Walking down Arista Place in Broomfield, between Boulder and Denver, last night and struggling to get a bite to eat, or a beer, because all the establishments were filled with music lovers—many of them wearing the patched pants, tie-dyes, and Stealies associated with the Grateful Dead—I got to wondering, “Who is this Billy Strings?”

Looking up the newly 30-year-old musician, who has three studio albums (one of which won a Grammy), I saw that the most frequently asked question about the Michigan-born Strings on Google is, “Are Billy Strings concerts good?”

It turns out, yes. They are good.

Three nights at the 6,500-capacity 1stBank Center in Broomfield. Two nights at the 9,000-capacity Red Rocks Amphitheatre in Morrison coming up in May, with another show at the 4,000-capacity Mission Ballroom tacked on. Plus, Strings is expected to put on his Renewal festival in Buena Vista again this summer.

“We love playing out here,” he told the crowd last night at 1stBank, during the second night of the Broomfield run. “It almost feels like home.”

Colorado loves this young man. And yes, he is good.

What I’m most interested in, though, is that Strings can fill huge venues and get crowds dancing and hooting devotedly like they do at Phish or Grateful Dead-associated shows while playing string music, with no drums. Last night, he played acoustic guitar and sang, and his band included Billy Failing (banjo), Royal Masat (bass), Jarrod Walker (mandolin), and Alex Hargreaves (fiddle).

The group opened with “Dusty Miller”, a traditional bluegrass song recorded by—among many others—Billy Monroe, and I thought of the scene from Todd Phillips’ Phish documentary, Bittersweet Motel, where Trey Anastasio brushes off comparisons to fellow jam band god Jerry Garcia by saying, “I’m not the Grateful Dead. There’s aspects of the Grateful Dead that I love. There’s aspects of, you know, Boston that I love.  That’s kind of the point with people saying, ‘I’m gonna be the next Jerry Garcia.’ You’re not! You didn’t grow up listening to Del McCoury. I was in New Jersey going to the mall.”

Billy Strings did grow up listening to bluegrass, fiddle tunes, and traditionals—but also Pearl Jam and Pink Floyd, both of whom he covered last night. He would probably be the first to tell you he’s not the greatest singer, guitarist, or even songwriter in music today but he has a unique ability to weave old-time bluegrass, country, and classic rock covers into sets also filled with his originals that blend all that music together but don’t stray too far and, chiefly because of his band’s instrumentation, sound similar to jamgrass groups like Greensky Bluegrass but pack a more authentic, energetic, youthful, rootsy punch.

The latter talent is really just the unique breath of fresh air that is Strings, who stands out in the jam band scene with his tattoos, Chuck Taylors, and overall grunge, or even Axl Rose-meets-David Crosby look. At 1stBank, he whipped his hair around at the peak of his guitar solos (stepping on pedals to get a rocking electric sound out of his acoustic), looking more like he’d fit in Pantera than Leftover Salmon.

Known for taking selfies with fans as he walks around festivals, Strings seems like the first jam band icon in a long time who fans have a “one of us” feeling about. But with a set that was half covers—ranging from Gordon Lightfoot to John Hartford—and all of them either bluegrass or transformed into bluegrass, I got to wondering last night why giant crowds of folks used to getting down to “Shakedown Street” or “Down with Disease” have so fully embraced this string music, with essentially no percussion.

Maybe it started with the Workingman’s Dead album, caught fire with groups like Yonder Mountain String Band and Leftover Salmon, and is finally erupting with Billy Strings, whose career—most impressively—is really just beginning.

At one point Strings urged the crowd to listen to Doc Watson’s Portrait album after the show, when they’d found their beds, to hear a brilliant dobro solo on “Leaving London”.

“I promise it’ll give you a little twinge in the end of your nipples,” he quipped.

Now that concertgoers know that yes, Billy Strings shows are good, maybe it’s time to google Doc Watson.

Billy Strings – “Dusty Miller” (Traditional), “While I’m Waiting Here” [Pro-Shot] – 2/3/23

Billy Strings – “Lumpy, Beanpole & Dirt” (Edward D. Barnes) – 2/3/23

[Video: Tom Yaley]

Billy Strings – “Love & Regret” – 2/3/23

[Video: Steam Powered Aerodyne]

Billy Strings – “Leaving London” (Tom Paxton) – 2/3/23

[Video: Steele Media]

Billy Strings – “Sally Goodin” (Traditional) > “Ole Slewfoot” (Johnny Horton) – 2/3/23

[Video: Steele Media]

Click to View Videos.

Setlist: Billy Strings | 1stBank Center | Broomfield, CO | 2/3/23

Set One: Dusty Miller (Traditional), While I’m Waiting Here > Thunder (Robert Hunter), How Long Have I Been Waiting On You (Jonathan Edwards) [1], Secrets, Hellbender, Lumpy, Beanpole, & Dirt (Edward D. Barnes), In The Morning Light, Libby Phillips Rag, Fire Line, So Many Miles, Brain Damage (Pink Floyd)

Set Two: Hollow Heart, In Hiding (Pearl Jam), With A Vamp In The Middle (John Hartford), Love & Regret, Everything’s The Same, West Dakota Rose (Chris Henry), Home, Leaving London (Tom Paxton), Think Of What You’ve Done (Carter Stanley), Running The Route > Running, Whispers Of The North (Gordon Lightfoot), Meet Me At The Creek

Encore: Sally Goodin (Traditional) > Ole Slewfoot (Johnny Horton)

[1] FTP