On the second night of his Atlantic City, NJ run, Billy Strings blazed through nearly thirty songs at Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena to a Friday evening audience several thousand strong.

With flatpicking firebrand Billy Strings at the top of his game and his well-known ensemble featuring Billy Failing (banjo), Royal Masat (bass), Jarrod Walker (mandlin), and Alex Hargreaves (fiddle) firing on all cylinders, fans in Atlantic City felt the heat up and down the boardwalk on night two.

Related: “Roving Gambler” Billy Strings Opens Three-Night Atlantic City Run [Videos/Audio]

To start the show, Billy and his crew of stringed bandits launched into “Hollow Heart” off 2019’s Home before accelerating into “Hellbender”. After pausing for only a heartbeat, the five-piece band performed the night’s first cover, Jerry Reed’s “The Likes of Me”, then wound through “Must Be Seven” on the way to “Bronzeback”.

Billy continued to sprinkle in homages to his influences throughout the set. The Stanley Brothers’ “If I Lose” and Bill Monroe’s instrumental “Bluegrass Breakdown” were separated by his Renewal original, “Love and Regret”. Teases of “While I’m Waiting Here” and J.J. Cale’s “Ride Me High”—which he played with Widespread Panic at Nashville’s Ryman Auditorium in the summer of 2019—followed before shifting into Blackfoot’s “Train, Train”.

The train theme continued after a tease of “Slow Train” rolled through “On the Line” and barreled down the tracks toward the terminus of the traditional “Train 45”. As the first set neared its end, Billy Strings followed “My Alice” with Bill Browning’s “Dark Hollow” as well as the second Bill Monroe instrumental of the night, “Ashland Breakdown”. Billy Strings and his band closed the first frame as it began with another cut from 2019’s Home, a sprawling “Away from the Mire”.

After a half-hour set break gave the audience time to refresh, gamble, and mentally or physically prepare for the second half, Billy Strings reemerged on stage and opened the set with a rare cover of J.D. Crowe and the Kentucky Mountain Boys’ “Portrait of the Blues”.

“Gone a Long Time” gave the band’s pair of Billys (Strings and Failing) a chance to work in a vocal call-and-response section before an expansive “Meet Me At The Creek” guided the vessel into uncharted territories. In a musical sandwich commonly associated with jam bands, Strings and Co. briefly detoured into Jeff Austin’s “15 Steps” before finishing off the smoking tail end of “Meet Me At The Creek”.

Both Billys united for a rousing performance of “Dos Banjos” before Billy Strings and Jarrod Walker shared the microphone at center stage for a vocal pairing of the traditional “Feast Here Tonight (Rabbit In A Log)”. After bringing the rest of the band back onstage, quintet huddled close around one microphone to belt out tongue-in-cheek anthem “If Your Hair Is Too Long, There’s Sin In Your Heart”. Staying in their tight-knit arrangement, the vocal harmonies of the ensuing original composition, “Freedom”, soared to the high heavens.

The third Bill Monroe cover of the night came in the form of “Close By”. Feeding the ravenous crowd’s excitement, Billy rigged the deck and dealt back-to-back aces with the classic “Dust in a Baggie” and the beloved traditional “Shady Grove”. Many fans of the timeless tune may know it by way of Jerry Garcia, though Billy’s version is unsurprisingly more akin to the Doc Watson adaptation.

As the hour grew late, Billy dissected “Know It All” before opting to forego a traditional encore and instead pile on two more songs to the end of the second set. A mellow take on John Hartford’s “Today” accelerated into an uproarious “Doin’ Things Right” off his debut studio album, 2017’s Turmoil & Tinfoil, to finish off the second night of the run.

“I keep doin’ things right / It’s like I can’t do wrong,” Billy sang in his final song of the night, and that certainly seems to be the case for this ever-rising bluegrass rockstar.

The unstoppable locomotive that is Billy Strings will test his luck once more tonight in Atlantic City before moving on to The Grand Ole Opry in Nashville tomorrow for a Sunday show. To everybody kicking around A.C. again tonight, give ‘em hell. For a full list of upcoming Billy Strings tour dates, head here.

Below, check out the setlist, a gallery of photos via Jesse Faatz, and a selection of crowd-shot videos from the second of three Billy Strings shows at Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena in Atlantic City, NJ.

Billy Strings – “15 Steps” (Jeff Austin) > “Meet Me At The Creek” – 2/17/23

[Video: Doug Heck]

Billy Strings – “15 Steps” (Jeff Austin) > “Doin’ Things Right” – 2/17/23

[Video: Doug Heck]

 

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Setlist: Billy Strings | Hard Rock Live at the Etess Arena | Atlantic City, NJ | 2/17/23

Set One: Hollow Heart, Hellbender, Likes Of Me > Must Be Seven [1] > Bronzeback, If I Lose, Love & Regret, Bluegrass Breakdown [2] , Train, Train [3], On The Line [4] > Train 45, My Alice, Dark Hollow, Ashland Breakdown, Away From The Mire

Set Two: Portrait Of The Blues, Gone A Long Time , Meet Me At The Creek > 15 Steps > Meet Me At The Creek, Dos Banjos [5], Feast Here Tonight (Rabbit In A Log) [6], If Your Hair Is Too Long, There’s Sin In Your Heart [7], Freedom [7], Close By, Dust In A Baggie, Shady Grove, Know It All, Today, Doin’ Things Right

Notes:
[1] Pyramid Country intro tease
[2] This Heart of Mine intro tease
[3] While I’m Waiting Here intro tease, Ride Me High tease
[4] Slow Train intro tease
[5] Dos Billys
[6] Single mic, Billy Strings and Jarrod Walker
[7] Single mic