 10/13/19

Claypool Lennon Delirium w/Mike Gordon | Jazz Fest | New Orleans, LA | 5/2/19

Tedeschi Trucks Band w/Eric Krasno, Robert Randolph & More | Beacon Theatre | New York, NY | 10/2/19

Tedeschi Trucks Band w/ Trey Anastasio, Doyle Bramhall II play Layla | LOCKN’ Festival | Arrington, VA | 8/24/19

Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz | Joy Theater | New Orleans, LA | 5/3/19