To many, last night was just another Wednesday night, but to those tuned in to Billy Strings making his debut at Austin City Limits, it was a night that will go down in history. Billy Strings and his band showed song after song, lick after lick, that they belonged there on that stage as much as the many great acts that performed before them.
The ensemble opened up the show with an energetic crowd favorite “Dust In A Baggie”. The tale of addiction and woe was even more poignant as Strings stood on one of music’s most hallowed stages, triumphant over the inherent temptations that plagued his upbringing. The wonder of being onstage at Austin City Limits was not lost on Billy, as he remembered back to watching tapes of the program growing up—that was until he stuck a peanut butter and jelly sandwich into the VCR and broke it as a child.
We were then led through a masterful rendition “Hide And Seek” which, Billy noted, is rightfully credited to each member of the band. Jarrod Walker and the Billys (Billy Strings and Billy Failing) got to show their talent on solos while Royal Masat held down the backbone on stand-up bass. Walker wielded his mandolin skillfully about as he pierced through the rumbling bass and picking into our awaiting eardrums. Banjo bomber Billy Failing showed he can pull his weight as he ripped and plucked up and down his oddly numbered stringed weapon of choice.
They then went into the Deja Vu Experiment debut written by Walker titled “Show Me The door” which discussed the turmoil of a relationship that is hanging on by a thread. The band, Strings especially, had the glow of excitement that only comes from the utter satisfaction of playing a great song. The gang capitalized on that feeling of excitement as Billy teased a new album, promising its arrival by “late fall.”
The band then took off into another Deja Vu debut “Fireline” before Walker “busted a wire” so Billy played a “Beaumont Rag” riff while Jarrod “changed clothes”. Strings and company then slowed things down a bit for a song from the Grammy-winning album Home, “Love Like Me”.
After the contemplative “Watch It Fall”, the ensemble moved back into more traditional sounds with a “Slow Train” that slugged on down the tracks of the Austin City Limits set. While Strings’ performances are always mesmerizing displays of musicianship, ACL audiences got a little something extra as Billy also engaged in a bit of storytelling, diving into the meaning behind the Home track “Away From The Mire”. The bluegrass picker observed that he wrote the song for his brother after they got in a fight, only to realize months later that he wrote it for himself as much or more than he did for his brother. The group then delivered a beautifully masterful rendition of the song that brought us through the full breadth of emotions that went into the words and melodies of the tune.
Billy then asked us some haunting questions from our “Long Forgotten Dream”, with some accompanying chilling riffs echoing behind him as he dropped in and out of the sound space. To close out the set, Billy Strings and company launched into the fan-favorite jam vehicle “Meet Me At The Creek”. After running through the lyrics the band took audiences on another musical journey and showed everyone they really do belong on this stage and deserve to be part of this timeless tradition that is Austin City Limits. Billy’s masterful flat-picking led us through every inch of the melody, into a deep psychedelic jam that transcends bluegrass and, frankly, human consciousness, just to bring us back and stomp us through that chorus again to end the show.
After a brief departure, Billy Strings and his bandmates returned for an encore, gathering around a single microphone to deliver the appropriate Willie Nelson ode to Austin, “The Devil Shivered In His Sleeping Bag”. The quartet had one more in store for the evening with their satirical take on the gospel standard “If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin In Your Heart)”.
After a little over an hour and a half of Billy Strings and the band taking us on a trip, filled with woeful stories, tasteful jams, and bit of humor, we were left temporarily quenched but thirsty for more of Billy’s humble charm. Next Billy Strings is off to play Red Rocks Amphitheatre for a sold-out crowd next week July 12th–13th with Billy & The Kids.
Setlist: Billy Strings | Austin City Limits Live at The Moody Theater | Austin, TX | 7/8/21
Set: Dust In A Baggie, Hide And Seek, Show Me The Door, Must Be Seven, Red Daisy, Love Like Me, Fireline, Watch It Fall, Slow Train, Away From The Mire, Long Forgotten Dream, Meet Me At The Creek
Encore: The Devil Shivered In His Sleeping Bag, If Your Hair’s Too Long (There’s Sin In Your Heart)
View this post on Instagram